Valve has recently updated the terms of their Steamworks Documentation, which governs the terms under which developers and publishers selling their games on Steam can use their platform. The recent change is centered on putting a stop to developers using their Steam store page, community channels, and other communications to promote purchasing their games on other platforms.
The relevant term is this part, which has been recently added to the Steamworks documentation:
“In the game you ship via Steam, and in communications on Steam, you may only promote the Steam version and its availability via Steam, and not other distribution outlets. This applies both to full versions of your game and to content patches that change the existing version.”
What this essentially means is that whilst developers with a game on Steam are free to release their game on any other platforms, they are not allowed to use Steam to actively promote other versions of the game. How exactly this policy will be policed remains to be seen, but it’s perhaps safe to assume that linking to any external stores, using marketing language to specifically promote another store, and actively promoting sales of games that are not available on Steam would all be considered a breach of this new policy. We’ve seen cases of developers doing all of these in the past, either directing linking users to stores that give developers a larger portion of the revenue (like itch.io and Epic Game Store), or using their community page to promote a game that they’ve signed to sell as an exclusive elsewhere (either on one of the consoles or Epic Game Store).
For some time, Valve has turned a blind eye to developers doing this kind of thing, but it looks like they won’t be tolerating it any further. There’s no indication that any kind of punitive action will be taken against anyone who did this in the past, so this is just a warning that it will be prohibited going forward. Developers that explicitly breach the Steamworks Documentation could potentially be at risk of having their game removed from sale, but given that this is not a huge imposition, hopefully there shouldn’t be any severe fallout from this action.
Developers selling their game across multiple stores and platforms are still free to promote all versions of their game on social media, their own website or blog, and whatever marketing channels other stores and platforms offer, but going forward Valve doesn’t want to host promotional messages for other stores.
We’ve seen how disputes over this type of issue can escalate in certain cases, with the big ongoing legal dispute between Epic and Apple and Google. Hopefully with Valve’s fairly reasonable policy on this subject, plus framing it as a request as part of their platform documentation, rather than taking extreme action of removing offending games from their store, this situation should remain relatively calm.
We asked Valve for some more detail on this change, and they told us:
“Regarding the updated language on the Steamworks Community FAQ; the general spirit of this update was to remind content creators that their Steam pages should not be used for certain activities such as for the promotion of a game’s exclusive availability on a competing platform, the promotion of an external download that circumvents Steam content policies, or the promotion of other activity that conflicts with the Steam Distribution Agreement. The new language on the FAQ was not really the introduction of any new policy or policing that should concern the majority of those publishing on Steam, but more of a reminder of existing rules for a small number of developers exploring the boundaries of the existing policies”