For the longest time there has been murmurs that Valve has been rejecting games with generative AI content from their Steam store. Let’s take a look at what is Steam’s stance on generative AI!
UPDATE Jan 10 2024
Today, after spending the last few months learning more about this space and talking with game developers, we are making changes to how we handle games that use AI technology. This will enable us to release the vast majority of games that use it.
AI is widely accepted and used in most industries. Automotive, healthcare, manufacturing, photography etc. Your phone is leveraging AI heavily to make sure your holiday photos are properly exposed. AI-facial recognition is used to group photos of your loved ones into easy to access albums. For years,, Tesla cars have driven themselves using data collected from ordinary people living their lives and driving their cars. Professional and unprofessional drivers alike. Data scraping has been the norm for a better part of a decade.Arguably, AI is enabling tools and experiences that would otherwise be unthinkable.
With the introduction of generative AI tools to the public in 2022, all this tools have been made very visible – and popular. Tools that create stunning artworks or pages and pages of coherent text without human presence, merely based on simple text prompts. We humans have always crafted out identities around culture, being the only beings we know of that have a culture that is heavily based on arts. Being arguably the only living creature on earth that creates art (images, films, music, text) for its enjoyment.
Let’s do a little thought experiment on extreme pros and cons of using AI in game development:
Generative AI utopia in game development
For game developers, AI tools can make for a better, brighter future.
- No need to scope out many of the features that would make a game a classic instead of being just good.
- No more crunch, infinite scalability of AI tools would be the outlet valve for game artists who had to carry the burden all alone in the past.
- Infinite content, when AI can create level content on the fly, the procedural tools of the past look like tools from the stone-age for us.
- True player created content, no longer are you limited to the scope of variations the game creators catered for you, when you as a player can generate content on the fly, creating characters, and other customisations is infinitely customisable.
- Next generation NPC characters, powered by “actual brains” NPC characters become actual virtual beings you interact and form bonds and experiences with, something we can not even begin to imagine yet.
- Solo developers, who were previously held back can finally develop more ambitious projects.
- All developers can focus on what they want to work on and use AI to do the tedious / boring / unimportant tasks the team does not have interest in.
Generative AI apocalypse in game development
For game developers, AI tools can make for a worse, bleaker future.
- Loss of jobs, as AI tools get better and better, companies may choose to replace whole departments of people with software. QA, game writers, artists programmers are in danger,
- Loss of originality, as Ai tools are machines of averages, they easily boil all training data into one, uniform paste where originality is scarce. Everything begins to look the same.
- Loss of quality, as the human creators are taken out of the picture, with the business people of these companies being left to steer the ship, the quality of products is sure to go down dramatically, making games worse across the board.
- The sheer quantity of games being produced will crowd out the truly good ones. discovery will be even worse of a problem due to sea of AI-created trashy games.
So what will it be?
I do not know what the future holds within, but I am quite certain that there will be companies where all of these visions will materialise to a degree. I am pretty confident that the companies that do end up replacing people with AI will not fare well. Based on my extensive research on the topic and my vast experience in game production, AI tools, no matter how good, just can not replace a human artist – not by a long shot – for now.
These generative art tools are especially unusable for AAA game productions. In those, I can see them being used to spice up the world, create texture details, some iconography etc, but not much of the game content. (Paradoxically, Nvidia DLSS3 tech, used in high end AAA games, uses AI to generate 87,5 % of the game image = hd -> 4k upscale + frame generation. Leaving only 12,5% of the pixels to be rendered from human made assets.)
Indie projects I believe will be the biggest winners. Small studios with very limited resources who do not have the luxury or using vastly superior human artist. These studios are ready for the compromise using AI tools requires.
Steam’s stance on generative AI: What Steam controversy?
As you can see, generative AI sure is controversial. Valve seems to have taken the cautious road and seems to not allow games with AI generated content in them in their store. Recently they have seemed to grow even more cautious, banning chat GPT generated text. To me this seem arbitrary, s it can be impossible to determine if an AI tool has been used or not, especially when it comes to patterns within textures or chatGPT assisted code. Photoshop has also had neural filters since 2020. These filters have used generative AI all this time.
Valve has issued a rare statement after claims it was rejecting games with AI-generated assets from its Steam games store. The notoriously close-lipped developer of the Half-Life series and de facto gatekeeper of PC gaming distribution said its policy was evolving and not a stand against AI.TechCrunch
Valve is taking the more conservative route, avoiding what it calls “some legal uncertainty” by simply rejecting AI content trained on copyrighted material altogether. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But by doing so, the company is effectively using its own interpretation of copyright law, even as it says the decision does not have “an added layer of our opinion.”Ars Technica
The first incident
Personally, while I would have liked to make a lot of money off this little scheme, I’m not too disappointed in this as my game was admittedly low effort. However, this decision has a lot of implications on the game development community at large, which I think Steam is still in the process of finding out.PsykoughAI
This first high profile Steam ban was widely discussed online, but as the game seemed to be a cheap “asset flip” it was not definite enough. There were so many nuances it was hard to say for sure if the use of AI was the issue, or the way AI was used. I leaned towards the way AI was used.
But this game was using software AI imagery, any other games doing this? Well yes, a simple google later I have a link to a very questionable game that allows you to generate erotic AI images – on Steam.
Other banned games
Heard of the Story
Recently, another event was reported on reddit. This time blaming the ban on the use of chatGPT as an experimental AI powered NPC feature.
This event seems way more serious, with Valve banning a game from Steam that had an experimental chatGPT powered NPC feature as a debug setting.
But you know who else has chatGPT powered NPC characters in their games on steam? Inworld. A quick google search for “Inworld Steam” produces a link to a steam page for Inworld Origins, a game that does not have and experimental AI powered NPC feature, but a game that is nothing but AI powered NPCs!
This game remains in the marketplace, free for anyone to download.
The game that got in trouble over ChatGPT was later accepted back on Steam after the experimental NPC feature was removed from the game.
So what gives? Some games are allowed, some are not? Valve might allow free games on their store with AI content. How do you even make sure no AI was used? How can anyone at Valve know if some insignia layer on some space soldiers armour is AI generated or not?
This is a peculiar case, as the game in question was to be a freeware release. They did however have NFT’s in their game, so maybe that tipped the scale, although they do explain that their implementation of NFT’s was approved by Valve, but maybe it was seen as a revenue stream and that made the game commercial in Valve’s eyes?
The final case to really hammer home that Valve is really not allowing AI to its storefront is the case of Gepetto’s Workshop.
These guys are building a Garry’s Mod -like playground that used generative AI for 3D assets and whatnot.
This case leaves the least room for questions. The reply clearly states that the use of ChatGPT is the issue. Which is wild to me as this tool is just about to be bundled free with Windows 11 for everybody!
Gepetto’s Workshop is a premium game though, so this still leaves the question of freeware game releases with generative AI up in the air.
But the image begins to be clear: Valve has chosen a side, which they have every right to do. And this changes things.
My own Steam experience
I am very interested in seeing how Steam reacts to my game. Not for the obvious reasons, but because I have a great opportunity to learn of this first-hand! Unfortunately my game is not in a state to be released yet. It still needs some work to act as a fully polished demo experience.
A quick recap if you do not know of Echoes of Somewhere!
I have been building an experimental, freeware AI assisted point and click adventure game all throughout this year on my free-time to see how generative AI tools really affect game production.
However, I did reach out to valve to see if they could give me any sort of answer on the topic.
I reported my own game. For science.
Message from you on Jun 29 @ 1:48pm | 2 months ago
I am a veteran gamedev working on an experimental title to study the effects of AI on gamedevelopment. I am using many current gen AI tools in creation of my freeware game that I never plan to make any money on. It is just an experiment to see how game development would go if AI was used in many aspects of the production as much as possible, while still maintaining a high quality.
I have listed the game on Steam, but am very interested in name of research to gauge your stance on AI generated content, even if we are talking about a non profit research with freeware distribution.
I am covering the game development in my devblog https://www.echoesofsomewhere.com and am looking to also write about my experience with distribution the game and writing about Steam’s approach to the issue is a very interesting topic to cover!
Personally I do not care either way, wether you accept the game or don’t once it is ready. It is all a result for me, but a result I would love to report and to learn about!
To help you with your work here is a list of the Ai technologies / tools I have already used in the project:
Midjourney v4, v5, v5.1 & v5.2
Stable Diffusion 1.5
Adobe Firefly (beta) -forbidden for commercial use for now
Replica Studio (text to speech)
Chat-GPT 3 – some text styling
Message from The Steam Team on Jul 19 @ 9:10pm | 6 weeks ago
We recently issued a clarifying statement on titles that have been created with the assistance of AI. I’ve included it here in it’s entirety.
We are continuing to learn about AI, the ways it can be used in game development, and how to factor it in to our process for reviewing games submitted for distribution on Steam. Our priority, as always, is to try to ship as many of the titles we receive as we can. The introduction of AI can sometimes make it harder to show a developer has sufficient rights in using AI to create assets, including images, text, and music. In particular, there is some legal uncertainty relating to data used to train AI models. It is the developer’s responsibility to make sure they have the appropriate rights to ship their game.
We know it is a constantly evolving tech, and our goal is not to discourage the use of it on Steam; instead, we’re working through how to integrate it into our already-existing review policies. Stated plainly, our review process is a reflection of current copyright law and policies, not an added layer of our opinion. As these laws and policies evolve over time, so will our process.
We welcome and encourage innovation, and AI technology is bound to create new and exciting experiences in gaming. While developers can use these AI technologies in their work with appropriate commercial licenses, they can not infringe on existing copyrights.
Lastly, while App-submission credits are usually non-refundable, we’re more than happy to offer them in these cases as we continue to work on our review process.
While we can’t give guidance on specific AI platforms or tools at this time, we believe that if the dataset for training the AI in the first place is free and clear of copyright issues, then you should/could be able to use said tool to create assets that could ship in your game. It’s unclear at this time if some of the tools available, even if they provide a commercial license, are in this category.
So the answer I got from Valve on Steam’s stance on generative AI was not any more specific or direct than anyone else’s. Based on my research, it seems that free games are allowed on the store, regardless of their use of AI tools. I am not sure what this means for free games that have their own subscription systems / storefronts. I guess we will have to wait for the first pioneers to test the waters.
I do feel that my game would be rejected by Steam. Which is fine by me. As a free project it does not make a dent in my revenue one bit. But for all this is not the case.
All of this is sure to cause confusion among game developers. No one can be quite sure what is happening. Are generative AI tools ok, or are they not? With a study saying that around 90% of game studios use generative AI today, many developers are looking for answers.
Possibly getting de-listed from the store at release after successfully amassing an impressive wish-list is quite harsh though. But I suspect if you are a big player, you have direct Valve rep anyway and can feel the waters before you fuck around and find out.
Amongst all this Valve pushback, companies like Unity seem to be fully embracing AI tools.
Whether you’re looking for professional-quality Verified Solutions, community-built solutions, or up-and-coming AI tools, the Unity Asset Store is your destination for an ever-growing selection of AI solutions.Unity
Unity seems to see the writing on the wall and realise that by embracing AI tool developers, they will be stock full of AI tools and a head of everyone else once AI generated content is fully accepted. Quite an opposite bet to what Valve is doing. Unity is more popular among indie developers as well, who will benefit from AI tools the most.
One tool that Valve simply can not monitor and is already widely used is GitHub Copilot. It is an AI powered programming tool that Valve simply can not detect in the games released on Steam. I would bet most if not all games going forward will have AI assisted programming in them.
To be honest, Valve does not really need to allow any AI content on their store for now. Games can take anything from 3-5 years to produce. These AI tools have been out since 2022, arguably in usable state only this year. The earliest a proper AAA game with deeply integrated AI generated content would be out in 2025 the very earliest. The courts have plenty of time to sort the legal issues out before that. I hope.
What would be my educated suggestion for you, should you use AI in your game or not? Well, it depends. If you are aiming for Steam release in the coming months, maybe stay away from these tools for now? Why risk it before you know for sure? But also I would suggest it is good to learn about these AI tools so that you are prepared for the era when they are fully usable on all games.
If your game is years from release, I would not be as cautious. By then these tools are bound to be ethically ok.
You can always simply publish your game on other storefronts. Not everyone shares Steam’s stance on generative AI.
I will see you at the Epic Games Store Tim!