Landlords are arseholes: on Steam Greenlight

For a much better post on this issue, go here.

Remember that theory that the internet is morphing from anarchic communitarianism into restrictive cyber-serfdom?

Valve’s crowd curation platform for video games, Steam Greenlight, has only been around for a week or so, and already it’s managed to annoy almost everyone. Users who want to review games have to wade through piles and piles of crap before finding anything of interest. Erotic content has been summarily taken down out of fear that it might cause offence, regardless of how artful or interesting it might be, putting an early question mark over how far Valve are handing over gatekeeping responsibilities to the crowd.

And now, at the end of a thrilling week-long barrage of content both inventive and samey, Valve have slammed down a surprise paywall – anybody wanting to submit content to Greenlight from now on will have to pay $100 to Penny Arcade’s charity.

Penny Arcade’s own Ben Kuchera then proceeded to tweet about how anybody complaining about having to pay $100 is self-entitled and whiny – his reasoning being that not being able to afford $100 does not qualify you as poor if you can afford a computer on which to develop games. He also said that artists really ought to be poor, because he knows artists who go hungry for their art and artists have always been poor. (note: Ben Kuchera’s recent post on the topic takes a different view on the matter)

Valve argues that the fee is required in order to deal with ‘fake’ entries. But does it really matter if they are genuine or not? How far are they taking up anybody’s resources? If a ‘fake’ idea gets enough votes to qualify for publication on Steam, suddenly it has a great deal of credence, even if no such product yet exists. The idea itself gains its own momentum. Someone, somewhere kind of has to develop the game then. I’m sure there’s something to be learned about hyperreality there. This is exactly the sort of existential mindfuck Valve ought to be encouraging.

Valve are basically the landlords here. Developers are borrowing space on their platform, and Valve has the power to keep out sexual deviants and poor people. Landlords love to charge money for no reason, and governments work hard to create a whole host of new laws to make their inevitable abuse of tenants illegal. They do it out of greed – Valve seems to be doing it out of fear. People who say ‘$100 isn’t that much’ are voicing the ‘just move to London and find work there’ of virtual real estate.

Nobody likes a gatekeeper, be they an HR department, a publisher, a platform or the inexplicably wealthy arsehole who has the ability to lock you out of your own home. They hold so much privilege and power, and the more relevant they are the more powerful they become. They can be mean, ignorant and dismissive, and the more relevant they become the less reason they have to be otherwise. That’s how privilege works.

I’m still very excited about Greenlight, and looking forward to seeing it blossom into the exciting melting pot of talent and ideas it has the potential to become. But looking at it now, few people can fail to sympathise with Valve’s problem. Pretty soon they are going to have to find a way of filtering submissions at the point of entry without human effort and without excluding people based on their class. Their position as gatekeepers at Steam makes them easily hated if they don’t reassure people of their solid moral foundations. While landlords can somewhat afford to be hated, Valve cannot.

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