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Super Seducer 3 ban highlights Steam’s fuzzy “adult content” rules

An image from the censored version of <em>Super Seducer 3</em> suggests the kinds of "sexually explicit images of real people" that are apparently not allowed on Steam.
Enlarge / An image from the censored version of Super Seducer 3 suggests the kinds of “sexually explicit images of real people” that are apparently not allowed on Steam.

Valve has refused to approve controversial pickup artist game Super Seducer 3 for sale on Steam. The company says the game breaks a rule, saying that Steam does “not ship sexually explicit images of real people,” according to messages posted on Twitter by game creator Richard La Ruina.

La Ruina, who describes himself as a “dating guru” and “the world’s top pickup artist,” describes the Super Seducer series in press materials as “a humorous full-motion-video (FMV) game where you learn the artistry of sexual attraction.” Players do this via choose-your-own-adventure-style conversational prompts interspersed with filmed actors showing the over-the-top results of those choices. “I made it with the intention of helping men who are generally shy, introverted, and scared to approach women,” La Ruina told The Verge in 2018.

The first game in the series was suspended from Kickstarter and then barred from the PlayStation store back in 2018, but that game and its sequel continue to be available on Steam to this day.

A free demo for the third game in the controversial series was briefly featured as part of last month’s edition of the Steam Games Festival but was reportedly pulled from the collection after one hour as Valve decided to give the game additional review. “We’re not sure if we can ship the game at all,” Valve said in an early February message, as shared by La Ruina (Valve has not responded to a request for comment from Ars Technica).

Later in February, La Ruina said he had received “clearer guidelines” from Valve on what changes needed to be made to get Steam approval for Super Seducer 3 and later said he had begun making “targeted cuts” based on that guidance and “lawyer advice.” But over the weekend, La Ruina said that Valve told him they were “at an impasse” and that “we are not going to sell the game or re-review it… this decision is final.”

La Ruina wrote that the decision applies to both the original version of the game and a “censored” version designed to be appropriate for Twitch streaming. He also said he is pursuing an “M for Mature” rating from the ESRB but that Valve suggested this would have no effect on its decision.

Finding the line

Specifics aside, Super Seducer 3‘s situation highlights the difficulty some Steam game-makers have had in finding the line between “appropriate” and “inappropriate” on the platform. While other gaming platforms have detailed (if inconsistently enforced) guidelines regarding what kind of content is and isn’t allowed, Steam in 2018 announced a new, more expansive standard for Steam. That standard was centered on the idea that, as Valve put it, “if you’re a developer, we shouldn’t be choosing what content you’re allowed to create… we’ve decided that the right approach is to allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling.”

“We’re not the taste police,” Valve’s Jan-Peter Ewert told developers at a Russian gaming conference around the time that policy was announced.

A rare safe-for-work screenshot from adult dating sim <em>Taimanin Asagi</em>, which was barred from Steam in 2019.
Enlarge / A rare safe-for-work screenshot from adult dating sim Taimanin Asagi, which was barred from Steam in 2019.

Since then, Valve has tried to clarify that so-called “troll games” are ones that are “just trying to incite and sow discord.” When it comes to non-trolling adult content, though, certain adult-themed games are being barred while others find a comfortable home on the platform. The specific line between those two types of adult games from Valve’s point of view has never been very clear to developers or players. A visual novel localization specialist (who asked to remain anonymous) told Ars in 2019 that “the main factor seems to be they are banning a lot of games based on the fact that characters are wearing school uniforms. There is no other single common thread we can find.”

In the case of Super Seducer 3, Valve seems to be citing a newly articulated standard of “not ship[ping] sexually explicit images of real people” on top of the “illegal” and “straight-up trolling” standards of the past. The vast majority of games listed under Steam’s “Sexual Content” store page feature hand-drawn 2D or computer-animated images of the scantily clad characters in question, rather than photographs or filmed images of real actors. On the other hand, titles like “Bad Ass Babes” or “iStripper” that do feature nude images of real actors have recently been removed from the Steam Store (though extremely NSFW discussion pages still remain on Steam to commemorate their brief availability).

La Ruina previously posted that he feels Super Seducer 3 differs from those more explicit apps because “any frame from Super Seducer 3 would be Instagram safe (no nipples etc).” He also says he’s ready to make whatever changes are necessary to the game to fit Valve’s standards, if Valve could only clearly articulate what they are.

“I do not feel like we are at any kind of impasse,” he wrote in a message to Valve. “I’m ready to take a butcher knife to the game and take weeks to make all kinds of edits.”

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