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Steam Unveils New AI Content Guideline. What Difference Does It Make?

Steam Unveils New AI Content Guideline. What Difference Does It Make?

Even before companies like Square Enix publicly made known their intention of doubling down on AI, many other developers—particularly indie devs—have been experimenting with AI content in games. However, most of them are unwilling to make full disclosure because of the fear of backlash from gamers.

Steam Unveils New AI Content Guideline. What Difference Does It Make?

There is still a moral barrier around the use of AI content in games. However, I sense that it is only a matter of time before it becomes normalized. The new guideline from Valve is one of the steps that suggests more platforms are willing to embrace AI content.

In June last year, Steam said they needed more time to understand “the fast-moving and legally murky space of AI technology”, particularly because of the global reach of the company and its target to continue to ship “as many games as possible”.

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“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,” Steam wrote in a post published on Wednesday, January 10, 2024. “This will enable us to release the vast majority of games that use it.”

To that end, Steam is making subtle changes to how it approaches AI content. One such change is updating the Content Survey that developers are required to fill out when submitting their games to the platform. The updated Content Survey will have a new section for AI disclosure. In the new section, developers will be required to describe how they used AI in their games.

Steam updated AI content survey will group AI games into two categories

Steam Unveils New AI Content Guideline. What Difference Does It Make?

The use of AI in games can be as subtle as using it to create game elements like characters and voices. On the other hand, it can be more expressive like in the case of procedurally generated worlds as seen in No Man’s Sky and Starfield.

Steam wants to make sure that the use cases of AI are clearly defined in the content survey. Consequently, games that make use of AI content will be grouped into two broad categories namely;

  • Pre-Generated: Any kind of content (art/code/sound/etc) created with the help of AI tools during development. Under the Steam Distribution Agreement, you promise Valve that your game will not include illegal or infringing content, and that your game will be consistent with your marketing materials. In our pre-release review, we will evaluate the output of AI-generated content in your game the same way we evaluate all non-AI content – including a check that your game meets those promises.

  • Live-Generated: Any kind of content created with the help of AI tools while the game is running. In addition to following the same rules as Pre-Generated AI content, this comes with an additional requirement: in the Content Survey, you’ll need to tell us what kind of guardrails you’re putting on your AI to ensure it’s not generating illegal content.

Valve said that it will use the disclosure to review the submitted games before they are eventually released. In an interesting twist, Valve will label games with AI content on the Steam store page of the game. In other words, there will be a tag on games with AI content so that customers will “understand how the game uses AI”.

In the short term, there may be an aversion to games with this tag. However, my prediction is that with time, the discrimination will blur out and people will rarely care whether a game has the AI content tag or not.

Steam is making it possible for players to report games with illegal content

Steam Unveils New AI Content Guideline. What Difference Does It Make?

Another interesting change that will come to Steam is a new system that will allow players to report “illegal content inside games that contain Live-Generated AI content”. The report will be easily submitted using the in-game overlay. This makes it easier for players to submit the report at the point where they encountered the inappropriate content.

“Today’s changes are the result of us improving our understanding of the landscape and risks in this space, as well as talking to game developers using AI, and those building AI tools,” Steam wrote. “This will allow us to be much more open to releasing games using AI technology on Steam.”

Since AI is an evolving field, Steam mentioned that it will revisit its guidelines when necessary and as it learns more about the legal process around AI and from games submitted on the platform.