Steam is removing visual novels with sexual themes after pressure from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Steam is threatening to remove several visual novels with sexual themes, and an anti-porn organization with religious roots is taking credit for the policy shift.

On Thursday night, visual novel studio Lupiesoft said that its fantasy pirate visual novel Mutiny!! was reported for "pornographic content" and threatened with removal "within two weeks." The game features erotic yuri content—or manga-inspired lesbian erotica—but Lupiesoft claims "absolutely nothing in Mutiny!! violates [Steam's] guidelines" and says the game's Steam release was "fully agreed to by Steam" before it launched on the platform.

"In fact Lupiesoft has been one of the strictest developers in terms of following Steam's guidelines, and absolutely nothing in Mutiny!! violates their guidelines," Lupiesoft wrote on its official Twitter account. "After our Steam publisher MangaGamer met with Valve in person, they were told that ecchi content [work with slight sexual overtunes] was fine on steam."

Alongside Lupiesoft, several other game developers and publishers alleged their games were threatened with removal by Steam. MangaGamer, who also publishes Mutiny!!, revealed in a blog post from earlier today that its yuri romance title Kindred Spirits on the Roof was "targeted by Steam's sudden and abrupt content policy shift," despite running "every questionable graphical asset" along to Valve during development. Valve will only let the game remain on the service if its content is modified.

HuniePop's developer HunieDev turned to Twitter last night as well, claiming Valve will pull HuniePop from Steam because it "violates the rules & guidelines for pornographic content" on the platform. And Nekopara's developer Neko Works also announced that Tropical Liquor, a game published by Sekai Project and developed by Tentacle Games, "must be censored by the end of this month or the game will be removed from Steam."

Dharker Studio also tweeted that its erotic visual novels Battle Girls and Galaxy Girls have been reported, and WinterWolves Games tweeted that its title Roommates was threatened with removal. Sekai Project also tweeted that its title Re;Lord 1 was flagged.

It's unclear which games will be targeted for removal by Steam and which ones will not. Christine Love, the developer behind erotic BDSM visual novel Ladykiller in a Bind, wrote on Twitter that none of her games have been impacted by the same content notifications as Lupiesoft, HunieDev, MangaGamer, and Sekai Project's games. Interestingly enough, that game landed on Steam without being censored, despite nudity and explicit BDSM sex scenes.

Meanwhile, the developers impacted by Steam's sudden policy shift are scrambling for solutions. In an interview with The OP, Lupiesoft's lead writer Colleen Potvin told The OP that she was immediately panicked and frustrated with Valve's move, as Mutiny!!'s Steam release had "no sex, very limited nudity, no patches that added in the explicit parts," and no links to stores where the full game's explicit release was available.

"The game in question, Mutiny!!, is our most recent game and our current primary source of revenue," Potvin told The OP. "Losing the ability to sell it on a platform like Steam means that our financial security is at stake."

Meanwhile, visual novels seem to be unfairly targeted, as AAA games and western titles with explicit sexual imagery, like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Grand Theft Auto V, supposedly aren't being targeted by Valve for removal.

"A lot of games with far more explicit content have not received takedowns," Potvin said. "Was our game about being a sex worker worse than anything in Grand Theft Auto?"

Valve did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

As visual novel developers remain in the dark with very little transparency from Valve, an organization has since stepped up to take responsibility for the games' reports, thanking Valve for "removing sexually graphic content" from its store.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation celebrated Steam's removal reports in a press release today, saying that it engaged in "a two-year aggressive campaign" over "sexually graphic content" against games on Steam. The center claimed "many" games on Valve's platform "promote themes of sexual violence, exhibitionism, and rape" along with depicting "nudity and graphic sex acts," concluding that people who play games with sexual themes are "not only a voyeur but an active participant in staging the scene."

The organization also argued that "normalizing the sexual use (and often abuse) of others" in games is "irresponsible" in a world that suffers with "campus sexual assault, military sexual assault, and rising child-on-child sexual abuse."

"We thank Steam for their leadership in working to change our #MeToo culture in which sexual violence [is] rampant and normalized," the center wrote. "Your corporate leadership is a major step in creating a world free from sexual exploitation."

While NCOSE seemingly appears to be a feminist organization, the group was originally created in 1962 by Christian and Jewish clergy members who feared children were accessing adult material too easily. The organization has been praised by Evangelical Republican Rick Santorum, and its former president Roberts Peters once blamed gay marriage and mass shootings in America on a "post-Christian society" that strays from "Judeo-Christian faith and values."

More recently, the organization has worked to remove Cosmopolitan from Walmart's shelves, arguing that the publication reinforces the idea that women and young girls are "sexual objects." Whether NCOSE will turn its eye to more gaming retailers beyond Steam remains unclear. It certainly gives developers like Potvin reason to be afraid, however.

"As a queer developer whose income is from sales of [Mutiny!!], I was left wondering if I was about to be out of a job," she told The OP. "We are looking into ways to manage the issues between now and the release of our next game."

Disclosure: Writer Ana Valens previously freelanced for Sekai Project as a QA Team Member.

Update May 19 8:20pm CT: HunieDev, Lupiesoft, and MangaGamer have since received an update from Valve regarding their games' appearance on the Steam store, according to tweets from all three companies. HunieDev claimed Valve apologized for the "confusion" and said Steam will re-review HuniePop, and Lupiesoft also announced that Valve is re-reviewing Mutiny!! and has dropped its two week deadline for removing the game from the Steam store.

Meanwhile, MangaGamer's Kindred Spirits on the Roof is being re-reviewed, and the publisher will be "provided with specific feedback if there are concerns about the game's content," according to MangaGamer's tweet.

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