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Bellevue’s Valve pulls school-shooting video game off site after backlash

Valve executives Erik Johnson, left, and Gabe Newell stand near a stem valve, which came from a submarine, in the lobby of Valve’s headquarters in Bellevue. (Ellen M. Banner / Seattle Times)
Valve executives Erik Johnson, left, and Gabe Newell stand near a stem valve, which came from a submarine, in the lobby of Valve’s headquarters in Bellevue. (Ellen M. Banner / Seattle Times)
By Rachel Lerman Seattle Times

Bellevue gaming company Valve removed a game developer from its website Tuesday after online outrage over a video game depicting a school shooting.

Backlash over the “Active Shooter” video game hit Valve over the weekend, with tens of thousands of people signing an online petition calling for the company to pull the game from its website.

Valve did not create the game, but “Active Shooter” — developed by Revived Games and published by Acid — was scheduled to be distributed next week on Steam, a digital gaming storefront operated by Valve. Most developers pay $100 to sell a game and make it playable on the Steam platform. Steam, the biggest retailer in PC gaming, takes a cut of sales of games distributed on the site, usually 30 percent.

Revived Games and Acid are run by the same person, who calls himself Ata Berdiyev, Valve spokesman Doug Lombardi said in an email Tuesday. “Ata is a troll, with a history of customer abuse, publishing copyrighted material and user review manipulation,” Lombardi said.

Berdiyev had been kicked off the Steam site last fall, but returned to Steam using different business names. “We are not going to do business with people who act like this toward our customers or Valve,” Lombardi said.

Parents of students who were killed during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, spoke out this weekend against “Active Shooter,” calling out the “sick people” who made it.

The trailer for the game depicted the viewpoint of a SWAT team member who enters what appears to be a high school and tracks down shooters while people flee. It then switches to the viewpoint of the shooter, with a small tracker in the upper left corner of the screen counting the number of police and civilians the shooter kills.

Revived Games and Acid didn’t have any name recognition in the industry. But Valve is a big well-known gaming company, and had been the target of much of the criticism against the game.

“It’s disgusting that Valve Corp. is trying to profit from the glamorization of tragedies affecting our schools across the country,” Ryan Petty, the father of a 14-year-old student who was killed in the Feb. 14 massacre, said in a statement earlier this week.

An online petition urging Valve to pull the game before its scheduled June 6 release had more than 100,000 signatures.

Valve, a privately held company, is known for keeping a low profile and rarely allows inside peeks into its studio, which has developed popular games such as “Dota 2” and “Half-Life.” It stayed quiet on the “Active Shooter” controversy over the weekend until it announced Tuesday it had pulled the game, and the game’s developer, off its site. Previous links to the game now redirect to Steam’s homepage.

Valve didn’t cite the contents of the “Active Shooter” game when it pulled down the game and developer. “The broader conversation about Steam’s content policies is one that we’ll be addressing soon,” Lombardi said. He couldn’t be reached to elaborate.

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Valve has a reputation for its loose moderation of comments and games on the Steam platform, which was first launched in 2003. Groups of users on the site have posted comments celebrating school shooters in the past, according to a March article from Vice publication Motherboard.

Valve says on its website that it does not screen the third-party content on Steam, and does not assume responsibility for it.

Games that are distributed on Steam do have to go through a review process before they can go live on the site, according to Valve’s website. That process takes between one to five days, Valve says, and makes sure the game is working and “not doing anything harmful.”

That could refer to malware or viruses, but Valve also has a list of content that developers should not include in their games. “Active Shooter” may have violated some of the guidelines. Content that is “patently offensive or intended to shock or disgust viewers” and “content that exploits children in any way” are both on the list.

In response to the outcry over the game, publisher Acid published a response last week on the game’s Steam page, saying “this game does not promote any sort of violence, especially any soft (sic) of a mass shooting.”

Valve has pulled games from Steam before – some because they were not original creations. One was removed after its creator issued a death threat to Valve CEO Gabe Newell online.

Earlier this month, Valve apparently told a few developers they would have to remove adult content from their games for violating a no-pornography guideline or be kicked off Steam, but then the company suddenly revoked the demand, according to Newsweek.

In defending its game, Acid pointed to other video games available on Steam that depict mass shootings. Video games have long faced criticism for the effects of violent content, an issue that is still hotly debated.

But the school setting of “Active Shooter” hit a nerve with tens of thousands of people as the U.S. faces a rash of school shootings that have killed dozens of people in 2018 alone.

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