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Valve released a rare statement after saying it rejected games with AI-generated assets from its Steam game store. The notoriously tight-lipped developer of the Half-Life series and de facto custodian of PC game distribution said his policy was evolving and not an anti-AI stance.
Steam has a very similar review and approval process to any app platform, and its content rules aren’t always clear until developers test them with edge cases. So it was with an indie developer who posted in a subreddit for like-minded game developers using AI, saying that Valve is no longer willing to release games with AI-generated content.
The game they presented had some assets that were clearly AI-generated, and Valve seemed to disagree with that.
Since the legal ownership of such AI-generated graphics is unclear, we cannot ship your game while it contains these AI-generated assets, unless you can affirmatively confirm that you own the rights to all intellectual property used in the game. dataset that trained the AI to create the assets in your game, their first warning letter stated.
Then, a week later: we reviewed [Game Name Here] and we took our time to better understand the AI technology used to create it. Again, while we strive to ship the majority of titles that are sent to us, we cannot ship games that the developer does not have all necessary rights to. We are currently declining to distribute your game as it is unclear whether the underlying AI technology used to create the assets has sufficient rights to the training data.
Considering that most AI tools can’t really claim that they have legal rights to all of their training data (and even if they do, it still might not be an ethical use of that data), this policy, as stated, it basically amounts to a complete ban on AI-generated data assets in games.
The use of AI as a game development tool is not per se controversial, major developers such as Ubisoft have loudly stated that they believe the assistance of AI is useful and may even be needed to build at scale and speed. But AI that helps create realistic mountains or change mission structures is one thing, generative AI powered by unpaid artists is another. It’s not really clear what responsibility, if any, various creators, distributors, or other managers of generated art might face. If creators can’t realistically claim copyright on their work, Valve felt the risk of publishing that work was too great.
As such, Valve responded to Eurogamer by saying that, fundamentally, their policy is more legally required than any particular stance on AI:
We know it’s an ever-evolving technology and our goal is not to discourage its use on Steam; instead, we are working on how to integrate it into our already existing audit policies. Put plainly, our review process is a reflection of current copyright laws and policies, not another layer of our opinion. As these laws and policies evolve over time, our process will evolve as well.
Meanwhile it says it will refund the normally non-refundable app submission fee in cases where this ongoing policy is the deciding factor.
Right now it’s unclear whether AI is really being used in any meaningful way outside of a bit of experimentation or, in the case of the developer above, a blatant cash grab. A video supposedly about the development process of him exclaims Get rich quick with AI waifus and How I made $1000 by releasing an AI-generated game on Steam (Gone Sexual?!?!) So we shouldn’t feel the loss too keenly. But as more established developers take up the tools and the tools themselves become more sophisticated, the matter may not be that simple.
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