Originally published at: Steam rejects games with AI-generated assets | Boing Boing
Originally published at: Steam rejects games with AI-generated assets | Boing Boing
Wow, this is potentially quite a big deal. This is real precedent-setting stuff for the industry.
Steam is the 800lb gorilla of indie gaming so what they do matters. Furthermore, AI art is pretty much the indie game maker’s dream, so to block it is a big deal.
Most indie game makers start out as lone programmers. The thing is, a smart and hard-working lone engineer can do everything in a game except the art. Very very rare is the engineer who can also make art good enough for a game. This is part of why retro pixel art styles are so popular- that’s within reach of more non-artists to create. This problem of needing art is the oldest thorn in the side of every self-absorbed lone engineer going back to the earliest Apple II and TRS-80 games. In those days it was acceptable for games to have bad art, so many did because the engineers were doing it all.
In more modern times (post 8-bit computing when art started to matter a whole lot), faced with this dilemma and having no money to hire an artist, lone engineers have bought stock art, stolen art from older games, or gone on indie game forums and found struggling artists who will do work for you for peanuts (and the fun of doing it). Said lone engineer is never going to get rich making this indie game, and everyone knows it, so people are generous with their time. If the lone engineer is particularly forward thinking and wants to make a real go of this, they might find an artist to partner with for a cut of the assumed profits. That never works out financially but everyone has a good time and makes a cool thing.
AI art changes everything because it means the lone engineer can pursue their secret dream of building their masterpiece with no outside help. You’d be hard-pressed to find an indie game developer who hasn’t secretly wanted this.
For Steam to then draw a hard line on that is very interesting. I won’t make any judgements on whether this is good or bad, or guess what might come of this, but it’s going to be interesting to see what happens.
For the lone engineer, if they run the AI on their own or public domain photo assets, it should still be OK with steam.
We launched recently with AI art in a cutscene panel, but all the assets used to generate it were made in house, and we haven’t heard anything from Steam about it, so I suspect that Steam’s response to AI art might be driven by DMCA notices from people whose art was used.
(The launch did not go well, partly because we’d missed several symptoms of AI art in the pre-launch rush and wound up with an amazing morphing stethoscope, and several other “quirks”, but we’re replacing it with hand-done work by our concept artist and lead artist which does look a lot cooler.)
I think that’s a really tall order for most though. People wanna use MidJourney because it’s easy, right there for the using, and generates great results. But of course nobody knows what all it’s been trained on and there’s no paper trail to give to Steam for that.
Also, proving every single photo that you trained on is not only public domain but also licensed for commercial works is no small thing. Steam may not care about that now, but if they’re serious about this policy, they will start caring. AIs are only good when trained on many thousands of images (if not millions) so now one is faced with an impossible task of clearing rights for every single photo in that training set. Not getting caught is not the same as it being okay.
The only legally safe thing to do in light of this policy is not use AI art at all, which I’m sure is Steam’s intent.
As a writer of tabletop rpg games (obviously not my main job) I agree with the part that art assets tends to be the most expensive part of making the supplement (if you don’t count your hours). We usually resort to public domain images or sometimes I make edited fotos to look like illustrations for small assets when money is an issue.
I still feel conflicted on putting LM generated images, specially from “public sites” like midjourney, because is easily noticeable and while they look ok on a surface level, they tend to break out in the details. I very much prefer reaching out to small or new artists and negotiate limited right rates - for example, by agreeing to non-exclusively license the images, or agreeing to future fees if game is published in print, or the images are used for merchandising.
I’m pretty sure it isn’t a hard line. People have noted that “Hawken Reborn,” which is on Steam, has some “AI” generated images - but they’re subtle, some character images possibly generated from their own art to fill in some gaps. (It’s been remarked upon how little the sequel resembles the original game, and how generic it is - the dev team is small and I suspect using mostly purchased assets and using labor-saving tech to bolster the work of a small number of artists trying to do a full-sized game.)
I’ve seen enough references recently to visual novel games with images straight out of Midjourney (completely with untouched visual artifacts that could have been cleaned up in a couple minutes in a free editing program), that I suspect Steam is absolutely being flooded with them (or is at least anticipating it). Games that require little-to-no programming and now no art, being shoveled into Steam to make a quick buck with no production costs. Previously the shovelware vendors at least had to buy a few art assets and stick them in some sort of shooter template, but this is orders of magnitude less cost and effort. So I suspect this, and this alone, is what Steam is targeting.
Still, that leaves a lot of room for ambiguity, and it’ll be interesting to see where they do draw the lines. (I suspect somewhat arbitrarily.)
That makes sense, and is certainly sensible. No doubt every media format is going to have to contend with this. It’s already a huge problem on the web. If you Google how to do something basic-but-technical (like, how to do for loops in Bash or whatever) the top three hits are LLM-generated shovelware sites with a mix of correct and incorrect information. Also 300 ads per square cm of content.
Does this mean Steam is coming around on curating their content? A while back they opened the floodgates on the green light process and the platform sorta went to hell. What was once a hard-won honour, to be green-lighted on Steam, now only meant you’d filled out a web form and uploaded your binary. They didn’t seem to care at all about quality any more, so I hope this AI policy is a sign that has changed.
During those early years, Steam was like early Netflix. You could assume a game was good because everything on there was. Then came the enshittification.
I hope this indicates they figured out that they either have to curate or be destroyed. Hopefully they noticed those who hit this issue earlier (e.g. Clarkesworld) and have started thinking seriously about it. Charging a Greenlight fee clearly didn’t work the way they hoped it would, the combination of user ratings, filtering and third-party curators has, up until now, worked somewhat, but it doesn’t scale to the new problem and relies on externalizing costs…
Short version of the story: Gabe doesn’t want to get the shit sued out of him in a ton of different countries with a ton of differing legal opinions about AI generated art.
Maybe, but the law has also been pretty clear that platforms are not responsible for the user-generated content they host. IANAL but Steam shouldn’t have any liability exposure for what’s in the games they sell.
Valve is more likely to be OK against copyright claims directly against them; but they probably don’t want the uncertainty and customer dissatisfaction associated with potential having to yank a whole lot of games after putting them up for sale; especially if the risk was predictable upfront and the games aren’t a big enough deal to be worth sucking it up for.
Today it’s reasonably rare for something to get yanked because of obscure publisher acquisitions nonsense, or a game that used to have an expensive licensed soundtrack to have it patched out(though both have happened and nobody is ever very happy about it); having the same thing happen to several years worth of every game with a small art budget would probably be really ugly.
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