Valve requires real in-game screenshots for Steam listings

A screenshot is worth a thousand words

Valve's prepping to push a large-ish Steam update in the next few weeks, colloquially dubbed “Discovery 2.0” since it focuses on tweaking a number of ideas launched in 2014’s Discovery update. A new homepage, changes to Steam curators—pretty exciting stuff. But one of the best changes is also the simplest: Valve will soon require developers to use the screenshot section of store pages for actual screenshots, as Kotaku first reported.

In Valve’s words, “This means avoiding using concept art, pre-rendered cinematic stills, or images that contain awards, marketing copy, or written product descriptions.” And Valve admits it’s not blameless in this regard—up until recently, Dota 2’s screenshots section was loaded with concept art. You can see the difference by looking at the Dota 2 page now versus an archive from October 1.

Dota 2 concept art

This Dota 2 concept art (seen in the screenshots row as late as October 1) is banned under the new guidelines.

There have been other high-profile examples, No Man’s Sky being one that continues to rankle. It’s not just high-profile games though, and anyone who browses the “New Releases” tab can attest that certain unscrupulous developers are prone to using non-representative art to sell prospective buyers on an experience that isn’t actually present in the game.

The question now becomes: How tight are these new screenshot guidelines? Valve’s banned concept art, sure, but what of the humble “bullshot”? This time-honored marketing practice involves taking HUD-less screenshots in-engine (often from creative camera angles) and then post-processing them to hell and back until what’s left is something the end user would never, ever see.

Assassin’s Creed IV bullshot

Assassin’s Creed: Lover of Bullshots

Ubisoft is a serial bullshot abuser, as is our much-beloved Witcher 3. The images in question may look kinda-sorta like screenshots, but any seasoned gamer can immediately tell the difference—they’re crisper, color-saturated, and with the contrast and depth-of-field jacked way up. It remains to be seen if Steam’s new guidelines ban this behavior though—they don’t strictly fall under any of the banned categories. For what it’s worth, GameSpot reached out to Valve directly and didn’t get a straight answer.

The new regulations should curb some of the worst abuse regardless. Screenshots may be a small part of the purchasing process these days, but they’re a vital one and consumers need to trust that what they’re seeing is (at least mostly) what they’ll get. I’d expect the Discovery 2.0 update to roll out around the annual Steam Holiday Sale at the latest, and we’ll have more news when it hits.

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Hayden Dingman

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