In late June 2023, AI game developers alleged that Valve had issued a blanket ban on games using AI-generated artwork, with several warning notices sent to those attempting to submit their games for Steam approval. While these warnings were previously unverified, Valve has now confirmed to several media outlets that they are official, and pertain to a stronger stance against copyright infringement on Steam.
Per responses sent to IGN and The Verge, Valve is not strictly looking to discourage users from using AI tools – but it wants to ensure that AI models used to generate artwork are only trained on images already owned by developers. As in, developers cannot rely on third-party tools that pull image generation from mass sources – as this is widely understood to be a form of mass plagiarism that exists in a legal grey water.
In choosing to ban users from utilising this pool of images, Valve is seeking to protect individual copyright, but also ensure Valve avoids legal consequences for publishing copyrighted material.
‘We are continuing to learn about AI, the ways it can be used in game development, and how to factor it in to our process for reviewing games submitted for distribution on Steam,’ Valve told IGN of its updated stance.
‘Our priority, as always, is to try to ship as many of the titles we receive as we can. The introduction of AI can sometimes make it harder to show a developer has sufficient rights in using AI to create assets, including images, text, and music.’
‘In particular, there is some legal uncertainty relating to data used to train AI models. It is the developer’s responsibility to make sure they have the appropriate rights to ship their game … Stated plainly, our review process is a reflection of current copyright law and policies, not an added layer of our opinion. As these laws and policies evolve over time, so will our process.’
‘While developers can use these AI technologies in their work with appropriate commercial licenses, they can not infringe on existing copyrights.’
Going forward, Valve will likely evolve and tweak its stance – but for now, developers submitting games for approval cannot have AI-generated artwork included, where this artwork is built on non-developer-owned sources. It’s fair to say this policy rules out the vast majority of AI-generated games from being published on Steam.