Steam’s least-likable developer may have reached its limit of permissive moderation

Dolphin Barn’s Gladiator Management Sim Domina was lost in appeal after its developer started inserting slurs against “soft” men into the patch notes and discussion boards. Bandcamp and Twitter have banned the game’s official account. The individual had previously linked support for trans youth to paedophilia on Bandcamp.

The developer claims he has been temporarily barred from posting on his game’s Steam forums. However, he can still post Domina patches notes. This latest accusation of Valve and Steam Support as “cowards” is the latest. Domina’s “Mostly negative” reviews have been full of references to the developer’s views. The game’s forums are a battlefield, and Dolphin Barn has recently banned him from posting on them. This shows Steam’s usually laissez-faire moderation turning its focus to the game.

Dolphin Barn shared a screenshot of his Twitter account, showing a message explaining that the ban was in effect. It said: “This is the second time that one of your posts violates our Discussion Rules & Guidelines, specifically insulting and flaming another user. We are also seeing a pattern of abusive messages being sent to ban players from your hub.

The message addresses the developer’s actions regarding negative steam reviews and potential avenues for Valve/Steam. It also mentions the need to clarify that Steam moderator decisions or rule violations in the hub should not be reversed. Our business relationship could be threatened if you disregard our guidelines and rules in the future. As of the writing date, Valve has not yet confirmed details of its communication to Dolphin Barn.

One of the issues the developer has with Steam moderation is that it’s being affected by “fraudulent reviews” and that his attempts to flag those reviews are being blocked by Steam moderators. While most reviews mention the developer’s well-publicized antitrans missteps, some criticize the game for classes and features in Domina’s beta branch being paid DLC in the final version. This could be a problem in the review moderation debate.

Some of the negative comments include vile abuse directed at trans people. No matter what merits Domina might have enjoyed as a gladiator management simulation, this doesn’t seem like anyone’s concern.

Valve has stated that it will not police storefront moderation content unless it is illegal or “straight up trolling”. This is a unique stance in tech, with companies like Twitter and Facebook adopting more strict moderation policies to combat online harassment and disinformation.

Valve had previously removed the FPS Active Shooter school shooting due to customer abuse and trolling. Domina may present a different problem for delisting based on this precedent. The game itself is not at issue; however, the use of patch notes by the developer as a vehicle for abuse might be more problematic.

This is an interesting edge case, a bizarre individual pushing at the limits of a permissive system that has only received grassroots support. We have reached out to Valve and will update you if we hear back. Time will tell if Domina’s developers will take further action or if they will continue reaping diminishing rewards from an indie game that has been around for years and the outrage cycle surrounding his psychosexual patches, which luridly ruminate on the genitalia of gay and trans peoples.

The latest update to the game communicates a defeatist tone. “At this stage, it is unlikely that Domina’s future updates will be received on Steam,” although Dolphin Barn’s activity over the past year and changes don’t make me believe that we have heard the last of him.

Contrary to Domina’s moderation woes, Nexus mods removed a homophobic Spider-Man Mod with the simple message, “We don’t want to and will not argue this with you”. This is refreshing, as institutional moderation refuses to give bad-faith actors the benefit of their doubts.

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