As the game industry has begun to grapple with the advent of AI tools and AI-generated content, one question has risen to the fore in recent weeks: Would Valve, which operates Steam — the largest, and most liberal, online game store — publish games made with AI?
The question appeared to be answered by a post made on the aigamedev subreddit some weeks ago, which has been widely surfaced and reported on. The Reddit user said they had submitted a game to Steam with some “obviously AI-generated” placeholder art, and it was rejected. “We are declining to distribute your game since it’s unclear if the underlying AI tech used to create the assets has sufficient rights to the training data,” Valve reportedly said in an email to the developer, after they had improved (but not replaced) the art in question.
So, is Valve against the use of AI in the creation of games? No, not exactly — as you might expect from a company that often takes a neutral, not to say libertarian, stance on the content it distributes via Steam.
In a statement to Polygon, a Valve spokesperson clarified that the company has no wish to discourage the use of AI in game development, and indeed sees great potential in it. But it has concerns about the legal status of AI-generated art assets — considering the AI that made them may have been trained on data, including copyrighted art works, that doesn’t belong to the creator of the game. “Stated plainly, our review process is a reflection of current copyright law and policies, not an added layer of our opinion,” Valve said. “As these laws and policies evolve over time, so will our process.”
Here’s Valve’s statement in full:
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. 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.
We know it is a constantly evolving tech, and our goal is not to discourage the use of it on Steam; instead, we’re working through how to integrate it into our already-existing review policies. 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.
We welcome and encourage innovation, and AI technology is bound to create new and exciting experiences in gaming. While developers can use these AI technologies in their work with appropriate commercial licenses, they cannot infringe on existing copyrights.
Lastly, while App-submission credits are usually non-refundable, we’re more than happy to offer them in these cases as we continue to work on our review process.
While Valve sounds hopeful about the future of AI-generated content in the long term, this response — from probably the most open-minded distributor in games — shows just how difficult it’s going to be to use AI tools to make commercial art. As Valve says, developers may find it hard to show they have the rights to the assets in their games, if AI tools have generated those assets based on countless other works. And while Valve says “it’s the developer’s responsibility to make sure they have the appropriate rights,” in reality this burden will pass from developers to the companies making the AI tools they use. If the AI companies are going to supply developers with the “appropriate commercial licences” Valve requires, they’re going to have to prove the ownership of the datasets behind the AI themselves. Which could be virtually impossible.
In other words: Until there is new copyright legislation clearing up the legal status of AI-generated content, no publisher or distributor is going to want to go anywhere near it. Not even Valve.