A few days ago, the Visual Novel and Eroge fanbase was on high alert as it seemed that Valve had struck again and removed another adult Visual Novel from their storefront. The title in question was Overdrive’s Boku ga Tenshi ni Natta Wake (Why I Became an Angel), or Bokuten for short.
Bokuten is a story about the apathetic Tomoe Kirinokojima who does not believe in love or happiness in life. However, a fateful encounter with the angel Aine puts his ideology to the test, and as a true Cupid, he has to convey love to lovers all over the world..
Since Bokuten was not only supposed to be released in the MangaGamer Store but also on Steam (and Discord Games), MangaGamer had to work meticulously to remove all problematic (sexual) content that would have caused removal on Steam. This was done to make an All-Ages version that could be distributed on Steam.
Steam is the largest digital distributor of video games on PC, Mac, and Linux and is a store on which smaller developers and publishers must depend on to earn a large portion of their revenue. Developers and publishers of games with adult content often need to contact Steam to have their games go through quality and content control.
In some cases – especially when something could be considered against their Terms of Service – Steam will not allow these games in the first place or will remove them silently afterward. This leads to major problems in games with Japanese animated graphics, as they often show characters in adult situations that appear particularly young due to the focus on cuteness. This aesthetic and this difference in cultural perspective often leads to a misinterpretation of the content. In every Eroge that appears in the western market, there is a warning at the beginning that all characters in the game are over 18 years old, but this alone is not enough for Steam.
Because of these very subjective guidelines for unwanted content, game developers have to put in a lot of extra work to sterilize their games to a certain degree (see Frontwing’s Yuki Koi Melt or JAST-USA’s Totono) so that they comply with Steam’s regulations and can be offered for sale there.
There are both publishers who do not offer the 18+ content at all (e.g. Stray Cat and the Matters of the Heart by Fruitbat Factory & TokyoToon) and publishers who provide 18+ patches outside of Steam that restore the missing content (Kagura Games, ShiraVN).
Bokuten is one of those games where a patch is provided externally, but that alone did not prevent the ban on Steam.
How this could happen is explained in detail below:
1. Bokuten – Why I Got Removed
Bokuten was first offered for sale in the MangaGamer Store on December 19, 2019. A look into VNDB reveals that the All Ages version of the game was available on Steam one day later, on December 20th, and must have gone through the already strict submission process of Valve’s storefront at that time.
More than eight months later, on July 29, 2020, MangaGamer was notified via their public discord server by a user, whose order had been canceled during the purchase process that Bokuten had been removed from Steam. This quickly triggered heated discussions, in which MangaGamer’s PR manager John Pickett, better known under his internet pseudonym Kouryuu, also got involved:
Here Kouryuu confirms for the first time that MangaGamer had not been informed at the time of removal that Bokuten will no longer be available in the Steam Store.
A little later, the comments of various MangaGamer employees appeared on Twitter. They were upset that Bokuten was banned despite their utmost efforts to remove the problematic content. Among them: support staff Kaitsu, in-house IT specialist Doddler and the aforementioned Kouryuu. Meru, CEO of LoveLab, also made a Twitter thread about it.
What the fuck, Valve banned Bokuten 8 months after the game was released. The team spent months getting the game sanitized for Steam, cutting all nudity, rewriting/skipping and anything explicit, it passed their harsh review, and it just vanishes with no notice or explanation.
— Doddler (@The_Doddler) July 29, 2020
Oh, gee, hi, why hello there @Steam
Nice to see you just suddenly banned our game #Bokuten-which is still available on Discord-without any cause or justification. It's wonderful to know you can just arbitrarily ban titles without appeals or repercussions for harming developers.
Gutted to hear about Bokuten being removed from Steam. It was always assumed that once you were on, you were safe. If a game passed their approval process once, the least they could do is send word that their rules have changed and allow you to make edits.
— Meru(tdown) ｜メル (@merumeruchann) July 29, 2020
Doddler’s comment refers mostly to the efforts undertaken to make the All-Ages version age-appropriate. It also gives the information that the game had already been tested and approved by Steam.
Kaitsu deleted her comment and another agitated tweet chain about the incident in which she sounded somewhat frustrated, but we have the text of the core tweet here for you:
“The entire Bokuten team put countless man-hours into both the adult and [all-ages] versions of the game, and to see it getting banned with no notice was a huge punch in the gut, Bokuten was our baby and it deserved better. Please grab it from the official Publisher”
The last statement refers to the fact that you should rather buy Bokuten from MangaGamer’s store itself at that time. There are also other platforms that Doddler mentioned in a reply to a user:
Epic won't take visual novels and GOG hasn't had a chance to review the title yet. It's still available on the discord store of all places, and of course MangaGamer's online store.
— Doddler (@The_Doddler) July 29, 2020
2. First reactions of players and press
In addition to the tweets mentioned above, Reddit posts had also been written at this time, which quickly became very popular and widely distributed. There are far too many individual statements in these posts, but the core essence is that people were very disappointed with the situation and were looking for numerous ways to generate attention. (Still ongoing.) This included some users wanting to send emails to Valves boss Gabe Newell. They also urged to tell different news outlets about the story, including us.
Reactions from Reddit
The Daily Dot’s research
Not long after, the first videos and articles about the situation were published. The most important of these is the article by The Daily Dot, an online magazine that deals specifically with geek and Internet culture and is actually somewhat outside the scope of visual novel reporting. This outlet went straight to Kouryuu, who made official and quotable comments on the situation. However, there were some contradictions that arose from this, as MangaGamer did not have all the necessary information at that moment.
Nevertheless, the article gives MangaGamer’s perspective on the situation at that point in time:
Update 8:47pm CT, July 31: When reached for comment, MangaGamer’s PR Director John Pickett told the Daily Dot that the publisher received an email from Steam several hours after Bokuten was removed from Steam. The representative with Steam responsible for the ban claimed MangaGamer had “added sexual content” to the game “that would not have passed our content review process,” according to Pickett. Pickett refuted this claim by stressing that no material was added to the game since its release on Dec. 19, 2019.
After contacting Valve for comment, Valve’s Vice President of Marketing Doug Lombardi said Bokuten was removed after discovering an external patch that activated adult scenes with underage characters. “In our initial content review, we missed content hidden in the game’s depot that features adult content with underage characters,” Lombardi told the Daily Dot. “While not accessible in the game itself without an externally acquired patch, we were distributing that content depot through Steam, therefor[e] the game would not have passed our content review. We’ve notified the developer, and improved our content review process to avoid this in the future.”
Pickett called Lombardi’s statement “incorrect,” as Bokuten’s adult material must be added externally, which he compared to downloading an adult Skyrim mod. “We took painstaking care to ensure that there was no adult content in the all-ages edition distributed on Steam and Discord [Store]. There is mature content befitting a mature title, but there is no adult content in the build provided by Steam,” Pickett said. “Our company does offer an adult-patch, and adult content is contained in the patch available solely on our own website and our servers. No adult content is distributed through Steam servers for Bokuten.”
Pickett also denied that the game’s 18+ patch activated scenes involving underage characters engaging in sexual acts. He argued Lombardi’s allegation was “a serious claim,” albeit “not the first time Valve has made such a false claim, as demonstrated with The Expression: Amrilato.”
“At present we’re hoping this issue can still be resolved amicably and we can see Bokuten restored to Steam,” he told the Daily Dot, “but this does give cause for all visual novel developers to worry when Steam can make such a claim and take such action after a title has been reviewed and cleared for sale.”
Moegamers Statement about the state of Steam
MoeGamer published a really detailed article about the situation, criticizing Steam’s inconsistencies in handling submissions to their marketplace. This article gives you a big overview of many developments and controversies.
Even One Angry Gamer reacts appropriately
The populist online magazine OneAngryGamer also reacted to the situation with Bokuten:
3. Reddit finds the 18+ Content
The Daily Dot’s article did not go unnoticed and was posted to Reddit on 31st of July 2020, where it received great traction. Up until this point, MangaGamer categorically denied that there could still be such content in the build they uploaded and that they had not patched any banned content. As a result, many people accused Valve of lying.
In the comments, a user named bad_spot appeared who had extracted MangaGamers builds from Bokuten using a game engine extraction tool called GARbro (Game Asset Resource BROwser) and found that there were remnants of H-scenes and adult content in the files. These files did not appear visible in the normal course of the game. They could not appear in a normal playthrough of Bokuten, so they had remained undetected until now.
We asked an IT person who has the skills necessary to extract games, and we came across 78 files that went unnoticed in the All-Ages build. You can see them here:
Kouryuu mentioned in the same thread that they were already doing their own investigations, but also stressed that a possible oversight did not mean that they had not worked hard trying to prevent it.
Explanation of the misunderstandings and Kouryuus justification for his statements
Since it is not easy to keep track of the many different statements made by all the parties, we would like to highlight the arguments on both sides once again in concrete terms and explain how misunderstandings and accusations could have arisen in the first place:
Steam’s reason for the ban was that MangaGamer had added sexual content to their game after Steam had already recognized the game as being All Ages. This reason was not immediately communicated to Mangagamer. It was only shortly before the interview with Daily Dot that Kouryuu learned of these accusations, which he denied when asked – with a simple counter-argument: There had never been an update of the game after its release on Steam. In this respect, it would be impossible that Mangagamer had introduced sexual content after the game had been released and thus violated Steam’s guidelines.
Later it turned out that there was actually sexual content in the game files. However, these were already included in the data at the time of the release. So MangaGamer’s statement was not a lie: There was no update that added sexual content to the game. But also the reason of Steam to ban the game was indeed correct: There was sexual content in the game files and therefore the game could not be distributed on Steam.
The details are significant here: Steam had approved a game as All Ages and was only informed later that sexual content was present. In the Daily Dot interview with Kouryuu, he said that this was not true, as he still assumed that this was an update that had never taken place. Only after the interview did Steam change the statement from „sexual content in an update“ to „sexual content already in the base build“, whereupon MangaGamer examined their base build and eventually found sexual content they thought they had already removed.
4. An update removes the files
Shortly after an update appeared on Steam, from which the 78 pictures were replaced by blank files. This update defused the problematic images. At this time, MangaGamer also posted a statement on Steam for the first time, which said
As some of you may be aware, #Bokuten was recently banned on Steam. We're working on resolving this issue, so please keep an eye on our socials as this situation develops. Until then, Bokuten is completely uncut, uncensored, and DRM-free on our website.https://t.co/Bd7HCvLRjx
— MangaGamer (@MangaGamer) August 1, 2020
5. Bokuten – Why I Got Back
Finally, on August 4, 2020, there was a tiny update that removed additional CGs and thumbnails. With a total of 81 files removed, whose status was confirmed to us by Kouryuu, Bokuten was now clean again and able to be distributed on Steam.
Later the same day Bokuten was available again in the Steam-Store and is now even available for a 50% reduced price until August 18th.
MangaGamers have also published a statement on their blog. (This statement is met with some criticism)
Additionally, to celebrate its return to Steam, #Bokuten – Why I Became an Angel will be 50% off until August 18th! Get your copy directly from our website or on Steam!
Steam: https://t.co/d0G98KOAtj pic.twitter.com/jeiw11KHJR
— MangaGamer (@MangaGamer) August 5, 2020
Did MangaGamer tell the truth?
On various Reddit posts you can find users who find it embarrassing that MangaGamer tried to denigrate Valve and shifted the blame away from themselves. However, this article should have explained how many misunderstandings and statements made too early again led to the fact that it seemed like MangaGamer was lying on purpose.
Does Bokuten contain Loli-Content?
Sleeper files in different games?
The Bokuten situation sets a kind of precedent, as we think this is not the first time that developers left Adult content in their All Ages builds for Steam submissions that can be unlocked using an external patch. This new development may force developers to completely remove the adult content from their All-Ages builds.
How did Valve find out about this?
We may only speculate:
It is possible that someone had contacted Steam and thus explicitly pointed out the contents to them. This could have happened for reasons of justice as well as resentment. There is no further information about this, so you should be skeptical about it, but it hasn’t happened very often that Steam suddenly does subsequent checks after eight months.
2019-11-20: Bokuten is released on Steam as an All Ages title
2020-07-29: Bokuten is removed from Steam. The public learns about this through MangaGamer’s lead translator and PR manager. Other employees and freelancers of MangaGamer start to react. At this point, Valve had not yet made contact with MangaGamer.
2020-07-30: The Daily Dot publishes an article based on the tweets made the day before
2020-07-31: The Daily Dot contacts MangaGamer and learns that Valve did contact MangaGamer (but only after Bokuten was already removed), with Valve justifying the ban by referring to in-game adult content they believe MangaGamer had added after the game was released. MangaGamer categorically denies all this. As a result, many people accuse Valve of lying.
2020-07-31: The Daily Dot article is posted on Reddit. A user confirms the presence of adult content in the steam version of Bokuten with screenshots. This is commented by MangaGamer staff with the promise to investigate this as soon as possible. Shortly after, an update is pushed to Steam that replaces 78 images with empty image files. An updated patch for adults containing these images is available on the MangaGamer website.
2020-08-01: MangaGamer tweets their first public statement that they are working on a solution to the problem.
2020-08-04: Another update is pushed on Steam, removing 3 more CGs, and later that day Bokuten is put back on Steam fully sterilized.
2020-08-05: MangaGamer publishes a blog post in which they accuse Valve of removing Bokuten for „wrong, invalid reasons“ while admitting that the posting on Steam was indeed „a valid problem“. This statement is met with criticism.
The Visual Novel community was able to learn a lot from this incident. Beyond that, we didn’t lose anything in the end, but we gained some new insights. You could even call it a victory, because we were able to make a difference:
- Steam has shown that in cases of misunderstandings or even self-inflicted mistakes, they’re willing to be talked to, which shakes the iron-hard image of Steam as an unfair judge who can’t be talked to.
- Publicly involving the press helps.
- Steam tolerates off-site patching but has a clear position against problematic content that they indirectly distribute and that does not comply with their terms and conditions.
- Correspondence with Steam can be quite a mess.
It seems that this December will get its angels again after all.