Oh Malaysia, going on news headlines for the wrong reasons again. Somehow, the government thought it was a good idea to block access to Steam- the biggest digital games distribution platform- just because they didn’t respond to requests to ban a silly Early Access fighting game involving various gods.
As someone who is more conservative, I totally get the reasoning to why the game deserves a ban here. Religious folks here don’t like their religion being mocked and poked fun of- I get that. But we could all agree that what the government did was far from how it should be handled.
It’s a frustrating experience, all the Malaysian gamers suddently got #potongsteam on the beginning of the weekend. It caused outraged, it generated many, many, headlines that put us in a bad limelight. Things could have gone better. This is not to belittle the mistakes, it’s to point it out and suggest something better so this would not happen again.
Lesson #1: Go to the developers, not Steam!
Steam is a huge platform, with millions of games to keep track of. They also have a pretty bad track record at providing support and services. Curation is a problem where users couldn’t find the right games and small games couldn’t find their audience. Yes there is now a refund policy that is pro-consumer but even that is mostly automated.
The wrong move was that Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission -MCMC, the governing body that governs the digital space, approached Steam with a request for ban. Even worse, MCMC issued an ultimatum- failure to comply and they will take action.
And they did by blocking the whole Steam Store. The nerve.
It might sound like a good idea to threaten Steam into action, but nope. They stayed quiet the whole time.
Though given that it’s actually easy to bypass the block, it still a show of blatant stupidity and pettiness.
In an official statement by developers and publishers Digital Crafter and PQube, they mentioned that they were never contacted directly by the Malaysian government, only hearing reports.
“Most notably, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission have called for a ban on the game and asked for it to be disabled within 24 hours or face further actions.
“We never received any communications from Malaysian officials here at PQube, however reports seem to indicate that Malaysia has now blocked access to all of Steam in order to prevent access to Fight of Gods.
“We are disappointed that such freedom of choice is not given to everyone and in particular that the game has been forcibly removed from sale in Malaysia, although no direct communication has been received by us as to the reasons for this. Nevertheless we respect any rules and censorship imposed in any given territory.”
Thankfully, they complied. Fight Of Gods is unavailable for purchase in Malaysia now. That is what the MCMC wanted to achieve, but in its wake was many angry gamers.
To the MCMC officers, next time, approach the developers and publishers first! They’re quicker to respond than Steam will ever be! They even complied thanks to hearing second-hand reports of you wanting to ban it!
Lesson #2: Don’t give them publicity!
So, the idea of banning or censoring something is to stop it from spreading, but like trying to force yourself stop thinking about aubergines and various imageries of aubergines popped into mind, it ironically can backfire. Greatly.
Fight Of Gods is a small Early Access game (a game that’s not even remotely finished!) from a small Taiwanese developer and a small UK publisher. They’re indies, independent developers as we call them. They don’t have much marketing prowess, only relying on good word of mouth, and some buzz from social media and gaming sites.
But when a religious group makes a strong statement about how dangerous the game is- people pay attention. Mainstream news then picks up the story. Then the government announced to do something about it to show they know what they are doing and satisfy these groups. More news. Then Steam got blocked- it snowballed even bigger. Now people are mocking us about the silly censorship debacle gone too far.
Maybe, try do it a bit subtle next time? Of course, if big games like the next Assassin’s Creed got banned quietly it will cause an even bigger stir, but in the context of Fight Of Gods, doing it so would have been the smarter move. Only answer with an official statement when people ask. If all goes well, that’s not many people to answer to. People barely knew what game it is in the first place. Now it’s got free publicity.
(Of course, that paragraph above won’t sit well with those totally against censorship.)
Lesson #3: Be consistent!
Now, another problem is how all of a sudden a small, almost non-noteworthy game on Steam has made the platform blocked in Malaysia but other games with similar tones walk away scot-free. Action is only taken when an issue is brought up, but nothing else when no big names in politics or religious figures say anything about it.
It’s frustrating- we gamers have to hope that these people didn’t caught wind of a potentially controversial game. Most of the time they don’t- thankfully. SMITE, Dante’s Inferno, and many other games that used religious themes and imagery are A-OK since no one is taking umbrage.
I believe that MCMC should figure out how to monitor and standardise games in Malaysia. We don’t employ or enforce any age ratings on games seen on physical copies from what I’ve seen, which makes me to believe there isn’t any strong standards to monitor games in Malaysia. Either make it totally free- no intervention whatsoever- or have a specific standard that can make it clear what games can and cannot do in Malaysia.
Also, that doesn’t mean just Steam. All the games from the many various platforms should be monitored in the same way. Can’t let one small indie game cause Steam to get block but other big titles are totally fine. Either standardise or don’t bother at all and let the market decide.
In conclusion, Malaysia could have avoided being in the headlines easily from this situation, but it handled poorly. Not only we are providing marketing for the game we cannot buy in the country, we make ourselves look bad in gaming world.
And it’s thanks to an RM11 fighting game that’s not even that good yet.
And hey, if you’re angry with what happened, election is around the corner.