Oct 21, 2014 · 2 minutes

Valve, the company behind the leading game distributor and platform on Windows devices, has pulled a game from its Steam marketplace after its developer tweeted a death threat to one of the company's co-founders, Gabe Newell. Why? Because he was frustrated about the store's inability to remove a logo claiming that the game was in public beta.

The decision to pull the game is simultaneously laudable and worrisome. It's laudable because the gaming community needs to learn that it's not okay to threaten critics, developers, or sellers just because they have different beliefs or do something the community finds disagreeable. It's worrisome because it's another example of a supposedly-neutral "platform" taking sides.

I'm not going to spend too much time talking about the bomb threat against Anita Sarkeesian, or the violent threats that forced developer Brianna Wu and her family to leave their home. It's obvious that those threats are despicable and that the people who made them should be charged for their actions. Furthermore, I don't have much to say about "GamerGate" that Polygon hasn't already.

But I do think it's worth exploring the effect that impartial gatekeepers sitting between consumers and workers -- whether they're game developers or livery drivers -- might have on the increasing number of people who rely on the platforms to make some kind of living wage.

Consider the driver banned from Uber's service after he shared a Pando report on the dangers of being an Uber driver in Los Angeles. Though he was later reinstated, the banning raised an interesting question about Uber: Is it merely a bridge between riders and drivers, or is it a real employer that expects its drivers not to share even a hint of criticism about its service online?

Uber the employer would have every right to fire someone for sharing an article it regarded as unfavorable towards its company, even if it's a poor reason to threaten someone's livelihood. Uber the platform, however, shouldn't really care about anything that doesn't put its riders or drivers at risk, and sharing an article on Twitter doesn't threaten anyone but Uber.

Something similar can be argued for Steam. Valve, the company behind the platform, should absolutely make sure the developer in question understands that actions have consequences. But using the Steam platform to make that clear brings the platform's neutrality into question, and given its near-monopoly over the desktop gaming market, that should worry developers, even if they have no intention of threatening to kill someone because of a botched launch date.

There's nothing wrong with companies becoming hugely important to a particular market. The problem comes when they then put their interests ahead of their partners and customers, like Amazon has done with its battle against book publishers. Otherwise, these "impartial" connections between workers and their target customers are at risk.

[illustration by Hallie Bateman]