Steam quietly bans games that feature crypto/NFT exchanges

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(BigStock Photo)

Games and other applications that involve minting or trading cryptocurrency or non-fungible tokens are no longer allowed on Steam.

The company behind Steam, Bellevue, Wash.-based Valve Software, quietly updated its content rules and guidelines for studio partners at some point in the last couple of months. They now specifically disallow programs “built on blockchain technology that issue or allow exchange of cryptocurrencies or NFTs.”

By the terms as listed, it should still be possible to publish a game on Steam that’s built on blockchain technology, as long as it doesn’t involve crypto/NFT trading. Other game-related applications for the blockchain, such as unique in-game objects keyed to a specific player, theoretically wouldn’t be prohibited by Valve’s new rule. Several blockchain-based games that don’t involve crypto or NFT trading, such as 8 Circuit StudiosProject Genesis, are still available on Steam at time of writing.

GeekWire has reached out to Steam for comment, and will update this article when and if the company responds.

Valve appears to have tried to sneak its new guideline under the industry’s general radar. It hasn’t yet announced the change in any public-facing way, and as noted by the Verge, some of its onboarding documentation for new publishing partners still doesn’t mention it.

Instead, the news broke through SpacePirate Games, the developers of Age of Rust, an indie game that had previously been scheduled for release on Steam later this year. Age of Rust is described on its official website as featuring “detailed puzzles, a new storyline, new destinations, and in-game treasure hunts for blockchain assets and currency,” with one hard-to-find in-game treasure that’s worth 20 Bitcoin ($1.22 million as of Oct. 16) to whoever finds it.

SpacePirate Games’ Age of Rust, a first-person puzzle/adventure game that’s been kicked off Steam, contains multiple blockchain-based financial rewards. (Spacepirate Games Image)

On Thursday, the official Age of Rust Twitter announced that it had been kicked off Steam, reportedly with very little warning. “Steam’s point of view is that items have value,” the Age of Rust developers wrote, “and they don’t allow items that can have real-world value on their platform.”

Steam had previously removed Light Nite, a “play to earn” multiplayer third-person shooter that rewarded in-game victories with tiny amounts of Bitcoin, on Sept. 30. Its developer, Satoshis Games, reported at the time that, as of a few weeks previous to the announcement, “Steam has let us know that they will not be shipping crypto or NFT games.”

There are a couple of other crypto/NFT-focused games that are still on Steam at time of writing, such as the infamous South Korean MMORPG Mir4, but it’s anyone’s guess how long that will last.

In Mir4, players who’ve reached level 40 can turn an in-game resource into a unique cryptocurrency called the “Draco.” That resource, Darksteel, has to be collected from rock seams, which means Mir4 is literally a “cryptocurrency miner.” That, in turn, may explain why it’s got a consistent pool of around 47,000 players despite bad reviews from both critics and users.

Without an official statement from Steam on the issue, it’s hard to guess what’s motivated its new anti-crypto/NFT rule. The reasoning given by SpacePirate Games, regarding “items that can have real-world value,” is bizarre on its face, as Steam itself features a marketplace where players can trade actual currency for in-game goods. Last year, an anonymous Chinese collector set a record by dropping $100,000 on a single cosmetic item in Valve’s first-person shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

However, the Steam Marketplace has also hosted its share of scams and controversies. Multiple parties have filed suits against Valve over it, including the Quinault Nation in Washington State, which accused Valve in 2019 of using loot boxes in Counter-Strike as a form of illegal gambling.

Another problem arose in 2018, when an indie game called Abstractism managed to get all the way to release on Steam without anyone noticing it was a well-disguised cryptocurrency miner. Steam removed 170 other “troll games” later that year, many of which were reportedly scams meant to steal digital items out of Steam users’ inventories.

With that in mind, it may simply be that Valve is wary of getting into any more hot water, particularly given the current state of play in NFTs. Steam is already riddled with controversy at any given time just by virtue of being the biggest digital storefront for PC games.

Would-be crypto/NFT game developers aren’t entirely out of luck, however. Epic Games told the Verge on Oct. 15 that its digital storefront, the Epic Games Store, remains open to the idea of publishing games that support NFTs or cryptocurrency, albeit with significant restrictions and regulation. Epic itself, according to CEO Tim Sweeney, “isn’t touching NFTs.”

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Tackling the climate crisis: 3 optimistic takeaways from climate tech experts at the GeekWire Summit

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Read Time:4 Minute, 24 Second
The climate tech panel at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle on Oct. 5, 2021. Panelists from left to right: Brandon Middaugh, Kevin Klustner and Emeka Anyanwu, with moderator Lisa Stiffler of GeekWire at far right. (GeekWire Photos / Dan DeLong)

The climate crisis is a big, scary challenge. But people are working hard to deploy technologies and policies to pull carbon emissions out of our lives and curb the warming. At last week’s GeekWire Summit, we assembled a panel of experts to share their thoughts on how to tackle what has been called an “existential threat” to humanity.

The conversation explored the changes seen in the climate tech sector over the past decade, areas of promising innovation, and whether folks were feeling hopeful about our ability to forestall the worst of what climate change has to offer (spoiler: all three guests were optimistic).

Here are three takeaways from the panel, which included Brandon Middaugh, director of Microsoft’s $1 billion Climate Innovation Fund; Kevin Klustner, executive director of the University of Washington’s Center for Advanced Materials and Clean Energy Technologies, or CAMCET; and Emeka Anyanwu, energy innovation and resources officer for Seattle City Light.

Climate efforts center on equity

Emeka Anyanwu, energy innovation and resources officer for Seattle City Light.

A hotter world with more extreme weather events is already causing more misery for Americans who are poorer and racial and ethnic minorities, than for those who are white and wealthier. Given that unequal impact, many efforts to confront climate change are making equity a key factor when looking at solutions.

At the UW, Klustner said that includes programs to attract a diverse student body into STEM courses and research opportunities in climate tech.

When Microsoft’s climate investment fund was established last year, Middaugh said, they set climate equity as one of four key considerations when evaluating where to spend their money.

At Seattle City Light, “one of the things we’ve really been focused on as we’ve talked about the future of energy, the future of utilities, has been trying to draw the benefits of the clean energy transition to communities that historically have been underserved,” Anyanwu said. So when it is developing clean transit improvements, for example, the utility is looking to more diverse neighborhoods for projects.

Microsoft’s defense of its carbon removal investments

Brandon Middaugh, director of Microsoft’s $1 billion Climate Innovation Fund.

Among the handful of early beneficiaries of Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund is the direct air capture startup Climeworks. This pioneering Swiss company pulls carbon from the air and will store it in a mineral form at its first commercial-scale plant in Iceland.

Erasing past emissions sounds terrific. Heat-trapping carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, making it difficult to reach the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. But carbon capture has its critics. Some advocates for action worry that carbon-removal tech will give fossil fuel companies license to keep churning out CO2 rather than cutting new emissions.

Middaugh’s message was, in effect, let’s get real.

“We’ve recognized, the science has recognized, every credible economic model on how to reach a 1.5 degrees scenario has recognized that we need both,” Middaugh said. “We’re going to need to change the carbon reduction trajectory on some highly accelerated timelines. But then we’re also going to need to invest in a technological insurance policy as well.”

Another concern about carbon capture is the high price of each ton that’s removed. Middaugh said those economics are all the more reason for Microsoft to invest in innovations to lower the costs.

What can we learn from that other global crisis

Kevin Klustner, executive director of the University of Washington’s Center for Advanced Materials and Clean Energy Technologies.

The COVID-19 pandemic created a global crisis that required worldwide solutions. There are clear parallels with the climate crisis. So what did we learn from COVID that could be applied to climate?

Klustner zeroed in on vaccine development for his lessons learned. That experience, he said, demonstrated the urgent need to minimize political polarization around the issue as much as possible; the huge benefits of expediting the approval of successful new technologies; and the need to do better in addressing inequities, as the vaccines are still not widely available in many developing countries.

Middaugh said COVID revealed that it is possible to reduce carbon emissions, which occurred organically as the global economy slowed. With the help of tech innovations, we need to curb those emissions again, and much, much more. (A new report from the International Energy Agency concluded that the planet needs to triple its annual investment in clean energy projects and infrastructure to nearly $4 trillion by 2030, as reported by Axios).

“What [COVID] has really shown us is we can do hard things,” she said. “And that there’s nothing inevitable about a certain set of fossil [fuel] or incumbent technologies.”

Anyanwu also gleaned a message of hope.

“It is possible,” he said, “to imagine really a different future than the past.”

Full videos of this panel and other GeekWire Summit sessions are available on-demand to paid attendees. You can register as a virtual attendee here.

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GeekWire Podcast: The shared orbits of Microsoft and Amazon, and the tech industry’s future in space

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Read Time:2 Minute, 11 Second
GeekWire Illustration

Plenty of well-known tech leaders have jumped from Microsoft to Amazon over the years. So what does it say about the evolution of the companies that one of Amazon’s most senior executives is now working at Microsoft?

Former Amazon Web Services leader Charlie Bell’s new gig at Microsoft is our first topic on this week’s GeekWire Podcast, now that he has been cleared to start in his role, leading a newly formed Microsoft cybersecurity engineering organization.

Our guest commentator is a different Charlie with experience at both companies.

Charlie Kindel worked for many years as a Microsoft general manager in areas including its server and mobile businesses, before jumping into the world of startups and ending up at Amazon, where he led mobile payments and built the Alexa Smart Home organization. After working as chief product and technology officer at home automation company SnapOne, previously Control4, he’s now an independent advisor and consultant to space and satellite startups.

Charlie Kindel.

Bell’s move reflects the evolution of Microsoft’s culture, Kindel says.

“If he had done this 10 years ago, my answer would be completely different, because there’s no way he would be happy, there’s no way he would feel like he could have the ability to impact Microsoft’s culture in a positive way relative to the way Amazon is run,” he says. “But the reality is, Microsoft has changed a lot in that timeframe.”

Kindel shares his perspective on Microsoft’s evolution, and compares the cultures of both companies with his own examples from different points in their histories.

About commercial space exploration, he says it’s imperative for big tech companies to be working on their own space initiatives now to maintain their relevance in the future. He also addresses skepticism about the value of space ventures at a time when there are so many big problems to solve at home.

“The benefits that we are already seeing from investment in space directly correlate to helping Earth, and helping problems on the planet,” he says.

Listen above, and subscribe to GeekWire in any podcast app.

Stories covered on this week’s show:

With GeekWire’s Todd Bishop and John Cook. Theme music by Daniel L.K. Caldwell. See geekwire.com/podcast for more episodes and links to subscribe.

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The future of work: HR leaders from Zillow, Expedia on the pandemic-driven changes to the workplace

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From left: Zillow’s Dan Spaulding, Expedia’s Archana Singh and former Gov. Christine Gregoire talk with Geekwire’s Mike Lewis on the Future of Work panel. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

The future of how we work, where we work, how that work is measured and even how we get to work has always loomed large in the tech community, but never more so than since the pandemic began and entire industries recalibrated to the reality of remote collaboration.

At the GeekWire Summit last week, former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire joined Expedia’s Archana Singh and Zillow’s Dan Spaulding (both chief people officers for their respective companies) to talk about what changes they’ve seen in the workplace and what likely changes are still to come.

Spaulding said every company has asked employees to change many things about the way they work. And some of those changes are here to stay.

“Certainly the thing at Zillow that we think will be enduring after the pandemic is just the need for employees to have maximum flexibility over how they use their time everyday,” he said.

The concept of work flexibility isn’t going to be a couple of days a week, Spaulding said. “It’s going to be everyday.”

Singh added that the pandemic has forced adaptive challenges on everyone.

“This is all about learning and testing ways,” she said. “There’s definitely keen attention to what’s sustainable human performance. What’s here to stay is inordinate attention on human performance and adaptive approaches to problem solving.”

She added that companies are starting to figure out when work needs to happen in teams, when work needs to happen in offices and when it needs to happen individually.

From left: Zillow’s Dan Spaulding, Expedia’s Archana Singh and former Gov. Christine Gregoire. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

Gregoire, now CEO of the Challenge Seattle alliance of employers, noted that one of the changes she anticipates isn’t inside the workplace — wherever that might be — but outside of it as well. People who go into downtown now, she said, are no longer going to find the same place they left 20 months ago.

“Those restaurants, those (businesses) that provided services downtown are going to suffer,” she said. “Even if employees do come downtown to Seattle, are they going to find the same options and the same opportunities that they had during lunch, or after or before work? I don’t think so.”

On the topic of salaries being fixed to job type or geography, Spaulding said Zillow is not lowering people’s salaries when they relocate. “We’ve changed our whole compensation approach,” he said. “Instead of looking at compensation on a city level, we are looking at compensation on a national level.”

Singh said for Expedia, “compensation is a market matter.”

“We operate in 58 countries. Obviously compensation in Gurgaon, India is different from Singapore, [which is] is different from China or Seattle or Chicago,” she said. “We benchmark compensation across all of these markets. When we move people from Singapore to Seattle, they go into Seattle compensation.”

As far as productivity in a remote work environment, Gregoire said early expectations were proven wrong.

“When the pandemic first started, the question that came to the fore was the concern by all of the companies that productivity would plummet. Six months later, that was absolutely not true,” she said. “In fact, the experience was just the opposite. Productivity actually went up.”

She added, however, that mental health issues arose with the shift to working from home.

Full videos of this panel and other GeekWire Summit sessions are available on-demand to paid attendees. You can register as a virtual attendee here.

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This is actually happening: Microsoft’s Xbox Series X Mini Fridge is coming in December

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So I guess this is happening now. (Xbox Image)

Paying off on a running joke from last summer, Microsoft’s Xbox-themed mini-refrigerator is coming to retail in December. Pre-orders open next Tuesday, Oct. 19.

The Xbox Series X Mini Fridge is exactly what it sounds like it is: a small refrigerator built to look like the Xbox Series X, which can hold 10 12-ounce cans of soda and features two door-mounted shelves for snacks. The front of the Mini Fridge also has a USB port that can be used to charge devices.

According to Xbox marketing GM Aaron Greenberg, the Xbox fridge measures 18″ x 9″ x 9″ (462mm x 232mm x 232mm), with a 13.8″ x 6.8″ x 6.8″ (352.3mm x 174mm x 175mm) internal compartment. Greenberg promises the fridge is compatible with both AC and DC power supplies.

Originally announced after Microsoft’s E3 games showcase in June, the Xbox Mini Fridge is basically what happens when Microsoft decides to lean into a joke, and can also be usefully blamed on Twitter.

In Oct. 2020, as it warmed up to launch the Xbox Series X, Microsoft made a full-size Series X-style fridge and delivered it to rapper and games enthusiast Snoop Dogg as a birthday present. This followed up on a number of jokes that had been circulating since the console’s reveal, which included comparing its brick-like design to a refrigerator.

Then, back in April, Twitter’s marketing department held a competition called the Brand Bracket, which asked fans to vote for their favorite overactive, vaguely self-aware marketing-related Twitter accounts. The grand finals put Xbox up against Skittles, with Greenberg promising to make the Xbox Mini Fridge a reality if Xbox won. Xbox subsequently clutched it out with 50.5% of the vote, so now here we are.

The Mini Fridge was produced through a partnership with the production firm Ukonic, based in Las Vegas. In addition to a variety of tie-in products for Disney and Marvel, Ukonic also creates merchandise for Microsoft’s Minecraft and the forthcoming Halo Infinite.

The first production run of Xbox fridges will be available at retail for $99.99. In North America, it’s initially a retail exclusive at Target stores; Canadian customers can also order an Xbox fridge through Target’s website.

Xbox fans in the UK can order their fridge through GAME for £89.99. In France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Poland, and the Netherlands, the fridge will sell for €99.00 at GameStop EU, Micromania, or Toynk via Amazon. Other interested nations will likely have to wait until an unspecified point in 2022, as Microsoft promises to “expand regional availability” over the next few months.

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