UNTIL a few days ago, most Malaysians gamers never heard of a little known Taiwanese game developer Digital Crafter but the company’s controversial early access game Fight of Gods resulted in the Malaysian Communication Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to ban the entire Steam Store for a period of at least 12-hours starting from around 9pm last night. Acces to the site from Malaysia was abruptly lifted some time this morning before 11am. The Steam Store is considered the world’s most popular PC storefront for digital games.
The ban was carried out on the instructions of Communication and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak who, in a statement yesterday carried by national news service, Bernama, said the action was taken after the video game platform provider, Steam, failed to comply with the 24-hour ultimatum given by the ministry to disable downloads of the game by Malaysian users.
"This action is necessary to protect the users and to prevent untoward incidents," said Salleh who went on to stress that maintaining solidarity, harmony and wellbeing of the multi-racial and multi-religious people in Malaysia is a main objective of the government.
Meanwhile, the Taiwanese developer of Fight of Gods and their publisher issued a joint statement before the ban was lifted where they expressed their disappointment over the game being forcibly removed from sale in Malaysia though they respect any rules and censorship imposed in any given territory. They stressed that the humorous angle of the game is meant to entertain and not promote any religous agenda or designed to offend and say they have reached out to Steam to resolves the situation.
Predictably, Malaysian gamers who frequent Steam for its various games did not take kindly to their access being block, even though supposedly done for their own good.
Malaysian gamers that logged on to the store on Sept 8 were greeted by a blue page informing them of the service ban. However they were still able to play the games they have purchased in their game library. And with the nature of the internet, despite the outright ban, savvy gamers could easily circumvent the block and access the Steam Store via a Virtual Private Network (VPN) - which was the most asked question on social platforms last night.
While Malaysian PC gamers were steaming mad over the ban, temporary as it was, local game developers were not too concerned. International Game Developers Association (IGDA) Malaysian chapter coordinator Shawn Beck believes that the ban will have minimum impact on the developer community on the whole. “For developers, the [brief] ban on Steam doesn’t affect us much as the majority of developers are developing for games that are sold outside of Malaysia. The target market is always primarily that of the United States and China. There is even bigger money to be made in neighbouring Singapore and the fact remains that the market for games in Malaysia is so small,” says Beck who spoke to DNA before the lifting of the ban and expressed the hope that the ban would be temporary and be quickly lifted. He got his wish.
He also didn't think that the brief ban would affect the way foreign developers or potential investors viewed Malaysia as the benefits of developing games in Malaysia outweigh the cons. “The fact remains that it is much more affordable to develop games in Malaysia as we both have the talent and are competitively priced compared to other markets in the region,” he says.
Beck also notes that the majority of Malaysian developers are primarily focused on developing games for mobile platforms like iOS and Android. On any given year, there would only be a handful of Malaysian developers actually developing games for the Steam platform.
His view was seconded by Liquid Rock Games chief executive officer and co-founder Yap Chun Fein who agreed that many Malaysian developers are focused on mobile games because of the larger casual game user base. Liquid Rock is a boutique game development studio.
“There is definitely more volume from a user base perspective on mobile as there are more casual gamers out there compared to hardcore gamers who typically play games on Steam,” he says.
Interestingly, Yap notes that the majority of Steam users in Malaysia are primarily discount buyers who wait for the massive discounts that occur during the bi-annual Steam sale. “I have many friends who buy Steam games and end up collecting them without ever playing them."
Even though the ban has been lifted the flip flop nature of this action has attracted concern by some members of the Malaysian game development scene.
A concerned local academic said he understood why the blanket ban was placed but it was definitely not the best way to go about the issue.
He felt that the government should have checked with the relevant stakeholders in the industry such as Valve, the creator of Steam and Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) before taking such a hasty action.
The game has evoked a variety of mixed responses from gamers. Comments on Fight of Gods’ comment section on Steam has some gamers poking fun at the ridiculous nature of the game.
Steam user XenkailX said, ”The developers are really gutsy to include Moses, Buddha and Jesus despite it making the game very controversial and bannable in religious countries like Malaysia.”
XenkailX was quick to point that the game still could use some refinements and even encouraged other Steam users to buy the game before it gets banned in their country or removed from Steam entirely.
Another user "dank" was clearly very upset with the resulting ban of the Steam store. For all the controversy the game has courted "dank" found the game’s control to be sub par.
A fighting game fan Shoryuken commented that he only played the game to play as Jesus but found the game to be less appealing in reality. Calling a cheap knockoff of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, even the graphics are dated from the PlayStation 2 era and aside from providing a few jokes and laughs, he wouldn’t recommend the game at its present state.
DNA has reached out to Steam for follow-on comments and will update the story when Steam reverts.
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