So I'm a long-time user of Gaming StackExchange and I love the site, and today I posted the question If I activate game keys on Steam, am I supporting Steam?

Everything was fine and I got a thorough, researched answer like I expected - but then some people started downvoting it and claiming it was off-topic. This started the bandwagon effect, and even though I tried to defend it through the comments, the post was unnecessarily put on hold anyway. It already had an accepted answer, for goodness sakes. I would understand if the question was "What is Darth Vader's favorite drink?" and it was marked as off-topic, but this question was directly related to a unique model that Steam incorporates for its game activations.

The question

The question related directly to gaming and to Steam, because I wanted to know if Steam would make money if I bought Steam keys elsewhere and then activated them on Steam. Innocent enough, right?

The opposition claimed that this was not an on-topic question because it had to do with finances and not Steam and gaming. Steam just happened to be included in it (even though Steam was an integral part of the question, and in fact was the reason I asked this question at all, not because I wanted to know how company finances worked in general).

The opposition claimed that the question was equivalent to asking about how Starbucks or other companies' gift cards were sold (even though those are sold and treated in completely different ways than how Steam keys activated on Steam are used), but I only wanted to know how this aspect of Steam worked - I don't care how other companies sell gift cards and whatnot.

Using language that gives off the connotation that it is unrelated

The opposition's main method of attack was to simply take the gist of my question, and then re-word it in language that gave off the impression that it is off-topic. In many instances, they often would try to leave out the sections of the question that related to gaming (most notably, Steam) and then frame the question as off-topic.

This tactic can be done with almost any question

This tactic that they used can be done to almost any question, it just means the closer a question actually is related to gaming, the more we have to twist its words to make the meaning sound like it is off-topic. I demonstrated this by referencing another question that is just fine on Arqade, and then re-wording it with language that has different connotations to make it appear as if it was off-topic. I did this blow-for-blow every time they tried to warp what my question was about, and they would spring to the other side and do what I was doing and defend why that question was on-topic. (Here is the question I used as an example: Where is my Steam Folder?)

Direct arguments that went back and forth

Here are some of the direct arguments that went back and forth. I think that after you read them you will be able to agree with my point that the question deserves a fair space as an on-topic question:

We answer questions about Steam. Not how finances could or would work.

+ And this is a question about Steam. Just because it has another related aspect doesn't immediately make it an off-topic question. As an example, this question: gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/292675/… Could be marked as off-topic because "we answer questions about Steam. Not about how the inner workings of computers work, or how specific programs save files and folders."*


Yeah, you want to know where the money goes. Which isn't a gaming problem. The fact that you're buying a game is immaterial.

+ No, I want to know if the video game distributor Steam is making money when I buy games that are activated on their platform and used on that platform. You're just re-wording things in a way to give off the connotation that they are not related to Steam and gaming as heavily. In the same way, I could say for that other question I posted that "he just wants to know where specific computer program files are located. Which isn't a gaming problem. The fact that he is looking for Steam's files is immaterial."

You can ask the exact same question using different companies: "If I use gift cards for Starbucks that I bought on Amazon, am I supporting Starbucks?" That question is obviously off-topic. The only reason there's any confusion for this question is that one of the companies (Valve, which makes Steam) happens to have game-related products. However, that is a tangential relation at best.

+ That is not true, because how gift cards work and are distributed and sold is different than how Steam keys are distributed to different platforms and sold (as verified by the answer below). But again, the exact same tactic could be applied to the question I linked earlier. "You can ask the exact same question using different programs: Where is my Blender Folder? That question is obviously off-topic. The only reason there is any confusion for that question is that one of the folders happens to do with Steam which happens to sell game-related products.

1) Gift cards are the closest analogy I can think of right now. It's pretty close, IMO - the main vendor (Starbucks/Steam) sells the use of their product (gift card/Steam key) to a third party (Amazon), who then sells that product to the customer, who needs to return to the original vendor to use the product. 2) The reason the person is looking for the Steam folder directly relates to gaming: they want to modify/copy/backup their games/game saves. How do the profit margins of a vendor relate to playing games in any way?

+ As revealed below, Steam keys are given out to other vendors by the developers of the games, not by Steam. With other companies, they produce their own gift cards for people to buy at the exact equivalent price that gift card is worth, and then after they pay the money the object redeemable with that money can be chosen later. It is unrelated to how Steam and their keys from other vendors work.

+ I am not just "asking for the profit margins of a vendor," that is simplifying the question in a way that leaves out information. I want to know if with this unique system that Steam has set up Steam is being supported by my money when I purchase the Steam keys elsewhere. If this was a common business model used by other companies, then it would be a general and off-topic question, but it is not. It is specific to Steam (as seen in the answer below).

I would love to have some un-baised third party people take a look at this issue and weigh in on it :) Thank you so much, guys!

  • 3
    I think we need to pin the following notice to the top of the site for a few weeks: "Closed questions are not bad questions." – Yuuki Dec 2 '16 at 20:31
  • 2
    They are, however, questions that either need fixing, or deletion. – Frank Dec 2 '16 at 20:40
  • This question would be more valid on GameDev – Banh Mi Dac Biet Dec 2 '16 at 21:19

The thing is, you're not actually asking about Steam; you're asking about Valve, the creators of Steam. Questions about Steam are generally on-topic; we use it a lot, so we can generally answer questions about it.

Questions about the developers of the platform? There's the rub; we're straying way outside our expertise, and, in fact, have a specific close reason for questions that require information from developers to answer. That's where this question falls into; someone has to have said something about it in order to answer it. Just like design choices for games, finances are one of those things that aren't publicly available.

Where you're getting hung up is that this particular question is answerable due to lots of people actually having spoken about it. Answerability makes for a poor metric to whether or not to keep a question, so arguing that you have an answer kind of misses the point. Our stance isn't that we don't allow questions, unless they're answerable; that way lies chaos.

I was arguing the finance end of things, because, really, where the money goes isn't a game-playing problem. It sounds harsh, I know. How a company functions isn't a focus we have. We might be able to answer it, but again, see above; answerability does not a valid question make. I suppose I could have just pointed out our off-topic reason, but I thought a bit more of a personal touch would help understanding.


As the first one to VTC this question, I guess you can't call me "unbiased."

However, this question is off-topic for the site. The question in question is not related to gaming aside from the fact that it's referring to the steam platform.

From the Help Center page on what to ask:

  • Gameplay strategies and tactics
  • Puzzle solving or obstacle clearing
  • Game mechanics and terminology
  • Plot and characters in games
  • Game-specific hardware and utilities

When I and other users say that your question really boils down to the workings of business practices between Steam and third-party vendors such as Amazon, we are not oversimplifying your original question. Your own comments have shown this:

"I want to know if the video game distributor Steam is making money when I buy games that are activated on their platform and used on that platform."

Thus, it's not on-topic. It is tangentially related to video games, yes, but not on-topic.


I wasn't involved in that closure, but I did see it and the comment trail when it was happening, so I think I can maybe explain without the appearance of the bias of personal involvement.

The reason it was closed is because, although many things are relevant to gamers, the only portion that Arqade covers is things relevant to playing games.

How that falls out in this case is that, although many things might be relevant to a gamer when making a purchase decision — such as finding out to whom their money is going — that's not a game-play issue and is therefore outside of Arqade's topic. What the company Valve is doing with their financials and business model is interesting, and there's information about it out there, but it's not a subject that's on-topic at Arqade.

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