Sophie - Steam usernames, take 2
my journal
September 2016

Date: 2014-09-14 00:27
Security: Public
Tags:gender identity, names, steam, usernames, valve
Subject: Steam usernames, take 2

As most readers of my journal know, I am a transgender woman. As part of the process of transitioning, I've been changing the names of the various accounts I use online.

I encountered a roadblock when I wanted to change my Steam username, but couldn't because of Steam's policy that accounts cannot be renamed. (That situation eventually got resolved when you guys spread the word about what was going on, but at the time it was really frustrating.)

Since then I've been keeping track of whether their policy has changed. That appears not to be the case, sadly - one-and-a-half years ago I asked if anything had changed, and the answer was no. And now, it appears as if Steam is at it again, in exactly the same way as it did three-and-a-half years ago with my original request.

A new friend of mine, Katy ([ profile] kateunafraid) is trying to get Steam support to change her username.

Here's how her ticket started (ticket 4642-QTSL-8416, reproduced with permission):

1 Message by you on Fri, 5th Sep 2014 7:25am


I have seen the official response for steam saying that it's not possible to change an account name. I'm not sure if you're aware of the level of dysphoria faced by many in the transgender community, but seeing my dead name every time I have to log in to steam is depressing and incredibly upsetting. Simply changing a display name does not alleviate that in any way, shape or form

I have spent a lot of money on Steam over the years and been a loyal user and I don't wish to disconnect from the system but literally logging in brings intense feelings of sadness and dismay time. Basically the Steam platform is invalidating my entire existence and journey by forcing me to identify as somebody I am not.

I would really appreciate you updating your policy to either allow transgender individuals to change their account log-in names (or just for anyone if that's easier) or to allow us to migrate our game libraries to a new account log-in identity. I'm more than happy to provide proof, to provide a court order, driver's license or anything else you require. I'm not more than happy to keep logging in as a person I'm not. With a name that sends a dagger through my heart every time I see it now.

I do not wish to stop using Steam, and I fully anticipate purchasing many games in the future. I will not and can not keep using this same account though - and if your policies force me to abandon everything I have paid for in order to start a brand new account, you can rest assured that I will no longer be advocating for or using your platform.

I would really appreciate a response, either way, so I know where I, and the many others in a similar situation stand. Is Steam really going to be a platform that does not support a not insignificant part of the population in the most intense,awkward, potentially dangerous period of their lives?

Thanks for your consideration,

2 Message by Support Tech Dru on Tue, 9th Sep 2014 9:02 am

Hello Katy,

Thank you for contacting Steam Support.

We apologize for the delay.

Steam account names cannot be changed.

You are welcome to change your alias (Nickname/friends name) at any time - your Steam account name is not displayed to other users.

To change the name displayed within a game, do the following:

Click the Steam menu and choose Settings.

Your display name can be changed on the Friends tab.

The name you choose here will be displayed in-game.

You can also do this while in-game. Press SHIFT+TAB to bring up the Steam overlay, and select "View All Friends" in the lower-left.

From here, click the arrow next to your Profile name (Display name), and choose "Change Profile Name".

Please let us know if you have any further questions.

Oh hey, I recognise this. That's exactly the same stock answer they sent me, with just the name of the menu option to click changed.

Now, like me, Katy has already done all this. Changing the names that are visible to other people isn't the issue here; the issue is changing the username itself.

As I stated in the follow-up post when this was resolved for me:
...a username is not just an arbitrary selection of letters and numbers. That is to say, from a technical perspective it is, but in all other respects it's part of an identity. For a lot of people, that identity overlaps with their real life identity, and if that identity changes, it only makes sense that the username should be able to be changed along with it.
Now, it's true that a lot of sites don't have the ability to change your usernames. Conversely, however, those same sites often do not involve financial transactions, or if they do, they normally allow at least an option to transfer any purchased assets to another account.

Steam doesn't even do that. What Steam expects you to do if you want to change username is to register a new account and re-purchase ALL your games. If you don't do that, you will be forced to either split your games between two different accounts, or to leave Steam entirely.

Um, no. Nobody should ever have to give up hundreds, even thousands of dollars' worth of games because of an identity change. Yet that is exactly what's happening with many people in the same situation. Why is this allowed?

You may remember that in my post one-and-a-half years ago where I asked Steam staff if they had made any policy changes, I outlined a deliberately narrow group to ask about, because I felt that if any policy change had been made, it would apply to the people within these criteria:
...having had a legal name change (with evidence in the form of legally-recognised documentation such as a deed poll or statutory declaration), a username which was clearly based on their old name, and a clean VAC record...
I believe the option to change username should be available, at the very least, to people who meet these criteria. I would not be fundamentally opposed to this username change being subject to an additional charge, but I do believe that if you fit these criteria, imposing an additional charge on top of the charges already incurred by obtaining the legally-recognised evidence doesn't really make sense.

I don't believe that these criteria are unreasonable, and Katy meets all three. That being the case, I believe that it's reasonable to ask Steam to allow Katy to change her Steam username, hence this post.

As with the last time this happened, this is a public post on DW (as are most of my posts). Please feel free to link to it from elsewhere if you agree!

(Subscribers to this journal should watch for another post after this one that I'm going to make access-only; I'm writing an email to Gabe to hopefully get this sorted out for all trans people, and I'd like your thoughts on it!)

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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2017-05-22 20:18 (UTC)
Subject: Steam

Hi Sophie,

It was awesome reading that Valve changed your username (in a roundabout way), even if the reasons don't fit my scenario. It's heartening to know that somebody, somewhere, can get something done that the community clammored for years.

I was a Steam beta tester. At that time, Steam used the registered email as your username. Early on, we were promised that this would be split and beta testers would be free to change their user name and, of course, their email independently from each other.

At the time, I was a member of a particularly popular Half-Life website so I jumped right on board, tying all my old legacy games to Steam and using my website email address.

Beta accounts eventually rolled into released accounts and our usernames were locked. Natually, the website closed. Folded into a sister website and I was released from my duties and lost my email account.

Initially, Valve promised for years that beta testers would be able to fix their usernames. Like idiots, we continued to buy games with this promise in the future. Then it became official, Valve would never allow us to change our usernames, even beta testers stuck with dead email accounts.

We were furious, posts went up on their forum but were eventually taken down. Perma-bans hit some users.

Eventually, our voice was drowned out by those who joined later. By people who couldn't, or wouldn't understand our reasoning. It has been 13 years since Steam left Beta and a growing number of players are kids who don't remember what it was like to buy games at a brick and mortar store. My kids certainly don't.

Manwhile, Valve continues to rake in money from games using a flawed system of management. Look up "The Cabal: Valveā€™s Design Process For Creating Half-Life" by Ken Birdwell then count how many games were actually created by Valve members themselves (rather than people who created a game then hired on) to understand the root of the problem.

As a programmer, it's easy to see the mistake. Your success and the process to have it done further reaffirms my belief. Valve screwed up and used the Password/Username as the Unique record ID in their database (or they treat it as such). Because the Cabal permits employees to work on what they consider fun, fixing that one grave oversight was probably considered too unfun and never got done. The interim solution? Just create a new field and let users change that.

Even a simple number would've been far smarter.

The Cabal also explains Valve's abysmal customer support.

So we suffer in silence, tortured by seeing an email we don't use. A name that reminds us of our past and haunts us.

Thank you, for standing up and defeating Goliath.

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User: [personal profile] sophie
Date: 2017-05-22 20:52 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Steam

Thank you for your comment, and I'm sorry that you had to go through this too, along with the other beta testers.

I should say, though, that the Goliath in this case is far from defeated. Katy's situation never got resolved the way mine did; that's partly because the only way I was able to get my situation resolved was to take it public. That's not an option for a lot of people in my situation and it takes some effort - and some good friends to raise awareness of the cause - to get through.

In the years since my initial resolution, I've been asking periodically whether Valve have made any changes in their policy; the answer each time has been no. Make no mistake; my resolution was undoubtedly a one-off (or at least a very rare situation), and that upsets me as much as it probably upsets you.

You're right - as a programmer, it's easy to imagine where they went wrong. I actually asked in my initial ticket whether they did this:

I want to emphasise that: PLEASE escalate this issue up the chain. I wish to talk with someone - perhaps a technical person - who can give me a good, clear explanation of why the username cannot be changed. Is the username used as a primary key in the database or something? I will not accept a bland "We cannot change usernames.", I want to know *why*.
As you can imagine, the only response to that (later in the thread) was "It is against our policy to change the name of a Steam account for security reasons." Which suggests "Yes", to me.

This was a minor success, but the one thing it wasn't was a triumph. Still, it set precedent and I'd be very interested in seeing Valve's policies on this change for the better.

Edited 2017-05-22 08:53 pm (UTC)

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