Steam Benefits From China's Video Gaming Crackdown
Valve's Steam platform has emerged as an unexpected beneficiary of China's sweeping video game approval freeze. While Steam was never officially approved in China, it hasn't been officially censored either. The gray space the platform occupies has made it an attractive refuge for both Chinese gamers and developers who have grown frustrated with the ongoing game approval freeze which domestic platforms like Tencent's WeGame must honor.
While a variant of Steam does have Chinese approval, it only supports Dota 2. The global version of Steam took off in China only recently, with the explosive growth of Playerunknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) in 2017. Since then, over 30 million Chinese users have registered and are active on the platform. That represents ~25% of Steam's total registered accounts and is a large enough pool to attract even Chinese indie devs frustrated with the local game freeze.
A recently released Chinese indie title, The Scroll of Taiwu, was recently listed on Steam and sold over 800,000 copies despite only being available in simplified Chinese. Another Chinese language only title, Chinese Parents has also proven to be popular, with even some Westerners purchasing the game and leaving positive reviews despite no localized language support.
Beyond local titles, Steam has served as a backdoor method of accessing thousands of games that never went through the official approval process in China. Hyper violent games like Grand Theft Auto 5 have been accessible to intrepid Chinese gamers only through Stream despite having little chance of ever receiving official approval.
While there's no word on how long the official game approval freeze will last, I suspect Steam's free ride won't last long. In a country of 1.4 billion, its easy to see state censors could have missed a tiny platform like Steam with only a few million users. As more and more Chinese gamers learn about the Steam-loophole and sign in, news of the American owned platform flaunting Chinese law will make its way to Beijing.
Perhaps Valve itself will reform its Chinese offering before then. The company is already working with Perfect World Entertainment to launch an official version of Steam in China. While we have no release date yet, there's no way an official version of Steam in partnership with an established Chinese firm will be able to skirt Chinese rules and regulations. For more details on Steam's growth in China, check out the South China Morning Post's article on the matter, link provided below.
Further Reading: South China Morning Post Article