Skip to main content

Valve May Launch Chinese-Specific Version of Steam Next Week

Chinese Flag
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Valve will potentially release a public beta for a Chinese-specific version of Steam starting on February 9th, according to Niko Partners senior analyst Daniel Ahmad, who specializes in the Asian and especially Chinese game industries. This would be the culmination of efforts Valve began in 2018 alongside Chinese developer Perfect World and would see the fulfillment of a promise the company made earlier this January to launch Steam China in 2021.

See more

Valve is positioning Steam China’s release as an opportunity to “bring Steam onshore into China,” which subtly hints at the impetus behind the launch of a Chinese-specific version of the client. While Chinese citizens can currently access the international version of Steam in China, Ahmad points out that the platform offers many games that haven’t been licensed by the Chinese government, which technically makes them illegal and means that Steam is currently operating in China in an unofficial, “gray area” capacity.

See more
See more

As such, Steam China will be Valve’s “official” entry into the Chinese market. This also explains the partnership with Perfect World, as foreign companies can only legally enter the domestic Chinese market by partnering with a Chinese entity. For instance, Valve and Perfect World have worked together before to distribute DOTA 2 and CS:GO in the Chinese market.

All of this probably explains why Valve’s announcement acts as if Steam hasn’t been present in China for years now.

As for what end users can expect to see from this change, it seems as if the transition will start slow but could ramp up in time. Ahmad writes that Steam China will be a separate application from the International version of Steam and will only offer government-approved games. However, he also states that current Steam accounts will work on both versions, as will current Steam games, provided they have a Chinese SKU.

“It remains to be seen whether China’s government will block access to Steam International in the future,” Ahmad explains. It’s not an unfounded risk, though- Apple removed 39,000 games from the Chinese App Store at the end of last year due to not having ISBNs from the Chinese government.

There will likely, however, still be immediate differences. For instance, Ahmad also says that Chinese players will need to use Steam China to play CS:GO and DOTA 2 going forward, although all their data will carry over from their Steam International accounts.

This could also point to another reason behind the development of Steam China
- monitoring and censoring in-game chat. CS:GO and DOTA 2 are both communication heavy games, and it’s possible that Steam China might be just as, if not more interested in what players are saying in-game as it is in which games they play.

For example, popular Chinese game Genshin Impact attracted notable controversy after its release late last year for censoring the words “Taiwan” and “Hong Kong,” even in its international version. Since then, much of the game’s community has been split on the developer Mihoyo’s intentions here, with players who are aware of the developer’s foreign influences (the company’s splash screen opens by referring to the Mihoyo devs with Japanese slang) arguing that the filter was probably enforced on the company by the Chinese government.

See more

Ahmad, in particular, also commented on the controversy, saying that “China’s laws and games regulator state that games cannot contain ‘Anything that threatens China’s national unity’” and thus that “All Chinese games censor phrases such as Taiwan/Hong Kong.”

Despite the potential for Steam China to be used to more heavily regulate what Chinese players have access to, there could be a potential, albeit unlikely side benefit for foreign players: we could perhaps see games that were once pulled from Steam to appeal to Chinese influences restored to the app’s international version. For instance, the Taiwanese horror game Devotion was famously pulled from Steam and other gaming storefronts last year for containing jokes at the expense of Chinese president Xi Jinping. If the international version of Steam becomes no longer accessible to Chinese audiences, maybe such games could be restored.

In the case of Devotion, it’s unlikely, as the Chinese government still technically sees Taiwan as Chinese territory. But for other games made further outside of the Chinese government’s reach but still containing content objectionable to it, the segregation of Steam China and Steam International might allow them to release elsewhere without risking blowback from Chinese officials. 

Granted, there’s also a social pressure to maintain a friendly relationship with the Chinese government and audience, both to maintain healthy business and because China represents a large part of the market (the country generated more than $32.54 billion in gaming revenue the year before the development of Steam China became public knowledge). 

As such, it’s also still uncertain how much of an effect Steam China will have outside of China as well. Hopefully, however, you’ll still be able to team up with Chinese friends to play DOTA for years to come.

  • hotaru.hino
    I'm a little confused. Does this mean that a version of the client specifically made for China will be made, or will they finally make Chinese users connect to a database or something that's "government approved"? Because I'm pretty sure Steam already blocks game availability by region.
    Reply
  • Endymio
    Looks like Feb 9 is the day I cancel my Steam account.
    Reply
  • spongiemaster
    hotaru.hino said:
    I'm a little confused. Does this mean that a version of the client specifically made for China will be made, or will they finally make Chinese users connect to a database or something that's "government approved"? Because I'm pretty sure Steam already blocks game availability by region.
    It means there will only be one license for every game available and that the first sucker to buy each game will be the only person paying for it, while everyone else will get a fully working pirated copy of the initial purchase.
    Reply
  • COLGeek
    Taking a "disinterested third party perspective", seems a smart move for them to make money. HUGE market potential. Chinese users already acclimated to their internet environment, so a native environment for gaming is a boon for them.

    Hope that corporate severability and other legal/cyber/intellectual property agreements are clearly established.
    Reply
  • Gurg
    CHICOM "reason behind the development of Steam China- monitoring and censoring in-game chat. "
    Reply
  • nuvon
    spongiemaster said:
    It means there will only be one license for every game available and that the first sucker to buy each game will be the only person paying for it, while everyone else will get a fully working pirated copy of the initial purchase.
    Are you implying that Steam software engineers are so stupid that their games can be pirated easily? or that you are the dumb one?
    Reply
  • spongiemaster
    nuvon said:
    Are you implying that Steam software engineers are so stupid that their games can be pirated easily? or that you are the dumb one?
    Wow. Didn't think that joke would need explaining.
    Reply
  • drivinfast247
    Endymio said:
    Looks like Feb 9 is the day I cancel my Steam account.
    Why?
    Reply
  • Endymio
    drivinfast247 said:
    Why?
    "Feb 3, 2021 (AP) US 'deeply disturbed' by systematic rape, abuse of Uighurs in China "reeducation" camps...."

    Just one of about 100,000 reasons. If Valve has received the PRC stamp of approval for operating in China, then it has acceded to their demands for censorship and content control, and essentially operating as a propaganda wing of the party. Sometimes the extra market share just isn't worth it.
    Reply
  • drivinfast247
    Endymio said:
    "Feb 3, 2021 (AP) US 'deeply disturbed' by systematic rape, abuse of Uighurs in China "reeducation" camps...."

    Just one of about 100,000 reasons. If Valve has received the PRC stamp of approval for operating in China, then it has acceded to their demands for censorship and content control, and essentially operating as a propaganda wing of the party. Sometimes the extra market share just isn't worth it.
    Very valid reasons. But unfortunately money talks and that market is huge.

    With that said, are you sure you're not using any products made in China? Odds are if you're able to post on this forum you are using an electronic device made in China.
    Reply