In 2003, videogame developer-publisher Valve launched a software client with which they could automatically give updates for their games to its users. The client was called Steam, and from this beginning as a service for Valve titles it grew and evolved into the biggest PC platform for digital game distribution. By 2019 Steam was carrying no less than 34,000 individual games including Valve’s own library, and 95 million around the world actively used its platform month after month. Incredibly, half of that number actually belongs to the world’s biggest gaming market: China. That might change further now that Steam China is launching on open beta.
The Verge reports that a version of the Steam platform that is officially sanctioned by the Chinese government to operate locally in the country has just come online this Tuesday, February 9. This China-approved version of the Steam client was co-developed by Valve with local partner Perfect World Games, in order to make the games available compliant with the Chinese Communist Party’s very strict regulations. Thus it runs independently from the rest of Steam international, although Valve assures Chinese gamers on global Steam they can use their cloud-saved data for games between the two platforms.
For a start, China’s “Steam platform” (Zhēngqì píngtái) will have 40 available games including “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” and “Dota 2,” both of which have been passed through government-approved processes thanks to Perfect World Games long before the local Steam service was even conceptualized. Ten more titles have been teased as coming soon. While the pickings are rather limited, at least these games do not risk getting arbitrarily shut down by the government as those on Steam global. If the open beta works and Steam China takes off, this might encourage another gaming giant to enter the market with its hardware.
By that we mean Sony is looking to launch their PlayStation 5 in China before Q1 2021 comes to an end. And they look to be ahead of the console-gaming bunch, as Microsoft has yet to announce if their Xbox Series S and X will yet see release on Chinese shores. The Nintendo Switch is already well-established, but it is grouped with the PS4 and Xbox One, which entered China right after its console ban since 2000 ended in 2015.
While Steam China should be something to celebrate, some Chinese developers and gamers are apprehensive, as the former have released games on, and the latter are more used to, the global version. There is worry that the government can permanently close access to global Steam, though it is only speculation.
Image: South China Morning Post