The Steam Community has been blocked in China. According to those living behind the Great Firewall, all of Steam’s community features have been inaccessible since around December 15. The Steam client and Steam store are reported to be unblocked, but at least one user stated that their download speeds have been heavily throttled when accessing the service.
So far Steam has operated their Chinese store without explicit permission from the Chinese government. Many think that Steam has remained unaffected by the heavy censorship the Chinese government typically levies against foreign works because Perfect World, publisher of DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive in China, came to an agreement with the government to allow Steam to remain unblocked by the Great Firewall.
Steam in China had avoided government interference with content up to this point. Games like Gears of War 4, sold on PC through the Windows 10 store, were removed when the Ministry of Culture deemed them too violent or “counter-revolutionary.” However, till now Chinese gamers could purchase games like Grand Theft Auto 5 that have been banned from distribution through other means of retail.
China’s Steam store has been lucrative for video game developers, since it’s been the only avenue they could get their product onto the market there. China, with its improving conditions and vast population, may be the biggest potential video game market on the planet. However, due to government regulation, Chinese companies have traditionally been the gatekeepers of the video game industry in China. Valve has had to distribute their titles through Perfect World, and the PUBG Corporation and Bluehole have partnered with Tencent to begin bringing PUBG to the Chinese market.
There is a theory that the launch of Tencent’s new “WeGame” platform this September might be one of the reasons Steam is being cracked down on. Chinese companies are given heavy preferential treatment over foreign entities by the government, and this could potentially be a power play for PC game distribution hegemony.
For now, Chinese Steam users can still log into the app and access the store and their library. However, with no official release from Valve or the Chinese government, we’re left with a lot of questions on what’s going on.