Steam faces censorship in China as Valve addresses controversial laws

A new Steam China client is being launched with dozens of titles localized for the country according to details recently shared by Valve in partnership with Perfect World. Unfortunately for Chinese users, this localized client will also be complying with Chinese censorship laws—a problem that the international version of the client doesn’t suffer from.

“We want Chinese customers to have really high-quality access to Steam games, and that means getting a set of games approved through the appropriate channels, and a service that is local,” Valve’s DJ Powers said to Eurogamer in an interview. “The servers that are right there, they can have fast download times, features make their quality of life better obviously.”

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The above statement is a bit vague, but it’s later clarified that the Steam China client is going to suffer under the same onerous censorship laws that other games and developers have to comply with if they want to have legal access to one of the world’s biggest markets.

“There’s just policies and laws in place that we have to follow, so yeah, we’ll adhere to all of those,” Mr. Powers said.

The Steam China client is still in the works, but that doesn’t mean that Chinese customers don’t have access to the service. Currently, the “international version” of the client—that is, the one that won’t get you in trouble for downloading Disney Winnie The Pooh—has been available for some time, operating free of censorship but also in a bit of a legal grey area. Valve’s partnership with Perfect World to make a tailored client for the market seems to be the Washington-based company hedging their bets against any sort of hard ban on their digital distribution client by the Chinese government.

The initial selection of games will be much smaller than what’s offered on Steam—around 40 titles will be available whenever the heck it actually launches. (Valve time is still very much a thing, it seems.) However, these games will be properly localized in Mandarin Chinese, will comply with local laws on content restrictions, and will be available through high-speed servers that the rest of us are able to enjoy in our respective home countries.

That’s not to say that the Steam China client will supplant the international version in that country. Mr. Powers said “Nothing’ll change about Steam global” twice in response to questions about the international version of Valve’s digital distribution service, but he also conceded that it may be possible that something happens to it down the line in China.

“There’s always externalities you can’t control,” DJ Powers concluded. “But the direction we’re headed is that Steam global remains as it is today.”