China Appears to Have Blocked the Global Steam Store

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Valve’s Steam storefront has been nominally available in China for years, but the company launched a China-specific store earlier this year. Now, the other shoe has dropped. Chinese authorities appear to have blocked the global Steam domain, leaving affected gamers with only the much smaller (and government-approved) Steam China domain. 

The Chinese government has been slow to accept video games as a legitimate form of media. It didn’t even allow game consoles in the country from 2000 until 2015, and restrictions have been ramping up even on mobile games. For example, China has instituted limits on how long children are allowed to play games, and a few publishers have even implemented creepy features in their games to enforce the restrictions. China is also strengthening its restrictions. As of earlier this year, gaming companies can only let those under 18 play online for one hour per day, from 8 to 9 PM on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays.

China also aims to control the content of games. That’s why the Chinese version of PUBG, known as Game for Peace, doesn’t have any blood, and defeated players wave to let you know they’re alright. The Chinese Steam store launched in February 2021 with just a few dozen games, and its growth has been slow with just over 100 currently available. The catch is that anything published in the official Chinese store has to be approved by the government. The only mainstream titles available in the China-specific store are DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO). It also lacks community features, the Steam Workshop, forums, community market, and more. So, cutting off access to the global store severely limits the content Chinese gamers of all ages can access. 

If there’s good news, it’s that Steam’s client is not affected at this time. That means they can still play the games they’ve already downloaded. It’s unclear if China is planning to expand the block to all of Steam’s global services. This would hardly be the first time China has blocked a global service at its borders. 

For years, internet users in China have used VPNs to circumvent the Great Firewall, but the government began cracking down on VPNs in 2017. Today, some services claim to work in China, but their usage is considered illegal by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. Still, some gamers are probably going to be firing up a VPN to download the games in their global Steam libraries.

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