Think back to 2003 when Steam was first required to play Half-Life 2. It was awful, right? This bloated, unnecessary, digital rights management software was a blight on your PC. You just wanted to play basketball with Dog and flirt with Alyx Vance, so why did you need this? What good was it to you? Fast-forward to now and the PC gaming industry is unthinkable without it. In fact, it’s probable that you’ve purchased games that you otherwise never would’ve heard of thanks to Steam.
The same process is happening in China. Lisa Hanson of Niko Partners explains in a Gamasutra blog post that thanks to some unique business conditions, Steam is flourishing in China. Because Steam is required to play Dota 2, and because Steam is puzzlingly exempt from the kind of Chinese government censorship that other software distribution platforms must endure, China’s gamers are gaining access to games they otherwise could not purchase.
The fact that Steam had banned games peaked the curiosity of a few Chinese gamers who wanted to try out this platform and this led to many of them purchasing their second game on Steam, Grand Theft Auto V. Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V) already had a huge presence globally and was marketed as the game to experience the American way of life. GTA V had a localized Chinese version and was considerably cheaper than the Western version of the game. The popularity of the game in China led to many live streamers playing the game on their channel and this in turn led to many more creating Steam accounts to buy and play the game.
China is the second largest region for ownership of Grand Theft Auto V on Steam. Hanson notes that in 2015 Steam began accepting Chinese currency and AliPay, the regional equivalent of PayPal, which boosted the popularity of the storefront.
In fact, there are now more than 10 million Steam users in China, which makes it the second largest Steam region. It also allowed the average number of games owned to jump from 2-3 per user all the way up to 11 games owned per user in China. Removing these barriers had a hugely positive impact for game sales on Steam. A Chinese New Year sale went further towards growing the Steam user base.
Tencent, the publisher behind Riot Games, is taking on Steam in China with its own Tencent Games Platform. (Check out a commercial for the service here!) The publishing giant is bringing third-party games to their store from developers and publishers around the world.