Steam is in an odd position in China. It’s like a pirate radio station, sitting offshore and letting the gamers access all that unfiltered content. With no official servers and awkward payment methods, the experience that the huge numbers of users have isn’t optimal. So Valve and local partners Perfect World are setting up a version of Steam for China, named Steam Platform. The first details of which were dropped at an event hosted by Perfect World in China this week.
There’s no launch date, and no look at the client or its features, but things are motoring along.
The basics: Valve and Perfect World, who currently publish Valve's games in China, have teamed up to build Steam Platform for Chinese gamers. It's going to be a curated, localised version of Steam, independent of Valve’s main platform. It will be the Steam that follows local practices and procedures. There are 40 plus games planned for release, leading with Valve’s Dota 2 and Dota Underlords, which will be joined by FTL, Raft, Subnautica, Euro Truck Simulator 2, and more. Valve are "hopeful" that all their social features will be added, but there's nothing to confirm there.
Steam currently works in China, but there’s issues of regulation and curation, as well as the overall experience, that makes it necessary for this to happen. Right now, Chinese customers can buy anything they want on Steam, bypassing the country's strict policing of content. But there's always the threat of Steam being blocked. So Valve need a local Steam. Their hands-off approach to what's on global Steam can’t work in China, so they’ll have to play ball in order to improve the service. Curation has to happen if Valve are to have an official presence in the Chinese games market. They're only too aware of what happens to a game that the Chinese authorities take issue with: Taiwanese horror game Devotion was delisted from Steam for containing "derisive references to China's President". Even so, there are plans to run both concurrently. For now, Valve won't be blocking the main Steampipe to China.
Eurogamer were lucky enough to catch up with the best-named developer on history, Valve’s DJ Powers, and received a few answers to the more technical queries, like what happens to your progress in games and library between Steams. Using FTL as an example, he said: “Our goal is to make sure your library remains, your data, your saves remain, you're not losing anything.”
There also won't be anything ring-fenced for Steam China if Valve can prevent it. It's ultimately down to the developers and publishers to choose where to publish their games, but Valve's plans currently don't aim to keep the local games local.
I'm also interested in if the curation will make Valve rethink their stance on their own platform. As Powers said, they're at least open to the data pushing them back in a direction that they've abandoned.
"I think it'll be interesting to see just how a market reacts to a more curated storefront," he said. "I mean we know a lot of that, I've been at Steam a long time and I remember when Steam was very curated for a number of reasons as well, that we worked really hard to kind of eliminate over the years some of those barriers, but, yeah I think we'll just be interested in how consumers react to it, and if we do learn something that tells us we should be more open to that kind of storefront, then we'll take that data and consider it, for sure."
So, Steam China could end up making a more useful version of Steam across the globe. I'm into that.