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Chinese regulators ban game distributor Steam citing ‘unlawful behaviors’

Written by Jiaxing Li Published on     2 mins read

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Gamers can no longer access their previously purchased titles.

China’s internet security regulator said on Tuesday that the global service of video game distribution platform Steam has been banned due to its “illicit activities,” local media outlet Lan Jing reported. The confirmation came after Steam’s global service was the target of a domain name system attack on December 25 that prevented users in China from accessing its site.

Chinese gamers said on Saturday they were unable to use Steam’s global service, which is the world’s largest game distributor. Steam’s international domain name is now designated as “illegal” by China’s cyberspace regulator, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT). The MIIT did not specify the “illicit activities” that Steam was accused of being involved in.

The block has locked Chinese users out of games that they have purchased through Steam’s international service. Users must now go through Steam’s China-specific application.

Steam tweeted on December 25 to indicate that the platform’s Chinese version works “just fine.”

International video game platforms have long operated in a legal gray area in China. In September, state media outlet Beijing Daily said that since Steam’s global service is not subject to China’s gaming regulations, minors are able to bypass age restrictions and play any video games offered on Steam for any length of time.

Steam China, which was developed for gamers in the country, launched in February and can still be accessed. However, the forum and community features that are part of Steam’s global service were trimmed, and only around 100 games that have been reviewed and licensed by the government are available through Steam China.

In February, the number of games in Steam’s global service library surpassed 50,000.

Foreign websites and internet platforms often need to remove their social media features to operate diluted versions of their services in China. Microsoft’s LinkedIn no longer has a social feed, and users cannot create posts or share articles.

China’s gaming industry underwent fundamental transformations in 2021, with new regulations severely limiting the sector’s business landscape. In late August, the government implemented a stringent playtime cap for minors—the stated purpose was to prevent game addiction. In the same month, new game approvals were put on hold, and no new games have been released for players in China for nearly five months.

The gaming industry’s revenue growth has dropped to a three-year low, according to 36Kr. User growth also stagnated this year due to the regulatory headwinds.

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