Valve quietly releases censored Steam China client to alpha

Nick J. May 19, 2020

Users haven't heard much about a Chinese version of Valve's Steam client since it was announced in 2018, but an alpha version of Steam China has now appeared.

A recent update to the Steam Client revealed Valve not only still working on the long-awaited Steam China client, but that the client itself has officially moved into an alpha stage. While there are no official Steam China servers online, the client already contains the hallmarks of software approved by the Democratic Peoples Republic of China, China's ruling party.

Leaked Steam China alpha shows off features specific to China

Steam China plays a healthy gaming advisory on game start

As of now, the Stam China exists as a modified version of the Steam client with three major differences. Firstly, the client includes what looks to be a mandated message from the DPRC that plays for five seconds when a user starts a game. The message encourages Chinese citizens to practice moderation and includes a warning that "excess play is harmful to the body."

Steam China features sanitized friends 

The second apparent change that all profile information is being sanitized by the Steam client. Profile pictures are replaced with the default Steam question mark, and all profile names are instead translated into Steam's proprietary Steam ID numbering system.

It is likely that these Steam Community features must be approved individually by a Chinese entity, likely a government agency, before they are cleared to be displayed. That means that Steam China might be a sea of question marks for some time after release as the Chinese government sorts through and approves profile pictures and display names. 

This move is in line with China's wholesale blocking of Steam Community features that started in 2017 and continues to this day.

Valve is working with China to bring gaming limits to Steam client

It also seems that Valve is restricting users from playing games between certain hours, a move that is in lockstep with the guidelines set by the Chinese government in November of last year.

WIN.gg received this warning when attempting to launch Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. While it was 4:00 p.m. when WIN.gg attempted to start the game, it was 5:00 a.m. in China. Whether Steam China automatically defaults to a Chinese time zone at all times is unknown, but the client didn't seem to recognize that it was started in a time zone that should have allowed Counter-Strike to start.

Chinese guidelines prevent gaming between certain hours for individuals below a certain age. When attempting to start CS:GO, however, the current version of the Steam China client only performed one check. Steam ran a command-line argument when the "Play Now" button was clicked, calling for a check of Steam's Duration Control system, Valve's implementation of China's November guidelines on gaming. The argument returned the answer "Night" to the client, preventing Steam from opening Counter-Strike. A similar issue was observed with Dota 2. 

These games already have Chinese releases through the Chinese publisher Perfect World, which could explain the early implementation of the system. WIN.gg could start and play other games normally.

This is just the start of what users can expect from China's own specialized Steam Client. With signs that Valve isn't just working with the DPRC, but actively developing new features to allow the client to be released in the country, it looks like Riot Games isn't the only software developer willing to add and remove from its products in order to access China's massive gaming market.