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Is Steam Banned In China?

Chinese Steam users reported an inability to access the digital distributor, but is the outage a formal ban or a DNS attack on the Winter Sale?

Christmas is a time for gamers of all platforms to enjoy hefty sales or test out their gifted games, but PC users in China haven’t been able to access Steam Global for several days. Much speculation surrounds the inaccessibility of the digital distributor, with conflicting reports suggesting the engine suffered a complete ban in China or fell victim to a DNS attack. The situation is still evolving, but several news platforms and Chinese Steam users have released statements that support both sides of the story. Additionally, until a statement from Valve’s Steam team comes through, it’s unlikely for the full report to be confirmed.

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Steam is one of the most popular digital game distributors and is home to millions of titles from AAA publishers and indie developers alike. Though the platform has suffered some criticism for its business practices with smaller developers, Steam remains dominant against competitors like Epic Games and Origin. Unfortunately, its popularity makes Steam the prime target for DNS and hacker attacks and regulations from international governments and independent developers. As a result, Steam has suffered multiple attacks and bans in several territories, restricting the impressively accessible distributor from many eager fans.


Related: Tencent Value Plummets $60 Billion Following China’s Gaming Law

DNS and other hacker attacks frequently target video games and game distributors like Steam to gain public attention, and a similar method could have appeared on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. DNS attacks target the ability for clients to access the domain of the target client, thereby heavily restricting (or entirely preventing) users from accessing websites, games, stores, and more. Occasionally, independent players or player groups (like guilds or clans) can be targeted as a form of protest or a show of power. Valve’s silence on the Steam outage, and the lack of information from firsthand sources, provide some skepticism for this theory but don’t eliminate the possibility of a DNS attack.


A Steam Ban In China Wouldn’t Be Surprising

Steam Ban

The Chinese government has recently turned its gaze towards controlling video game media in its borders, introducing new rules and a three-hour limit for minors playing games. Unfortunately for game developers, China’s new restrictions work to close off a vital piece of the market. Since the introduction of these policies, few games have passed the new restrictions, which ban LGBTQ+ genders and romances, particular representations of historical events, the display of religious symbols, and political criticisms. As a result, many titles have received a ban with no end in sight. As a digital distributor of many titles with (mostly) unregulated community forums and discussions, Steam Global could have suffered a similar restriction and failed to pass censors, thereby earning a strict ban from China’s video game market.


In February 2021, Valve launched Steam China in an attempt to encourage the accessibility of pre-approved games for Chinese users. The very existence of this program suggests Valve expects Steam Global to be banned at some point or another in China and Chinese-controlled territories. China isn’t the only country to enact restrictions on video games, with several countries banning gacha games and other gambling-based programs or titles. While these restrictions are within the rights of the respective governments, they can sometimes leave users and dedicated players with no way to reach their hard-earned loot or retrieve their profiles. It’s unknown what steps game developers could take to retain a grip on the Chinese market, especially considering over half a billion Chinese citizens regularly engage with video games. The increasing restrictions spell almost certain doom for Steam as a larger entity, especially considering the many high-profile games like Devotion that don’t pass the censors (including Mass Effect and Call of Duty).


A DNS Attack Isn’t Out Of The Question For Steam & Chinese Users

Steam Winter Sale Banner

If a DNS attack is responsible for the Steam outage on Christmas Day, this wouldn’t be the first time a hacker group attacked the distributor during the Winter Sale. On December 22, hundreds of games received impressive sales to celebrate the holiday season. Users can put gift cards and other savings to use and purchase titles typically priced at $40 or higher. While this event gathers plenty of attention for gamers of all ages, it attracts similar attention from hacker groups looking to make their mark. In 2017, the Steam Winter Sale also came under attack on its first day in several territories. The 2017 attack and current incident are suggested to be perpetuated by a DNS Cache Poisoning attack, as described by PlayerIGN on Twitter. Unfortunately, no one has taken credit for the attack, leaving gamers and developers alike confused about the reason behind this attack.


Related: PUBG Was Removed From China’s Top Streaming Platforms, Per Leaker

Many games and consoles have suffered hacker group attacks, with developers struggling to keep up with the advancing technology and cyberattack tactics utilized and developed against their properties. Unfortunately, developers can only create domain defenses retroactively once a title or program has been launched. As more games embrace multiplayer functions, Steam has become a haven of quality titles encompassing IPs from nearly every genre and developer. Additionally, Bitdefender reports that over 77,000 accounts are hacked or raided each month, proving Steam has a genuine security risk. In 2019, Steam suffered an attack that compromised 72 million Windows users, as covered by Forbes. While it can be complicated to regulate the security of hundreds of millions of gaming profiles and protect the rights of thousands of developers and IPs, Steam needs to evolve to defend against these attacks. Despite these obvious security oversights, there’s still a chance the blame doesn’t lie with Valve. Nonetheless, there have been no official statements by either the Chinese government or Steam and Valve.


It’s still unconfirmed whether official mediators restrict the ability to access Steam or whether Chinese users will ever regain access. Thankfully, there’s an alternative for Chinese users with Steam China, which launched in February of this year. Unfortunately, Valve and the official Steam Twitter page failed to post about the incident. However, users interested in this story should watch for official announcements regarding the incident. For those unimpeded by the sudden blacklist, the Steam Winter Sale will continue until January 5 with deals on countless games, programs, and more.

Next: Halo Infinite Steam Charts Explained: How Many People Are Playing?


Sources: PlayerIGN/Twitter, Bitdefender, Forbes

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