With more than 312 million PC gamers, China is the world’s biggest PC game market. But now gamers and developers alike are anticipating a sea change, as they believe the emerging Epic Games Store could replace Steam as the country’s most popular online game store.
After blocking China for the past five months — drawing ire from many of the country’s gamers — the Epic Games Store isn’t blocking Chinese users anymore. It’s even gone a step further by incorporating WeChat Pay and Alipay, the dominant forms of digital payments in China.
It’s similar to Steam, which has long been accessible to users inside China — but unofficially, since it’s not officially licensed to operate in the country. Valve’s service is beloved by Chinese gamers because it gives them access to games otherwise not available to them, free of the censorship normally applied.
But developers are bullish about Epic’s chances.
“We take Epic Games as the first real competitor for Steam in the PC gaming marketplace,” said Xuan Li, co-founder of game publisher Zodiac Interactive. “For the first time, the Epic Games Store has been able to wobble the overlord status of Steam with its developer-friendly revenue share and exclusives policies.”
Li’s company has published a slew of games on Steam, including Candleman and Tales of the Neon Sea. Having a viable alternative to Steam could be good news for Zodiac Interactive and other publishers.
“The Epic Games Store will easily obtain a huge amount of users from the world’s biggest PC game market,” Li said.
What makes the Epic Games Store so exciting to Chinese developers? It takes just a 12% cut of revenue instead of Steam’s 30%.
“Getting 88% of the revenue is very appealing to developers,” said Xiancheng Zeng, founder of FYQD Studio. The company’s Bright Memory was one of the best-selling Chinese games on Steam last year.
While Steam’s 30% take has become standard for many digital stores, including the Google Play store and Apple’s App Store, Zeng noted that game developers also have to share the revenue with their publisher partners.
“Publishers usually take 40%,” he said. “So the developer ends up with less than half of the total revenue from Steam.”
Besides getting to pocket more revenue, Li said developers might also use the Epic Games Store for more exposure, since smaller games can get buried in Steam’s large catalog.
“At this point, releasing a game on Epic is newsworthy since Epic is still evaluating and carefully selecting premium projects for their players, and Steam doesn’t do it any longer,” he said.
Selling PC games as an online platform is a tricky business in China. By operating in a legal gray area from overseas, Steam and now the Epic Games Store can offer content not approved by the Chinese government… but it also means that the government could block the platforms at any time.
This is why gamers are concerned about Valve working with Chinese company Perfect World to launch Steam China. Many fear this platform could be heavily censored compared with Steam’s international platform, which might then be blocked in favor of the local version.
“If Steam China will have to go through the procedures of government approval, meaning that games on the platform will need to obtain licenses, the Epic Games Store will be the No. 1 choice for Chinese gamers and Chinese game developers,” Zeng said.
Ironically, Epic’s latest move comes after accusing Steam of operating illegally in China in defense of its practice of blocking Chinese users. The company said it refused to sell games in China out of fear for the safety of its employees in the country.
“I am not sure if it means that Epic’s Chinese office has already been raided by Chinese regulators this morning,” one person sarcastically commented about the news.