Chinese open world RPG becomes a Steam top seller, English coming soon

It seems like every few months a Chinese indie game is rising to the top of Steam's top seller list despite only being available in Simplified Chinese. Games like Chinese Parents and Scroll of Taiwu achieved massive success last year, selling well over a million copies each. It's a good reminder that Steam's second largest demographic hails from China, but it's also a cool insight into a vibrant world of games that aren't available in English.

Sands of Salzaar (or 部落与弯刀, which translates more directly to Tribe and Machete) only released on January 2, but in that time has rocketed to into Steam's global top seller list with an estimated 50,000 sales in its first week. That number is expected to reach 200,000 by the end of January. Though it's only available in Simplified Chinese, Sands of Salzaar has amassed over 2,600 "mostly positive" reviews and is currently the 31st most-played game on Steam by concurrents, with peak concurrent players reaching 21,000—in the neighborhood of games like Stardew Valley and Skyrim.

And, by the looks of it, Sands of Salzaar absolutely deserves its success. From reading reviews and watching some gameplay, Salzaar is an ambitious, Early Access open world RPG in the vein of indie darling Kenshi. Set in a mystical desert, you recruit characters and explore a dynamically-generated world, making friends (or enemies) with various factions. I particularly enjoy the look of the enormous battles, which evokes Dynasty Warriors mixed with Diablo.

The good news for those of us who can't read Simplified Chinese is that Sands of Salzaar will be available in English eventually. According to its Steam page, English localization is a "top priority."

That Sands of Salzaar has suddenly appeared and become on of Steam's most popular games is fascinating because of how insulated China's games industry is from the rest of the world. Despite almost having more PC gamers than the total population of the United States, China's games scene is heavily regulated by its government and largely closed off from the rest of the world thanks to language barriers and internet censorship.

In the past few years, however, Steam has become an invaluable and mysterious loophole in China's great internet firewall. Thanks to Steam, Chinese gamers can now access unregulated PC games like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (which is enormously popular in China). Chinese indie developers also rely on Steam to sidestep the complex government regulations and publish their games to a global audience they might never reach otherwise. But Steam's Chinese audience is so large that even games not localized in English, like Sands of Salzaar, can find huge success.

But that could all change without warning. I recently took a trip to Shanghai to investigate China's vibrant and promising indie scene and the forces at work that could all but destroy it. I'll have a full report in the coming week.

For now, check out Sands of Salzaar on Steam. It's typically $15, but you can get it at a 15 percent discount if you feel like diving into one of China's latest indie hits.

Thanks to Daniel Ahmad of Niko Partners for the tip. 

Steven Messner

With over 7 years of experience with in-depth feature reporting, Steven's mission is to chronicle the fascinating ways that games intersect our lives. Whether it's colossal in-game wars in an MMO, or long-haul truckers who turn to games to protect them from the loneliness of the open road, Steven tries to unearth PC gaming's greatest untold stories. His love of PC gaming started extremely early. Without money to spend, he spent an entire day watching the progress bar on a 25mb download of the Heroes of Might and Magic 2 demo that he then played for at least a hundred hours. It was a good demo.