Steam's November 2017 Hardware Survey (opens in new tab) shows an 8.23 percent rise in players who use Simplified Chinese since October, bringing the total share of Chinese-readers to a massive 64.35 percent of Steam's survey respondents. English accounted for 17.02 percent, and Russian was the third highest at 5.11 percent. Just one year ago (opens in new tab), English was on top with 44.10 percent of respondents and Simplified Chinese only accounted for 8.60 percent.
The dramatic increase of Steam users in China began in 2012, when Valve and Perfect World partnered to publish Dota 2 in the country. Perfect World later published CS:GO in China, and the two games are now the third and second most popular games on Steam in China, respectively. The most popular, however, released this year: SteamSpy estimates (opens in new tab) that 78 percent of Steam users in China own PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.
And that means something interesting could happen next year: Tencent obtained the rights to publish and operate PUBG in China. It's unclear whether Tencent's government-approved version of PUBG will remain on Steam, or release through its WeGame service. In the announcement, Tencent does not mention what platform its version of PUBG will release on, promising more information soon.
There is precedent, though: When Tencent secured Chinese publishing rights to Rocket League (as a free-to-play game), it was taken off sale on Steam in China. "Though new players will no longer be able to purchase the existing version of the game on Steam from this point forward," wrote Psyonix, "the existing community will still have access to the game you paid for in addition to all other currently-available features."
If PUBG follows the same route, Chinese players will be able to keep playing on Steam, though it will no longer be available to purchase. The massive Steam adoption may then slow down, though it's always possible another game will catch on in China sans a government-approved publishing deal. (According to Niko Partners (opens in new tab), Steam operates in a grey area in China, as not all games on Steam are approved for sale by China's State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.)
Despite the results of recent Steam Hardware Surveys, China isn't necessarily home to the most Steam users of any country, at least not yet. The Hardware Survey includes Chinese-speakers outside of China, of course, and Chinese is by far the most-known language in the world. Additionally, the data comes from users who logged in and agreed to the survey during November, and Steam doesn't offer the survey demographics, only the results.
But if China doesn't have the largest share of users, it's at least close. SteamSpy currently has China in second place for user count, with 11.34 percent of the world's Steam users, while the US accounts for 14.67 percent. Yet these estimations, which are based on public user profiles, don't include users who haven't put their location in their Steam profile. SteamSpy recorded over 20 million users as 'Other' on December 8th.
And China has the most active userbase by far according to SteamSpy: 19.48 percent of the world's active Steam population for the past two weeks compared to the US's 14.17 percent. This is backed up by more of Steam's own data. According to the past seven days of Steam records (opens in new tab), The United States downloaded 58.6 petabytes worth of data, barely surpassing China's 57.2 PB. SteamSpy estimates that Chinese players own far fewer games on average than American players, so it follows that a petabyte of data in China represents more individual players than a petabyte of data in the US.
If this trend continues, expect to see more games on Steam with Chinese language support—currently, there are over 4,500. It'll also be interesting to see if there's any reverse effect, as well: more Chinese games releasing on Steam with or without English, Russian, and other language support. Tencent-published game Europa, for instance, currently appears on Steam. Alternatively, or at the same time, we could see Tencent work toward becoming a worldwide platform.