One of the hottest PC games in the world—“PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds,” a violent game in which 100 players fight to the death—hasn’t been approved for sale by China’s strict regulators. Yet the game is a bonafide hit in China, where more than a third of its active players reside.
Most Chinese players have gotten their hands on PUBG, as the game is widely known, from Steam, a game service that has become the equivalent of an iTunes for PC games around the world. While China’s censors have blocked other Western platforms for distributing media, they haven’t yet prevented access to Steam, which is operated by the U.S. company Valve. That has made Steam a rare example of a foreign online service that has navigated around China’s strict regulations on content, mostly by flying under the radar of authorities, and by being in a medium—games—with fewer political sensitivities than other categories.