Steam's active user base has risen from 67 million to 90 million over the last year, with a majority of those coming from China - where the Chinese government is still refusing to approve new games for sale.
Back in August, the Chinese government was reported to have put a freeze on new video game licence approvals, with president Xi Jinping's explaining that tougher regulations were now in place because he "cares for the children's eyes" and wants to "let them have a bright future".
Shortly after, the Chinese Ministry of Education elaborated that the new measures were intended to combat health problems, including addiction, that were believed to be related to online, mobile, and console games. As a result, the total number of online games were to be restricted, the amount of new games allowed into the country would be controlled, the age-ratings system would be reviewed, and limits would be placed on how long minors could play.
Unsurprisingly, the regulations have had a direct and dramatic impact on China's games industry. Tencent, for instance - the largest gaming company in the world, and owner of the government-sanctioned digital storefront WeGame - saw its shares drop by five per cent.
One of the highest-profile titles to be affected by China's tough new stance on games is Monster Hunter World, which had its licensed revoked shortly after release. At the time, Tencent claimed that the Chinese authorities had demanded its withdrawal from WeGame after "a large number of complaints" were made to regulators.
All of which might explain the sharp rise in Chinese players migrating toward Steam, with the service now, according to a report on GamesIndustry.biz, accommodating over 30 million users from China - double the number seen last year. Currently, Steam isn't affected by Chinese regulations, given that its game-hosting servers are overseas.
This week (as reported by Bloomberg), the Chinese government also closed a "stopgap" approval process, which afforded games a one-month period for monetisation testing prior to starting the official licensing process. This was described as the "last known official path for making money from new games" in the country.
While local authorities maintain a freeze on commercial sale approvals for games, unsanctioned storefronts such as Steam will likely remain attractive to Chinese players. However, Valve has previously announced plans to establish an official presence in the country, which would legally require its servers to be hosted locally, forcing it to abide by China's regulations. That mightn't seem like the most prudent move while approvals continue to stall - but Valve may have little choice if authorities choose to crack down on its present operation.