Niko’s China Games Streaming Tracker tracks streaming and viewing on China’s largest video game streaming platforms, DouYu, Huya and Bilibili. Streaming video is one of the most important components of the gaming and esports industry. The Tracker enables you to track, analyze data at your convenience. We also provide Niko analysis on daily, weekly and monthly market trends and game rankings based on key metrics: heat index, streaming hours, unique streamers, total tips/gifts, fans per streamer, Niko’s approximation of viewers, and more.

March highlights for the 500+ games we track

  • There were 3.8 million active streamers across Huya, DouYu and Bilibili during March 2021, up 4.3% over February.
  • Total hours streamed across game related categories reached 19.33 million hours in total, up 2.1% over February.
  • There was an average of 127.18 million total viewers across all games each day during March, down 6.1% over February.
  • Total tips and gifts to game streamers across the three platforms exceeded $157 million for the month, up 6.6% over February.

A closer look at Steam games in China

This month we examine the most popular games on Steam by cumulative hours streamed during the month of March. We ranked the top 100 games in our China Games Streaming Tracker based on the hours streamed on the three platforms cumulatively, and then isolated those in the Top 100 that are available on Steam.

Steam’s international platform is an open loophole for publishing games to reach Chinese gamers, as a developer can publish on the platform regardless of having been granted a required ISBN license for legal distribution in China. Importantly, Valve partnered with Perfect World to launch Steam China in February, which only allows games with ISBN licenses, but the international version of Steam remains accessible as of April 2021. Niko’s 2021 China Games Regulations & Business Report covers China’s regulatory landscape for video games, including impacts on Steam, in depth.

Hence, the filter for games in the Top 100 available on Steam includes games that have ISBN and those that do not. Even those with ISBN for China may have significant number of users accessing the game on Steam’s international platform, rather than the locally approved version.

Steam’s international platform operates in a grey area but is currently accessible to Chinese players without a VPN. Both global and Chinese developers are using the platform to reach gamers, regardless of whether their title is licensed or unlicensed. If China’s game regulator was to block access to the international version of Steam, we note that only those with a license and Chinese operator would continue to be accessible, either via Steam China or another official Chinese platform.

Analysis of Steam games in the Top 100 of Niko’s China Games Streaming Tracker, as of March 2021 

  • There are 18 games in the Top 100 that are available on Steam. 11 of the titles are unlicensed and only available through unlicensed platforms such as the International version of Steam, while 7 have ISBN licenses and additionally are available on official Chinese platforms via the Chinese operator listed (see table below).
  • Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) from Krafton is #3 (+1) based on the number of hours streamed. The game has been a mainstay at the top of the charts since 2017 and is the most popular Battle Royale game on PC in China, despite being unlicensed and only accessible via Steam. Chinese live streaming platforms helped propel the game to success initially.
  • Counter-Strike Global Offensive (CS:GO) and Dota 2 from Valve rank #6 (+2) and #11 (+6), respectively. Both games are licensed by Perfect World and are operated on Steam China, which only offers licensed games, as well as on Steam International (though Chinese gamers must use the Steam China version for their local accounts). Both games have a notable esports scene, with the FMWH Dota2 Championship and start of the ONE Esports Singapore Major helping increase DOTA 2’s ranking during the month.
  • Apex Legends from EA ranked #15 (-1). The game has been popular in China since its launch, despite being unlicensed and only being available on EA’s Origin platform originally. The Steam launch at the end of last year helped solidify its place as a top 20 game on Niko’s China Games Streaming Tracker. Just like PUBG, it is another example of an unlicensed battle royale game where Steam has helped its popularity in China. Battlefield V from EA is also a top game, ranking at #79.
  • Ark Survival Evolved from Studio Wildcard is #47 (-13) in our streaming tracker. We note that the game has been licensed for release and a F2P version is distributed via Snail Games in China. However, the international version, which is B2P, is also available on Steam for Chinese gamers to purchase. The Ark franchise also received a mobile game called PixArk from Snail Games in China, which helped increase the reach of the IP.
  • Monster Hunter World from Capcom is #53 (-11). The series has had a notable fanbase in China for some time, initially based on pirated versions of the game but later due to Monster Hunter Online. Tencent pulled Monster Hunter World from WeGame leaving Steam as the only option for playing it in China. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, developed by From Software, is another Japanese game in the top 100.
  • Don’t Starve from Klei, Warframe from Digital Extremes and World of Warships from Wargaming charted at #68 (-17), #76 (-43) and #81 (-23) respectively. These games are available on the International version of Steam but are also approved for release in China and published on official platforms too. While Don’t Starve initially found success on Steam, the WeGame version is now more popular, probably because the price is lower on WeGame.
  • Destiny 2 from Bungie, Russian Fishing 4 from the Russian Fishing team and Valheim from Iron Gate Studios ranked #57 (-18), #61 (+6) and #87 (+11), respectively. None have been granted an ISBN and are only available on the international version of Steam. Simulation games such as Russian Fishing 4 became popular among gamers, that are also fishing fans, due to its realistic portrayal of the hobby. Some gamers even organize in game tournaments informally, which they live stream to viewers.
  • While most of the Steam games in the Top 100 are developed by overseas studios, four of the titles are developed by Chinese studios. Tale of Immortal (#52), Notes of Soul (#65) and Fear Surrounds (#85) have not been granted an ISBN as of now yet are available to Chinese gamers on the international version of Steam. Chinese studios are also using Steam as a way to reach players with games that are either awaiting approval or unlikely to be approved. Conquerors Blade from NetEase does have a license and is available via direct download as well as Steam.

More information on the China Games Streaming Tracker can be found here or by contacting research@nikopartners.com.