Protocol | China

Steam stays global in China

A gaping backdoor on the gaming platform remains open. For now.

Steam stays global in China

For the past decade, Steam has been a convenient, if jury-rigged, bridge between Chinese gamers and the outside world.

Photo: Greg Baker/Getty Images

Clubhouse just got blocked in China, but a bigger and far more lucrative global online community is still alive: Steam, an international gaming platform with over 30 million Chinese users.

After years of operating in a legal grey zone in China, Steam finally released a local version on Tuesday. Chinese Steam users had nervously awaited it since Jan. 16, after local partner Perfect World Games confirmed rumors of the launch. Gamers feared it would mean they'd be banned from the global store and lose the games they had already purchased. But those fears haven't (yet) come true.

For the past decade, Steam has been a convenient, if jury-rigged, bridge between Chinese gamers and the outside world. The Steam international store can be accessed in the Chinese language, and users can pay in Renminbi, but games sold in the store don't go through Chinese regulatory review, as they would on other platforms.

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, Chinese Steam users were still able to access the old online store and its vast trove of games. Instead of replacing it, the Chinese store merely coexists with the global one. The local Steam platform currently offers 41 games, all of which have obtained approval for distribution in China. Among them are blockbuster names like Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, as well as several popular games by Chinese developers. That number can't compare to the tens of thousands of games sold in the global store, but that's not surprising. Players joked on social media that the Chinese Steam launch is still 41 times better than Nintendo Switch; in 2019, it offered just one playable game in its online store.

Some predict this new Chinese version will act as a legal cover, allowing Steam's global store to evade a Chinese ban and keeping a valuable backdoor open. Others are more pessimistic. "The firewall for Steam's Chinese store is on its way," one Weibo user predicted. The concern is justified. In May 2020, Sony's PlayStation suspended service in China after authorities discovered a backdoor in its store allowing users to access censored games. When service resumed a month later, the backdoor was gone.

China has exerted strict control over game distribution since the early 2000s, although the market for pirated PC games has also flourished. For a game to be sold publicly in China, it has to pass a rigid review process, where violence, sex or even a hint of politics can scuttle approval. In 2018, nine months passed during which Chinese authorities didn't greenlight a single game.

Because of these constraints, the Sony PlayStation and Nintendo Switch online stores offer far fewer games in China than elsewhere. Players serious about skirting the restrictions get those consoles smuggled from abroad. Steam users hope to avoid a similar fate.

Hollywood averted its first streaming strike with an 11th-hour deal

IATSE's 60,000 members threatened to strike for better working conditions; at the core of the conflict was Hollywood's move to streaming.

60,000 Hollywood workers are set to go on strike this week.

Photo: Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The union representing 60,000 studio workers struck an agreement with major studios and production companies.

A last-minute agreement between the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) helped avert a strike that would have shut down Hollywood: The two sides agreed on a new contract that includes pay raises as well as improved break schedules, Deadline reported Saturday evening.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

The way we work has fundamentally changed. COVID-19 upended business dealings and office work processes, putting into hyperdrive a move towards digital collaboration platforms that allow teams to streamline processes and communicate from anywhere. According to the International Data Corporation, the revenue for worldwide collaboration applications increased 32.9 percent from 2019 to 2020, reaching $22.6 billion; it's expected to become a $50.7 billion industry by 2025.

"While consumers and early adopter businesses had widely embraced collaborative applications prior to the pandemic, the market saw five years' worth of new users in the first six months of 2020," said Wayne Kurtzman, research director of social and collaboration at IDC. "This has cemented collaboration, at least to some extent, for every business, large and small."

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Kate Silver

Kate Silver is an award-winning reporter and editor with 15-plus years of journalism experience. Based in Chicago, she specializes in feature and business reporting. Kate's reporting has appeared in the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic's CityLab, Atlas Obscura, The Telegraph and many other outlets.

Protocol | Workplace

Instacart workers are on strike. How far can it get them?

Instacart activists want a nationwide strike to start today, but many workers are too afraid of the company and feel they can't afford a day off of work.

Gig workers protest in front of an Amazon facility in 2020.

Photo: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Starting today, an Instacart organizing group is asking the app's gig workers to go on a nationwide strike to demand better payment structures, benefits and other changes to the way the company treats its workers — but if past strikes are any indication, most Instacart users probably won't even notice.

The majority of Instacart workers on forums like Reddit and Facebook appear either unaware of the planned strike or don't plan to participate because they are skeptical of its power, afraid of retaliation from the company or are too reliant on what they do make from the app to be able to afford to take even one day off of the platform. "Not unless someone is going to pay my bills," "It will never work, you will never be able to get every shopper to organize" and "Last time there was a 'strike' Instacart took away our quality bonus pay," are just a few of the comments Instacart shoppers have left in response to news of the strike.

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Protocol | China

WeChat promises to stop accessing users’ photo albums amid public outcry

A tech blogger claimed that popular Chinese apps snoop around users' photo libraries, provoking heightened public concerns over privacy.

A survey launched by Sina Tech shows 94% of the some 30,000 responding users said they are not comfortable with apps reading their photo libraries just to allow them to share images faster in chats.

Photo: S3studio via Getty Images

A Chinese tech blogger dropped a bombshell last Friday, claiming on Chinese media that he found that several popular Chinese apps, including the Tencent-owned chat apps WeChat and QQ, as well as the Alibaba-owned ecommerce app Taobao, frequently access iPhone users' photo albums in the background even when those apps are not in use.

The original Weibo post from the tech blogger, using the handle of @Hackl0us, provoked intense debates about user privacy on the Chinese internet and consequently prompted WeChat to announce that it would stop fetching users' photo album data in the background.

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Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. She can be reached at shenlu@protocol.com.

Protocol | Enterprise

As businesses struggle with data, enterprise tech is cleaning up

Enterprise tech's vision of "big data" largely fell flat inside silos. But now, an army of providers think they've figured out the problems. And customers and investors are taking note.

Corporate data tends to settle in silos that makes it harder to understand the bigger picture. Enterprise tech vendors smell a lucrative opportunity.

Photo: Jim Witkowski/Unsplash

Data isn't the new oil; it's the new gold. And in any gold rush, the ones who make the most money in the long run are the tool makers and suppliers.

Enterprise tech vendors have long peddled a vision of corporate America centered around so-called "big data." But there was a big problem: Many of those projects failed to produce a return. An army of new providers think they've finally figured out the problem, and investors and customers are taking note.

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

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