Just weeks before launching the hugely-awaited Metro Exodus, a surprise announcement sparked the anger of gamers around the world.

The developers announced that the PC game would become exclusive to the Epic Games Store, a new challenger to the dominance of Steam. Gamers were furious about having to access a separate platform to access their games.

But in China, the move from Steam to Epic means more than just inconvenience. It means the game isn’t available at all -- in the world’s biggest gaming market.

Chinese gamers were hoping that they can play this horror-filled apocalyptic shooter on Steam, which isn’t blocked -- unlike the Epic Games Store. (Picture: 4A Games)

Getting a game officially released in China is tough. There are plenty of regulatory hoops to jump through. And plenty of content needs to be cut to suit the censors: Everything from blood to even skeletons.

That’s why gamers in China love Steam; or, to be more precise, the international version of Steam. Officially speaking, Chinese gamers aren’t supposed to have to access to the international version of Steam. But they do — allowing people to play a huge range of uncensored games not available in China. That’s why there are almost 30 million people in China using Steam.

But the Epic Games Store is not available in China. And as that’s the only place you can play Metro Exodus, gamers in the country are pissed.

“You don’t let me play legally on PC,” says one user’s forum post. “Then I’m going to play the pirated version.”

It might seem odd to skip the world’s biggest gaming market. But there is a compelling reason for developers to switch distribution platforms: Steam takes a 30% cut of sales (the same, incidentally, demanded by Apple for the App Store or Google for the Play Store). On the other hand, Epic asks for just 12%.

Epic’s exclusive rights to Metro Exodus is a development that makes Chinese gamers wonder if they will lose out on more titles in the future. It also begs the question: Why is Epic blocking gamers in China, while Steam lets them in?

Zhe Li of Tianjin-based game developer Dotoyou Games points out that Epic and Tencent are linked. Tencent owns a 40% stake in the Fortnite developer, which distributes Epic’s games on its own local store. But Li also points out that any foreign player needs to take care when dealing with China.

Li said, “If you try to muscle your way in China, you risk being blocked by the Chinese government.”

Steam, too, is looking at getting a legitimate foothold in China. Last year it announced that it would launch an official version of Steam in China -- a development that angered Chinese gamers, worried that an official store with censored games would cut off their access to the international version of Steam.

In the meantime, gamers in China still can’t play Metro Exodus. And the developer’s apology isn’t doing it for them.

As one forum poster pointed out: “Hi there. You’re apologizing from Twitter, which is also inaccessible from China.”