Steam boss Gabe Newell is a viral star in China
Valve CEO runs a service vital to Chinese gamers, providing them with access to games that bypass the country's strict censorship
Does the CEO of one of the most successful gaming companies in the world really need more money? One person in China thought so, and he got down on his knees to hand over his wallet to prove his commitment.
A picture of a Chinese man kneeling before Gabe Newell, co-founder and CEO of Valve Corporation, has gone viral. Newell has become a kind of beloved Steve Jobs-type entrepreneur in the global gaming community and has built up a cult following.
The picture was done as a joke in Shanghai, where gamers recently congregated for TI9, a gaming tournament for Dota 2, developed and published by Valve.
“To our god, G Fat, we hand over our wallets,” one person wrote on Weibo in response to the picture.
The image quickly gained traction on Reddit, with other Redditors also rushing to offer witty captions to the picture.
Known as “Gaben” in the West or “G Fat” in China, Newell was estimated to have a net worth of US$3.9 billion last year, which apparently just wasn’t enough for the pictured Chinese fan. While little known outside the gaming community, Newell’s image as a carefree gamer at heart has earned him the following that has generated countless memes and jokes like this latest one in Shanghai.
He’s also beloved because of the steep discounts frequently offered for games on Valve’s Steam platform. This helped make Steam a juggernaut in PC gaming, to the point that Newell once boasted that Valve was more profitable per employee than Google or Apple. Steam reportedly sold US$4.3 billion worth of video games in 2017 and now has 90 million monthly users.
An estimated 30 million of its users are said to be in China, where gamers love Steam for more than just cheap games. Since Steam operates from overseas, Chinese gamers can use the platform to buy games that aren’t officially available in China or are censored in the country. Operating within this legal gray area may soon come to an end, though, as Valve prepares to launch an official version of Steam for China.
Nevertheless, Steam currently remains uncensored and popular in China. Hence the huge following for the Harvard dropout-turned-entrepreneur.
Newell's popularity in China has even reached the point of getting his own pack of WeChat stickers, which usually consists of a series of animated gifs to send in chats.
Funnier still, his likeness is being used used to sell plus-sized underwear in the country, a strange phenomenon that Newell has yet to comment on.
Part of what makes Newell so endearing to his fans is the fact that he seems so personable and authentic. This can be seen in another viral picture from Newell’s China trip.
In this picture, the billionaire sits alone on a stone ball lining a busy street in Shanghai while blithely playing with a tablet, seemingly not caring at all about appearances. Some fans worried the billionaire looked a bit too lonely decided to Photoshop in another famous loner -- Keanu Reeves.
As beloved as he is, though, Newell isn’t free of controversy. Critics condemn Steam’s 30% cut of revenue from all games published on the platform, calling it greedy and exploitative. Steam competitor Epic Games is taking advantage of this by promising to take only 12% of revenue on its own digital games store.
Others have also raised concerns about Steam’s power in the industry now, questioning whether the platform many gaming companies are now reliant on needs to be more accountable. Some have criticized the lack of transparency of the platform’s recommendation algorithm. Companies complain that any small tweak can now make a huge difference in game sales.