New report MIT Technology Review shed light on the incredible popularity of Wallpaper Engine, an application that allows you to create, view and share wallpapers for the Windows desktop. It turns out that this is a sneaky way for Chinese Steam users to get around their country’s ban on online pornography.
Wallpaper Engine is now the 10th most popular game on Steam with around 80,000 users. This is more than Rust, Warframe and FIFA 22.
Meanwhile, the store page has 98% “highly positive” reviews from half a million users.
The report’s author spoke to Cui Jianyi, a Chinese journalist who researched Wallpaper Engine in 2020, and found that it takes very little time to find “hentai anime, Donald Trump memes, and even pirated copies of Hollywood movies.” In other words, Wallpaper Engine has become a kind of piracy resource, giving users easy and relatively safe access to a buffet of banned material. And wallpaper for your desktop, I guess.
The report estimates (based on the Steam review language) that up to 40% of Wallpaper Engine users are from China, where adult content is severely restricted. The Chinese government has shut down thousands of pornographic websites in the last few years alone, and punishes domestic streaming sites for obscene content quite regularly. It’s an environment that requires a certain level of ingenuity from anyone who wants to access pornography, which means that Steam’s gray area status on the Chinese internet comes in very handy.
While large chunks of the Western internet — Facebook, Google, and so on — are blocked in China, Steam remains largely accessible. Although Valve created a Chinese version of the service early last year, the Chinese government has yet to block the global Steam website that we are all familiar with. This makes it sort of a porous border between the Chinese internet and the rest of the world, where users can chat, hang out, play games and, yes, trade obscenities. However, as the MIT Technology Review notes, the shop may soon close.