Video gaming in China
Video gaming in China is a massive industry and pastime that includes the production, sale, import/export, and playing of video games. China is the largest, highest grossing and the most profitable video game market in the world, since 2015. The landscape of the topic is strongly shaped by China's average income level, rampant software piracy, and governmental measures to control game content and playing times. In 2011, China's PC game sector was worth $6 billion, the largest in the world. Arcade games are also a thriving industry in China. Console games were banned from the country in 2000, but the ban was lifted in July 2015.
In esports, China has been the world leader in terms of tournament winnings, possessing some of the best talents in the world across multiple video games, as well as one of the largest pool of video gamers. As of 2017, half of the top 20 highest earning esports players in the world are Chinese.
China has domestically produced a number of games, including Arena of Valor, Westward Journey, The Incorruptible Warrior, and Crazy Mouse. There are a large number of domestically-made massively multiplayer online role-playing game MMORPGs in China, although many generally remain unheard of outside of the country.
Although China's growing economy has boosted the economic prospects of most Chinese in the last couple of decades, the cost of a personal computer, video game console, or Internet connection remains prohibitive for many Chinese. The popularity of internet cafés has increased in the country as a result. Rather than purchasing their own hardware and software, users are simply charged a small fee (often by the hour) to use an Internet café computer which often comes preloaded with a selection of games. Chinese internet cafés often impose age limits to protect minors from what may be adult content.
Social network gamesEdit
The Chinese game Happy Farm (2008) was included in Wired's list of "The 15 Most Influential Games of the Decade" at #14, for its major influence on social network games, particularly for having "inspired a dozen Facebook clones," the largest being Zynga's FarmVille. A number of other games have since used similar game mechanics, such as Sunshine Farm, Happy Farmer, Happy Fishpond, Happy Pig Farm, Farm Town, Country Story, Barn Buddy, Sunshine Ranch, and Happy Harvest, as well as parodies such as Jungle Extreme and Farm Villain.
Arcade games are still a thriving industry in China, where amusement arcades are widespread across the country. Its popularity in China is comparable to that of PC gaming at internet cafes. This is partly due to the country's ban on console games since the early 2000s, which has since been lifted. As a result, Chinese gamers frequently visit the arcades to play action games, particularly fighting games, and occasionally unlicensed arcade ports of popular PC or mobile games such as Angry Birds or Plants vs. Zombies. The arcades and internet cafes operate in a similar manner in China.
Video game approvalsEdit
As with almost all mass media in the country, video games in China are subject to the policies of censorship in China. Content in video games is overseen by the State Administration of Radio and Television (SART); publishers are required to obtain a license for the game in China from SART before publishing, which may be denied if the game contains elements deemed inappropriate. The process to submit games for a license and put them on sale following that is overseen by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
2018 approvals freezeEdit
In March 2018, the organization structural of SART was changed, created a period of several months where no new game licenses were given out. Further, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism had made the process of getting these licenses more stringent. This period has significantly impacted Tencent, one of the largest publishers of video games for China. In August 2018, Tencent was forced to pull sale their version of Monster Hunter World from China as they had not gotten their license for it and the government received complaints about its content. Tencent were also blocked on publishing personal computer versions of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Fortnite Battle Royale. The license freezes was reported to have significant effects on those game publishers and developers that rely on Chinese sales. In late August 2018, the Chinese Ministry of Education called on the Chinese government and SART to also address the growing issue of myopia in children which was attributed to long hours of gaming on small screens like with mobile devices. the Ministry of Education had asked SART to consider placing restrictions on the number of hours each young player can play a game. On news of this, Tencent shares lost 5% of their value, an estimated US$20 billion on the stock market the next day. A further approval route was closed by Chinese authorities in October 2018; this "green channel" route that had been in place by August 2018, which allowed a game to have a period of one month on the market for purposes of consumer testing without having full government approval, but which had been seen by game publishers as temporary relief from the current ban. Tencent had been planning on distributing and monetizing from Fortnite Battle Royale via this method before this route was closed.
With China's effective ban of new games continuing into October 2018, Chinese players have found other routes of getting new games, which include using Steam which uses overseas servers. Further, existing titles released before the freeze that continue to offer new content have seen a resurgence in players and spending as a result. To comply with the planned new rules, Tencent announced that all mobile games it manages in China will require users to use their Chinese ID to play. This will be used by Tencent to track the time that minors play the game and implement time limitations on them, among other steps to meet new regulations.
By December 2018, the Chinese government had formed the "Online Game Ethics Committee" falling under the National Radio and Television Administration, which will review all games to be published in China for appropriate content as well as issues relayed to childhood myopia. The Committee, by the end of the year, had restarted the approval process and will be working through a backlog of submissions to review in an expedited manner to allow new games to be released. Initial approvals to 80 back-logged titles was granted within days, but notably lacked games published by Tencent and Netease, the two largest publishers in China. After several more rounds, Tencent had two games approved near the end of January 2019, but did not include either Fortnite Battle Royale or PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, two major titles that were financial drivers in other countries.
A second freeze on approvals started in February 2019, as any further approvals on new games were suspending until the Committee has been able to clear the backlog of the titles from the prior freeze. By this point, only about 350 games had been approved from the previous freeze.
According to China's State Administration of Press and Publication, the freezes were put in place as the video game industry had growth too rapidly in China at a rate that passed the capabilities for regulation to keep up. The second freeze that started in February 2019 was to put in place to give regulators a change to tune the game approval process to meet the current market size. The freeze is expected to be lifted in April 2019, alongside a new set of regulations for game approvals. These new changes include limiting the number of games that can be approved each year to around 5,000 games, strictly banning video game clones and games with obscene content, and placing more anti-addiction controls on mobile titles aimed at younger players.
The nearly year-long freeze has had rippling effects on the global gaming industry. Whereas in 2017, around 9,600 new games were approved, only around 1,980 were approved within 2018. Tencent had been one of the top 10 companies in the world at the start of 2018, but by October, its stock had dropped in value by 40%, an estimated US$230 billion, and knocked the company out of the top ten. Apple Inc. attributed revenue loss in the fourth quarter of 2018 to China's approval freeze, which had also affected mobile gaming apps. The freeze is expected to impact total revenues of the video game industry in 2019, with one analysis projecting a decline in revenue from the previous year, the first time in only a decade.
Video game bansEdit
Game consoles were first banned in 2000 due to fears that the devices — and the worlds produced by them — had a negative effect on the mental and physical development of children. In 2015, China eased those restrictions by allowing game consoles to be manufactured in the Shanghai Free-Trade Zone and sold in the rest of China subject to cultural inspections. In July 2015, the ban on video game consoles within the country was lifted. According to a statement from the country's Ministry of Culture, companies like Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft — among others — will now be allowed to manufacture and sell video game consoles anywhere in the country.
The State General Administration of Press and Publication and anti-porn and illegal publication offices have also played a role in screening games.
Examples of banned games have included:
- Hearts of Iron (for "distorting history and damaging China's sovereignty and territorial integrity")
- I.G.I.-2: Covert Strike (for "intentionally blackening China and the Chinese army's image")
- Command & Conquer: Generals - Zero Hour (for "smearing the image of China and the Chinese army")
- Battlefield 4 (for "smearing the image of China and endangering national security")
In addition to banning games completely, several games have had their content screened to remove certain imagery deemed offensive or unfavorable. Common examples include skeletons or skulls being either fleshed out or removed entirely. Cases of which can be seen in Chinese versions of popular video games such as Dota 2 and World of Warcraft.
With the formation of the Online Game Ethics Committee in December 2018, nine titles reportedly were classified as prohibited or to be withdrawn, but this has yet to be confirmed by reliable sources. These included Fortnite, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, H1Z1, Paladins, and Ring of Elysium. Eleven other titles were told that they needed to make corrective action to be sold within China, including Overwatch, World of Warcraft, Diablo 3, and League of Legends.
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