China introduces new approval process for video games

Date:26 April 2019 Author: Sam Spiller Tags:, , , , , , ,

In December 2018, China ended it’s moratorium on approving video games for local availability. The process is now in the hands of the State Administration of Press and Publication (SAPP), which was formed back in April last year. Since December, the SAPP has approved over a 1,000 games for the Chinese market. But as of this month, developers and studios will have a new set of conditions to meet if they want to access that market.

According to Asian market analyst Niko Partners, China is clamping down hard on the video game industry. Deputy director Feng Shixin of the Publishing Bureau of the Central Propaganda Department, has noted that video games in China yields an annual revenue of $30 billion. However, the rapid expansion of the industry in the last few years means that state regulation and monitoring has been unable to keep up. The moratorium provided breathing room for authorities to outline a new strategy. And this month, new regulations will be set in regards to new video games being made available to China’s 600 million gamers.

Following the restarting of the country’s game approval process:

  • Games will be evaluated by an Online Game Ethics Committee, comprised of experts and scholars who will determine whether a title abides by China’s social standards.
  • The number of new games approved each year will be capped. This is to lower the numbers of low-quality, copycat titles, as well as poker and mahjong-based titles that are known to flood the Chinese market. Niko Partners estimates that less than 5,000 new games will be approved this year.
  • Anti-addiction systems must be present in all new games, including mobile ones. China has long emphasised these systems as a means to protect underage gamers. In 2019, Tencent announced that all of it’s games (one of those being the ever-popular Fortnite) would feature anti-addiction systems.
  • Mini games and HTML5 games will now require approval before being made available. This was previously not the case owing to the fact that these kind of games do not need to be downloaded.
  • Local video game developers are encouraged to self-regulate. The can do so by employing an independent editor who can check a game’s content before its submission for approval. The SAPP plans to make their guidelines more transparent in near future, so as to speed up the overall process.
  • Chinese publishers are encouraged to promote traditional values and customs throughout their titles. Games must contain correct information regarding the country’s history, law and politics. The SAPP hopes that the encouragement will lead to increases in game quality, and help expand its audience.

There are several other guidelines in the new process, and these include:

  • If a game is part of a series, this must be noted in the application. If not noted, the game will be assumed to have the same title as an existing game, and is unlikely to get a license.
  • If an online game has offline content, the application must indicate that and explain the offline content.
  • When submitting a game for approval, do not include the version number in the title.
  • There shall be no images of dead bodies or pools of blood in any games.
  • Developers may not change the color of pools of blood to accommodate.
  • Mobile game applications do not require publishers to send a smartphone with the game pre-installed for approval.
  • Publishers no longer need to submit a paper copy of the “banned words list” for each game, a digital version of the list is sufficient.

Some of these new guidelines, especially when it comes to dead bodies and blood, could have a large impact on which games reach a Chinese audience. Developers now have a serious quandry: Either release a re-worked version of their game, limit in-game content, or forgo a Chinese release. That third is least likely given how profitable the market is, but it will be interesting to see how overseas studios and individuals respond to these new guidelines.

Images: Epic Games

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