For years the approval process to get a game into China has been, shall we say, rough at best. Now it looks like a new set of guidelines will come into play. The report comes from Niko Partners, who specifically monitor activity happening in the Asia game market, especially when it comes to places like Russia, China, Japan, and South Korea. The info they have shows that there will be a revised approval process which is now going to be going under heavy scrutiny when it comes to content and monetization. Basically, they’re going to be stricter about what kind of games are seen by their citizens, and determine whether or not your game has a system with microtransactions. Pretty safe to say if you’re heavy on getting people to buy cosmetics, you may not find yourself in China moving forward. Here’s Niko’s summary of the new guidelines moving forward that all gaming companies, even those within China, will have to go through to get a game on the market.
- Establishment of an online game ethics committee to review content
An Online Game Ethics Committee was established in December 2018 under the guidance of the Publicity Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CCPD). The newly established committee is formed of game experts and scholars who will evaluate whether certain games abide by the social values that China holds dear. We wrote about the introduction of this new committee at the time and additional details can be found here.
- Restart Approval Process to issue licenses for new titles
The SAPP resumed the approval process in December last year after initially freezing the approval process in April 2018. Since then a total of 1,029 games have been approved. The regulator confirmed that it is currently working through a backlog of titles submitted last year and has now approved games submitted between April 2018 and July 2018. The regulator stopped taking new submissions in February but will start to take new submissions from April 22nd under a new application process. The regulator will continue working through the backlog of titles submitted from August 2018 and also work to approve games submitted after April 22nd 2019 at the same time.
- Implement a limit on the number of games approved each year
The SAPP will control the number of video games that receive a license each year. Certain types of games will no longer be approved by the regulator. This will primarily impact low quality copycat games, which currently flood the market, as well as poker and mah-jong games that have been targeted in governmental enforcement over the past year. According to Niko’s tracking, there were 8,561 games approved in 2017, 37% of which (3,175) were Poker and Mahjong games. We also note that games that include overly obscene or immoral content, such as imperial harem games, will also not receive approval. Therefore, we expect less than 5,000 new games to be approved in 2019.
- Research and Implement anti addiction systems
A major concern in the games industry is game addiction among minors. China introduced anti-addiction policies for PC games in 2007 which limited the amount of time and money that minors could spend in game. This policy is now being expanded to mobile games with all publishers beginning to introduce anti-addiction systems across all of their games. We recently wrote about how Tencent is implementing its anti-addiction system across all its titles in 2019. We note that the introduction of this anti-addiction system has minimal impact on games industry revenue, because the gamers under age 18 make up a small percentage of that revenue.
- Require mini games and HTML5 games to go through the approval process
Mini games and HTML5 games have been popularised in China by platforms such as WeChat. These games do not require a download and are played within an application. Previously these games did not require approval before release, but this will be changing going forward. Mini games must now follow the same approval process as all digital games. Mini games that have already launched are required to apply for a license from the SAPP at the provincial level within 10 days to continue operation.
- Introduce self-regulation within game publishers
Chinese game publishers are being encouraged to self-regulate their own games with an independent editor team that will check the content of games before submitting them for approval. The SAPP plans to make content regulations more transparent so that these teams can provide useful guidance to developers. We note that this has been something that Chinese game publishers have done in the past, but with content regulations becoming more transparent, we could see this help speed up the approval process.
- Promote games with traditional culture + historical accuracy
Chinese gaming publishers are being encouraged to self-develop titles with China’s core social values in mind, which includes games that promote traditional culture. This is being done in a bid to improve the quality of games in the market and expand the gaming audience. In addition to this, game publishers are being encouraged to ensure that games contain correct information regarding history, politics and law. Games such as Honor of Kings have been criticised in the past for misrepresenting the lives of historical figures