In late-December, the Chinese government ended a nine-month freeze on approving new video games after a major government re-organisation shifted the approval process to the propaganda-focused State Administration of Press and Publication. We now have official details on the new restrictions and requirements for games entering that lucrative market, and it doesn’t look good for Mortal Kombat 11.
Because China has a population of over 1.4 billion people, making a game available in the country can be an obvious boost to a developer’s bottom line. But three genres of games will no longer be allowed, including gambling titles such as Mahjong and Poker, games that deal with the country’s imperial history, and games featuring corpses and blood – of any colour. Simply changing the colour of blood to green and calling it slime or sweat isn’t going to cut it anymore. These new rules come into play alongside existing regulations that ban pornography.
Other initiatives include requesting publishers to change how their titles promote Chinese values and culture so that if they become popular around the world, they’ll portray the country in a favourable light.
The new regulations also require developers and publishers to divulge more information about a given title including detailed scripts, screenshots, as well as what features are being included to help curb gameplay addiction and over-spending by the country’s younger population. Gaming addiction has long been an issue in China; it was first addressed in 2007 with regulations put in place for PC games, which have now been officially expanded for mobile gaming as well.
With Tencent, the world’s largest gaming company, recently receiving approval to start selling the Nintendo Switch in China and the new approval guidelines, the country’s gaming market is starting to open up to the rest of the world. Having access to what Bloomberg describes as “the world’s largest gaming market” is undoubtedly good for developers and publishers. But they’ll either have to create alternate versions of certain games to meet approval guidelines or tone down titles altogether so that they comply.
Bowing to censorship is never an ideal outcome. But that’s not likely to stop many developers who want a piece of China’s estimated $30 billion in annual video game sales, which will likely rise in 2019 now that the approval freeze is over. The Chinese government can start throwing its weight around, and it will undoubtedly have an effect on the kinds of games that flood app stores throughout the year. At least it might cut down on the staggering number of poker games to choose from.
Featured image: Ng Han Guan (AP)