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Sweeping Changes to Chinese Mobile Gaming Legislation Underlines the Importance of Local Knowledge

China has a blueprint for its gaming industry. The big question is whether the level of new regulation will become too big a barrier for non-Chinese companies wanting to enter one of the biggest markets in the world.

While a lot of countries still see gaming as a hobby, the Chinese government has a laser-focused commitment to becoming the “international capital of online games” by 2025.

A cornerstone of its strategy involves the government throwing its weight behind Esports. It does that by supporting initiatives such as developing a set of national standards for domestic Esports players.

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While a lot of the state’s attention appears to be on Esports, though, China also has a blueprint for mobile games – and it’s a blueprint that western developers need to take seriously if they want to succeed. 

This stems from a new set of regulations that emerged last week. Whilst there has been little official promotion of these new rules, they are set to be implemented by the end of June, and will apply to all games available to play or purchase in China – across all platforms.

The Chinese government has announced it is looking to review all existing live games by the end of June 2020, so western publishers will have to comply with these new rules if they want to continue to operate in the lucrative Chinese market.

Before we drill down into what these new requirements are, it’s important to remind ourselves of the reasoning behind the increase in regulations over the past few years.

Firstly, due in part to the massive popularity of games in China, there has been rising worry about the effect of extended playtime on children, as well as potential exposure to unsuitable content and gambling. This has led to strict rules around real-money features, non-child-friendly content and themes, and trying to restrict unhealthy amounts of gaming.

Secondly, piracy and app fraud are a problem in all markets, but especially so in China simply because of the scale and complexity of the market. This has led to rising regulation around advertising, in-app purchases and other mechanisms that fraudsters use to make money.

Thirdly, the current Covid-19 pandemic saw a rise in downloads of games themed around plagues and illness. As part of its recovery, the Chinese government is rightly sensitive to this kind of content- even if it might seem like harmless fun to most people. So sensitivity around the current global situation has understandably led the government to react.

 

Existing regulations mobile publishers need to be aware of in China

Since 2016, mobile games published in China were required to have an ISBN number. There were grey areas though; games could be published in the Apple App Store with ISBN submissions optional.

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No longer, though. From the end of February, the Apple App Store announced that paid games and games with in-app purchases would need an ISBN number by June 30, 2020.

For many developers and publishers, it could mean the end of their time in China. Applying for and securing an ISBN can be a lengthy, costly process. If they don’t have an ISBN by June 30, their content could be removed. (If you do need help with your ISBN application Nativex offers a consultancy service. There is more information on this over at our XploreChina site.)

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Credit: Y Chen / CC BY-SA

Another recent major change to regulations that was brought in at the end of last year revolves around age verification and identification.

With China being home to one of the world’s largest mobile gaming markets, the government has a very real concern about minors becoming addicted to mobile gaming and gambling.

China’s gaming regulator published new regulations in November 2019 with a view to combating gaming addiction in minors, which included extending the country’s real-name identification policy as well as introducing time limits, age rating limits, and spending limits.

That legislation has also been tightened since November. Foreign publishers, when applying for a license to publish in China, will now have to prove that their real-name verification system works, alongside screenshots showing it in action.

 

Future Chinese mobile gaming legislation western publishers need to know

Those two regulations are pretty complex, especially for western developers and publishers who are new to the market and are just getting to grips with Chinese legislation.

The recent document that emerged last week from a native publishing house in China, showed a list of new requirements set out by regulators when it comes to game supervision.

The document outlines the tightening of numerous existing regulations and the introduction of new ones, including:

  •         Penalties for multiple versions of the same game. If a developer or publisher has different versions of the same app or game live across different stores at any one time, they could face serious penalties. Their publishing business could be suspended for six months; the game would also be removed from app stores with revenue generated from the game blocked.
  •         No publishing of unauthorised ads for unapproved games. If your game carries commercials as a source of revenue, they should only promote games that have been granted government approval, and should not promote ‘unauthorised’ content.
  •         Restrictions on global services. Games that have multiplayer elements or encourage players to interact with other gamers across the world will have to be scaled back. Games that feature a global uniform server feature and other related functions should not launch it or remove it entirely.
  •         Real-name registration now a necessity. As mentioned previously, real-name registration will be a necessity for even the smallest games. Even if a gamer has been playing a game for months without registering, they will have to do so as soon as possible or their access to the service will be revoked. Developers will need their game to connect to China’s real-name authentication and anti-addiction system.
  • Paid services now require registrations. Real-name registration will also be needed for games that provide paid services such as VIP memberships. Players that access and pay for this content will need to be registered and authenticated. All registrations will require a real name and ID number, while foreign registrants will need their passport number to comply.
  •         A ban on zombie- and plague-related content. Games that feature zombies, plagues, pandemics or anything that facilitates these themes (such as level-building tools that allow players to include these features) should remove this content. That also extends to chat options, where references to such themes should be banned. Online content must be consistent with the game’s ‘approved’ version.
  •         Morally-poor actions and themes banned. The government wants to protect younger gamers by restricting games that promote morally-dubious themes, such as promoting extreme wealth and depicting casual relationships. Words such as “kill”, “death”, “ghost” and “demon” will also be deemed unhealthy.
  •         The introduction of a ‘tourist’ mode. Tourist modes will be introduced for non-Chinese gamers. It will encourage them to register their name; if not, they will be restricted to an hour’s playtime with no repeat or IAP functions. This will effectively replace existing ‘Guest’ modes; gamers won’t be able to access Tourist mode via the same device for 15 days after using it once.

 

Western publishers need this knowledge if they are to compete in China

For western developers and publishers with aspirations of breaking into the massive Chinese mobile market, these can look more like restrictions than legislation.

Take the real-name verification points, for example. China has constructed a real-name verification system, and will require companies to access it as part of their new requirements.

Western developers and publishers – understandably – may have a number of questions about how to connect their game to it, how to access it, how to store user data in compliance with it, how to submit paperwork to be part of the system, and more.

The crux of the matter, though, is China – like the majority of countries globally – has legislation surrounding gaming that is ever-evolving and reacts to new trends and potential dangers in an agile way.

The ‘zombie ban’,  for instance, will be in response to the recent outbreak of Covid-19, and will likely in part be a directive designed to show some sympathy to those with families and loved ones who were affected by the virus.

Similarly, partnering with a company with local knowledge of China’s mobile publishing industry, who is able to quickly absorb and respond to these changes, is the best way to succeed in such a rewarding market.

Local knowledge and showing agility in an evolving marketplace is key to not only getting a solid footing in China, but in attracting the people you want to interact with most and grow.

Our team at Nativex has that knowledge, and works with western developers and publishers to introduce their games to the Chinese market, and ensures they understand and comply with any existing and upcoming legislation introduced in China. Contact us today for more information.