A Look at China’s Stringent Mobile Games Regulations More Than Half Year On

We have already mentioned China’s regulations on mobile games on our previous articles regarding China’s ban on Korean games, and during our review of the Chinese mobile market industry. Now we will have a look on how these stringent mobile games regulations have worked so far eight months since their introduction. This article was originally published by Daniel Ahmad on his blog, and reprised by PocketGamer.biz. The author looks back at what he thinks is without any doubt the biggest change to take place in China’s mobile game industry to date. This article was written in occasion of the GMGC Global Games Congress, a conference of platforms and game developers, publishers, investors, distributors and other companies in Beijing. The intent is to a form long lasting cooperation through access to new markets.

After 1st of July 2016, new regulations came into place that required all the mobile games to receive a pre-approval before they are published in China. Ahmad has already discussed the difficulties of game publishing in China on the article The Challenge of Publishing a Mobile Game in China, as Rebound Mobile has done on its market insight articles. The new regulations have been in place already for eight months, and so far this has been the most wide-ranging, complex set of regulations governing the mobile game industry. Let’s take a look at the number of approved mobile games by the SAPPRFT (State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television) since July 2016. The number of game have been rapidly increasing, however the situation does not look promising.

In July were approved 110 mobile games, 447 in August, 504 in September, 491 in October, 1,179 in November, 845 in December, 974 in January and about 650 games have been approved until the end of February (the article was written in February 24th). This make a total of 5,200 games approved over a time of eight months. The difference if compared to the year 2015 is quite astounding, when the annual mobile games released were over 15,000: although the SAPPRFT has promised that it will render the process easier and shorter, it seems most unlikely to be able to reach even a close number. Even if during the second month since the approval the number of approved games more than quadruple, most of games that are not simple or casual games take a good three months to be approved, or even more.  Giant Chinese game company Tencent and NetEase have been keen (but also have more resources) to go ahead and have half a dozen games that have been approved, but will not be released until later in 2017. But together with Chinese game developers, also foreign companies are affected, and they must adhere to these strict regulations too, with a further burden: together with registering for a copyright and the game itself, they have to find a Chinese publisher to obtain a licence before their game can be placed into the App store. Although for the Android app store this is not recent news, previously developers were allowed to publish their game in China through iTunes connect. However, foreign developers who have accessed the iTunes connect lately have certainly seen this message:

“Chinese law now requires online games to secure an approval number from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television. You can enter your game’s approval number and date in the Notes field of the App Review information section. To learn more, view the full text of the regulation.”


Is China walling itself off from the rest of the world in game development?

Foreign developers have two choices: either they work with a local publisher or set up a Joint Venture (JV), so that they can obtain the approval, localize the game, market it and operate in the country. The approval takes no less than 90 days, and it is always done through a publishing entity. Foreign games are not eligible for the fast track publishing process that the SAPPRFT can offer to Chinese developers for casual games.

When the developer is on the process of submitting the game for approval, there is a series of rules regarding censorship they should be aware of, in order not to have their game rejected immediately.

All online games cannot contain:

  • Anything that violates China’s constitution.
  • Anything that threatens China’s national unity, sovereignty, or territorial integrity.
  • Anything that harms the nation’s reputation, security, or interests.
  • Anything that instigates racial/ethnic hatred, or harms ethnic traditions and cultures.
  • Anything that violates China’s policy on religion by promoting cults or superstitions.
  • Anything that promotes or incites obscenity, drug use or violence.
  • Anything that harms public ethics or China’s culture and traditions.
  • Anything that insults, slanders, or violates the rights of others.

Since all games must be approved by SAPPRFT, there is an element of censorship within the game level. Any Chinese publisher working together with a foreign developer will always ask to make a series of changes, if they see that any of the censorship rules are potentially infringed before submitting the request for approval, rather than having the game rejected repeatedly (as we mentioned, it takes no less than 90 days before the approval decision is made, therefore the developer has to submit the request again every time). For instance, games like Grand Theft Auto are absolutely banned in China, and seen the nature of the game itself (violence, drug dealing), no small changes will ever get it approved.


Identifiers like “KO” or “HP” will not be accepted in a game being reviewed for approval

Another regulation foreign developers needs to be aware of is that their games must not contain any English word or letters within the game. This rule also applies to every other language that is not Simplified Chinese. Although this rule had been already in place for few years, it only started to be enforced now after the new regulations were set in July 2016. Ahmad declares that he has seen certain games been rejected by the SAPPRFT due to identifiers such as “KO” or “HP”, some of the most common identifiers in games standing for “knockout” or “health points”. Only certain brand names recognitions or trademarks can be used in English, for instance, “OL” for online, “VR” and “HD” for “virtual reality” and “high definition”. Therefore, the advice upon localizing the game is that everything should be translated into Simplified Chinese: this includes voiceovers, subtitles and even the game name itself.

The author has also noticed other points that foreign developers should pay attention to, as they are not specified in the censorship rules, which he considers to be vague on certain points. He outlines them below:

  • All the games must have a “Healthy Advice” warning screen. These are very similar to the ones “Take a rest every 15 minutes” disclaimers that players used to see before playing a PC or console game.
  • All the games featuring a chat must have a filter to ban any sensitive words. This applies also to a text input when a player chooses a character’s name.
  • The game characters cannot wear any revealing clothing: this applies to both male and female characters, and to game advertising.
  • No derogatory or negative words can be included in the game. For instance, “hacked to death” would not pass the censor, whereas “wiped out” would make more sense.
  • Games with excessive violence, or war, will be asked to lower the level of violence in order to be approved. While blood is allowed on the screen, too much blood at one time or blood that remains on the screen for too long would not be approved by the censor.
  • Any games that does not function properly will not be approved by the SAPPRFT. Therefore developers must ensure that their games are well tested before they are submitted.
  • Games that give the users the possibility to have a gambling mechanic or “gacha” related to real money must have limits before launching the game. Game developers need to publish the drop rate of items or content utilizing a gacha mechanic.

While Ahmad does not publish a full list, he believes (and we do too) that this provides a good guideline of what foreign developers should expect when looking forward to publish a game in China, and in a broader way, when entering the Chinese market.

Therefore, can international mobile game developers still be able to break into the Chinese market and be successful? We will read international gamer’s opinion in a later article. Stay tuned for more!


Sources: Daniel Ahmad for ZhugeEX Blog

                 Guest Author for PocketGamer.biz

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