An Online Game Ethics Committee has been established in Beijing 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. China’s state broadcaster noted that the committee has evaluated an initial batch of 20 games and found that 11 of them could be released once content is modified, and that 9 of them should not be released due to containing content that is illegal in China. The Online Game Ethics Committee does not grant licenses for games, and every game that is launched must first obtain a license.

The establishment of the Online Game Ethics Committee comes nine months after a regulatory shakeup led to a game license approval freeze in China. Games approved prior to the freeze are still able to launch but new games that do not yet have approval are unable to launch domestically. The new gaming regulator, the State Administration of Press and Publication (SAPP) was formed in April 2018, but is currently operating without a director and has not yet initiated control of the game approval process in China. The introduction of the Online Game Ethics Committee is a positive sign that China’s regulators are working on an approval process that will enable licensing to be resumed in the near future.

The SAPP will be the main gaming regulator for license approvals in China with the Online Game Ethics Committee providing input on whether certain game titles abide by China’s core social values, have sufficient protections for minors and promote the healthy development of the games industry.  The committee will also provide guidance to game developers on how to create games in accordance with regulations.

We believe that the new game approval process will become more stringent as China looks to push for a healthier gaming industry, whilst aiming to balance the economic benefits of digital games with the core values that China holds dear.

China has long had a strict approval process with online games needing to adhere to content restrictions that regulators say reflect the core values of the country. The Online Game Ethics Committee is working off these values to create a more standardised set of rules by which it can evaluate games. The existing regulations state that online games content must not 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, violence, or gambling.
  • Anything that harms public ethics or China’s culture and traditions.
  • Anything that insults, slanders, or violates the rights of others.
  • Other content that violates the law

In addition to the above, the SAPP plans to strengthen non-content regulations, such as limiting the amount of time that minors can play mobile games, and consideration of a game ratings system. China does not have an age rating system like that of the ESRB in North America or PEGI in Europe, though efforts to create one have occurred in past years.

The game play time limit for minors already exists for PC games and is now being extended to mobile games. We’ve already seen companies like Tencent self-regulate in this area.

The SAPP also plans to reform the approval process by limiting the number of games that are approved for distribution each year and working with the Online Game Ethics Committee to crack down on games that do not abide by the core social values above as well as provide guidance to game developers on how to create games with these values in mind.

The limit on the number of online games approved each year is expected to 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 this year. We also expect the work of the Online Game Ethics Committee to lead to games having to more aggressively tone down or remove elements, such as excessive violence or gore, in order to receive a license.

The introduction of this new committee is a positive sign that new game licenses will start to be issued again in the near future, ending the current approval freeze. The SAPP has yet to submit its reform plan to the central government, but still has until March 31st, 2019 to both submit and begin carrying out reforms. We are hopeful that licensing will resume sooner than that.