China’s National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA), the regulatory body governing China’s video games market, released a list of 42 approved imported games on December 2nd. The NPPA announces lists of approvals in batches. This was the 3rd batch of imported games of 2020, far fewer than the domestic games. Previous batches of imports were announced in August and March. An approval indicates that the NPPA has granted a game an ISBN, which is a license number.
The list of 42 games includes 32 mobile titles, 3 PC titles, 2 titles for both mobile & PC and 5 console titles. A total of 98 imported games have been approved this year as of December 2nd.
2020 license tally:
- 98 import games (27 in March, 28 in August, 1 in November which merely switched Warframe from Changyou to iDreamsky, and 42 in December.
- This is lower than the 185 imported games in 2019.
- 1,225 domestic games (as of Nov 30), up from 1,194 in 2019 during the same timeframe.
It is now more important than ever to ensure paid games and games with in-app purchases are compliant with local regulations and are granted licenses before launching in China. To help developers enter China, we offer a report titled Gaming regulations and the approval process for launching a game in China
We also report the key approved titles as they are announced in our weekly Niko News and track all games in detail in our China Games Market Database.
China game approvals (ISBN licenses) of import (foreign) games – Batch 3, Dec. 2nd
Source: National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA) of the PRC, with Niko Partners analysis (December 2020)
- Roblox, the community focused gaming platform, was granted an ISBN with Tencent listed as the publisher. The news comes shortly after Roblox filed for its IPO where the company disclosed that it had formed a joint venture with a Tencent affiliate in 2019 to publish and operate the Roblox platform in China. User Generated Content (UGC) is a key part of Roblox’s current success and Tencent will be looking to build up a development community for the game in China, while ensuring that future content is in line with regulatory requirements. Tencent will be looking to position Roblox as the leading UGC platform in China, competing directly with Minecraft which is distributed by NetEase in the country and has over 400 million registered players. Historically games with UGC have been scrutinized, such as Second Life and Animal Crossing, whereas some sandbox games have had great success, such as Minecraft.
- Japan is the leading country for import games in this batch with 12 (28.5%) titles. The US was #2 with 10, double the number from the last batch in August. Disney Tsum Tsum Land, which was also approved in this batch, is developed by Colopl (Japan) while the IP is held by Disney (US) – so it is additional to the 12 and 10 from Japan and the US. There were two Korean titles approved in this batch – Summoners War from Com2uS and Lucy: The Eternity She Wished For from MVAL. This is notable as there had been no Korean import games approved since 2017, perhaps due to political tensions between the two countries.
- In addition to acquiring the license to publish Roblox in China, Tencent also gained an ISBN for Dynasty Warriors: Hegemony. The mobile action RPG is licensed by Koei Tecmo to CMGE, who have partnered with Tencent for distribution. The title already has 3.6 million pre-registrations.
- NetEase gained a license for self-developed Marvel Super War, the MOBA with classic Marvel heroes and villains, one of the original games from the strategic partnership with Marvel announced in 2019. This license is granted while Tencent still awaits one for League of Legends: Wild Rift. While this is an advantage for NetEase, the game will still be competing with Honor of Kings (Tencent) which currently dominates the MOBA market. NetEase gained two additional licenses for Candy Crush Friends Saga (King) and Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Link (Konami).
- Two other Konami IP games in this batch are Ninja Turtles Return and Castlevania: Moonlight Rhapsody. The latter is a new original mobile game developed by Shengqu Games exclusively for China. Shengqu gained a license for The Elder Scrolls: Blades, a mobile game based on the popular IP of the same name from Bethesda. Shengqu already had a license for Fallout Shelter. Interestingly, The Elder Scrolls: Legends was also approved in this batch, yet Gaea Interactive is listed as the publisher. Other notable games approved include a mobile version of Dead Cells to be published by Bilibili and Kerbal Space Program for PC, to be published by Tencent.
- Bytedance, a new entrant in the gaming space gained a license for Naruto: Slugfest, an MMO game for mobile that is developed by China’s Kaiser. It is one of many titles that Bytedance has licensed to publish in China in its new strategy to be a major player in China’s games industry.
- Four out of the 5 console games in this batch were approved for the Nintendo Switch. Merely 11 import console games have been approved in 2020, reflecting the struggle foreign developers face in China. Yoshi’s Crafted World (Nintendo), Mario Tennis Aces (Nintendo), Just Dance (Ubisoft) and To the Moon (Freebird Games). A total of 17 domestic and foreign Nintendo Switch games have been approved since the console launched in China last December. Unruly Heroes was also approved for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. There have been no games approved the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X|S this year, as they await official launch in China.