China’s State Administration of Press and Publication (SAPP) held a conference on April 10th to communicate new rules and regulations regarding game publication in China. The SAPP was formed in April 2018 as the new gaming regulator in charge of game approvals in the country. Game publishers are required to submit games for content and monetisation review before they can be distributed domestically. The process was suspended in April last year after the new regulator was introduced but resumed in December 2018. Since then, more than 1,000 games have been approved by the regulator, something we wrote about earlier this month.

According to Feng Shixin, the deputy director of the Publishing Bureau of the Central Propaganda Department, the online games market has become an important part of China’s technology industry with more than $30 billion in annual revenue, 200 public game companies, 6,000 total game companies and over 600 million gamers. Feng noted that the games industry developed too fast in China and the regulations at the time were not up to date. This is why a new gaming regulator was introduced, and why there was a temporary game approval freeze last year, so that the new regulator could work on introducing new regulations to control and strengthen the industry.

At the conference, the SAPP announced a number of changes to the regulatory process, some of which had already been communicated prior. A new approval and submission process was also announced and is slated to go into effect at the end of the month. China’s gaming regulator is aiming to solve issues primarily related to game quality and content, gaming addiction among minors and self-regulation among publishers. The new regulations include:  

  1. Establishment of an online game ethics committee to review content

An Online Game Ethics Committee was established in December 2018 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. We wrote about the introduction of this new committee at the time and additional details can be found here.

  1. Restart Approval Process to issue licenses for new titles

The SAPP resumed the approval process in December last year after initially freezing the approval process in April 2018. Since then a total of 1,029 games have been approved. The regulator confirmed that it is currently working through a backlog of titles submitted last year and has now approved games submitted between April 2018 and July 2018. The regulator stopped taking new submissions in February but will start to take new submissions from April 22nd under a new application process. The regulator will continue working through the backlog of titles submitted from August 2018 and also work to approve games submitted after April 22nd 2019 at the same time.  

  1. Implement a limit on the number of games approved each year

The SAPP will control the number of video games that receive a license each year. Certain types of games will no longer be approved by the regulator. This will 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 over the past year. According to Niko’s tracking, there were 8,561 games approved in 2017, 37% of which (3,175) were Poker and Mahjong games. We also note that games that include overly obscene or immoral content, such as imperial harem games, will also not receive approval. Therefore, we expect less than 5,000 new games to be approved in 2019.  

  1. Research and Implement anti addiction systems

A major concern in the games industry is game addiction among minors. China introduced anti-addiction policies for PC games in 2007 which limited the amount of time and money that minors could spend in game. This policy is now being expanded to mobile games with all publishers beginning to introduce anti-addiction systems across all of their games. We recently wrote about how Tencent is implementing its anti-addiction system across all its titles in 2019. We note that the introduction of this anti-addiction system has minimal impact on games industry revenue, because the gamers under age 18 make up a small percentage of that revenue.

  1. Require mini games and HTML5 games to go through the approval process

Mini games and HTML5 games have been popularised in China by platforms such as WeChat. These games do not require a download and are played within an application. Previously these games did not require approval before release, but this will be changing going forward. Mini games must now follow the same approval process as all digital games. Mini games that have already launched are required to apply for a license from the SAPP at the provincial level within 10 days to continue operation.

  1. Introduce self-regulation within game publishers

Chinese game publishers are being encouraged to self-regulate their own games with an independent editor team that will check the content of games before submitting them for approval. The SAPP plans to make content regulations more transparent so that these teams can provide useful guidance to developers. We note that this has been something that Chinese game publishers have done in the past, but with content regulations becoming more transparent, we could see this help speed up the approval process.

  1. Promote games with traditional culture + historical accuracy

Chinese gaming publishers are being encouraged to self-develop titles with China’s core social values in mind, which includes games that promote traditional culture. This is being done in a bid to improve the quality of games in the market and expand the gaming audience. In addition to this, game publishers are being encouraged to ensure that games contain correct information regarding history, politics and law. Games such as Honor of Kings have been criticised in the past for misrepresenting the lives of historical figures  

In addition to the above, the SAPP provided additional guidance to game publishers on how to approach the new submission and content review process:

  • If a game is part of a series, this must be noted in the application. If not noted, the game will be assumed to have the same title as an existing game, and is unlikely to get a license.
  • If an online game has offline content, the application must indicate that and explain the offline content.
  • When submitting a game for approval, do not include the version number in the title.
  • There shall be no images of dead bodies or pools of blood in any games.
  • Developers may not change the color of pools of blood to accommodate.
  • Mobile game applications do not require publishers to send a smartphone with the game pre-installed for approval.
  • Publishers no longer need to submit a paper copy of the “banned words list” for each game, a digital version of the list is sufficient.

China’s SAPP is working on fully implementing this new review and approval process by the end of the month and will release a new application format to game publishers shortly. The regulator confirmed that all personnel changes have been completed and that provincial bureaus are being briefed on the new approval process this week. With a new more transparent approval process set to go live soon, we have a positive outlook for China’s digital games market in 2019.

We keep close tabs on the digital games market in China via our our China Games Market Database and we want to help you do the same.  Contact us if you’d like to know more and watch for our upcoming China PC Games Market Report and China Mobile Games Market Report – both set to be published at the end of April.