China’s National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA), the regulatory body governing China’s video games market, announced publishing licenses for 33 imported (foreign) games on February 9, 2021. All games published in China must first be granted the ISBN publishing license.
In 2020 the first import list was announced in March, so the February issue is a positive sign for games publishers. Included in the list are 25 mobile games, 4 PC games, 2 Switch games, 1 PS4 game and 1 multiplatform console game. Please see the complete list by title, platform, genre, Chinese agency, developer, and country of origin.
Niko Partners provides this information to our readers each time a new list is announced. The data is also available in much greater detail along with surrounding context via Niko’s China Games Market Database which provides a a comprehensive monthly view of China’s games licenses, financial transactions, games rankings and more
Global developers are required to comply with Chinese publishing regulations before launching in China. All games on all platforms must obtain an ISBN (publishing license) prior to launch. The only exception is games that do not require payment nor offer in-app purchases. Niko Partners outlines the regulations and ways to enter the market in our China Game Regulations and Business Report, scheduled for March 2021.
Imported Games Granted ISBNs on 2/9/21
Source: National Press & Publication Administration (NPPA) of the PRC with Niko Partners analysis
Note: The NPPA provided neither the developer nor country of origin, nor the title translation, of the final game in this table.
Niko Analysis on this Batch of Licensed Import Games:
- Japan was the #1 country for import games in this batch with 15 (45.5%) titles approved. This is significantly higher than the US which was the #2 country in this batch with just 3 (9.1%) games approved. Japan maintains its #1 spot among countries of origin of imported games. Developers from Chinese Taipei, which NPPA considers an import market, also had 3 games approved in this batch.
- There was one game in this batch from a developer based in South Korea. This is notable as there was a freeze on Korean game approvals between March 2017 and February 2020, possibly due to political tensions. The situation has improved since March 2020, with 4 licenses granted to Korean developed titles since then.
- Tencent was awarded an ISBN to operate League of Legends: Wild Rift, a mobile game by Riot Games already popular in East and Southeast Asia, South America and the US. Notably League of Legends is the #1 grossing PC game in China, which is a huge plus for the launch of the mobile game, but Wild Rift will enter a market that is already dominated by Tencent’s Honor of Kings. The popularity of the League of Legends IP likely will help the game find an audience on mobile, as will the aspects that make LoL unique.
- NetEase was granted ISBNs for three titles: Diablo Immortal, EVE Echoes and Pokemon Quest. All three are based on popular IP, with the first two developed by NetEase themselves in collaboration with the IP owner. NetEase has been testing Diablo Immortal over the past two months and received positive feedback and already launched EVE Echoes outside China. NetEase has also played a role in the development of Pokemon Quest for China, adding various PvP elements to increase the appeal of the game to Chinese players.
- Other notable games approved include Ylands from Bohemia Interactive, published by Tencent. Tencent is expanding its presence in the sandbox genre with this title, in addition to Roblox, as it looks to compete with Minecraft which is operated by NetEase. Tencent also took a minority stake in Bohemia Interactive today. War of the Visions: Final Fantasy Brave Exvius was also approved and will be operated by Seasun / Kingsoft. It is a spin off for Final Fantasy Brave Exvius which was also operated by Seasun and launched in 2018.
- There were 4 console games granted ISBNs, most of which were for the Nintendo Switch. Super Mario Party is the 7th Nintendo developed game to be approved for the system since it launched on Dec 10, 2019. A total of 16 games have released for the Nintendo Switch (China ver.) to date. While the PlayStation 5 is set to launch in Q2 2021, no games have been approved yet. This means that gamers will need to rely on imported disc games or backwards compatible titles when the PS5 launches in China.
- We are optimistic that more import games will be approved in 2021 than 2020. There were only 3 batches of import games approved in 2020, for a total of 98 games. We currently expect around 150-200 import games to be approved this year.
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