China unveils restrictive new video game content guidelines

China changes video game restrictions

In early 2018, the Chinese government initiated a nine-month freeze on allowing new video games to be sold domestically. Consequently, the nation’s leading games publishers took a serious financial hit. But Beijing began reviewing new titles for release again in December and promised to revamp its approval system.

Now, the country’s censors have unveiled their new content guidelines and they’re predictably restrictive. However, given the unparalleled size of the Chinese games market, most AAA publishers will likely adopt the new standards without issue.

No More Poker, Dead Bodies, or Concubines

The State Administration of Press and Publication (SAPP), China’s games regulator, has announced new criteria for appraising video games for domestic release.

First off, the SAPP is looking to crack down on the availability of online gambling games. Chinese law forbids gambling but some video game publishers have skirted the ban by releasing titles that let players make cash bets. In fact, gambling titles were so common they represented half the new games released in 2018.

Notably, the regulator blocked the release of all new poker and mahjong games in the first quarter of 2019.

SAPP has also made a point to ban games that it deems to be morally inappropriate. For instance, the agency now won’t authorize the release of titles featuring corpses or pools of blood or blood-like substances. Previously, the government frowned upon blood-like green slime, but the new rules ban copious amounts of inhuman bodily fluids.

Chinese censors have also outlawed games that depict the nation’s Imperial period in less than respectful terms. As a result, censors have disallowed games that let players collect concubines and wives in feudal China.

The Asian superpower has had long-standing prohibitions against pornography and skeletons in domestically released games.

The agency is also looking to expand its oversight into the realm of social media integrated video games. In the past, the government took a hands-off approach to mini-games available on Snapchat and WeChat. Now, SAPP requires mini-game developers to submit their content for review before publication.

The regulator also wants game companies to declare whether or not their new releases are part of a series and notify players when online titles have off-line content.

Money is the Priority

Despite the onerous nature of China’s new content restrictions, major publishers are unlikely to push back against the new regulations. With a $30 billion games market at stake, corporations are amenable to censoring their flagship products.

For instance, Blizzard replaced incidental corpses with tombstones in the Chinese edition of “World of Warcraft” to please local regulators. Similarly, Ubisoft received criticism in Western countries for censoring the global content of “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege” to comply with Chinese regulations.

As the Sino games market grows more lucrative, it’ll be interesting to see if the AAA publishers begin developing their content in accordance with Chinese regulations. After all, SAPP announced it will limit the overall number of new release approvals it grants every year. With billions of dollars at stake, the major gaming firms aren’t going to waste time factoring in things like credit integrity.