Hotcakes: China and the Great ‘I Told You So’

Some of you devs have some groveling to do.

The news this past week or so has been swept up with talks of China, and it almost feels like we’re entering the inevitable end game of something set up many years ago. I and many others have been warning for over a decade that the games industry is heading for disaster with its increasing attempts at appeasing the totalitarian Chinese government in return for a slice of the country’s growing video game pie. And I can’t blame them for it, the Chinese game industry makes up several hundred million people and countless billions in potential annual revenue.

But I always couched my warning on the idea that the gravy train would one day stop very abruptly, and that the industry should do its best to not burn bridges with the rest of the world in the process. I have a feeling we’re hitting that point.

The latest news to come out of China is that the government has not approved any games in the last two months, and that censorship is kicking in hard thanks to a new set of rules. As in “how do you even release a game” hard. No longer are we in the world where Disney can lazily shove two women kissing in a Star Wars movie and then delete it for China. No, the Chinese government wants all kinds of elements gone. The Chinese government no longer wants apolitical fun games, but instead demands that developers now release titles that highlight the correct values and show off China’s rich history and culture.

Evidently that means games with gay romance and effeminate men are banned, just two aspects in a massive list of red flags that will get a game denied release. Does your game spread violence or gambling? Can’t have that. Killing people in the post apocalypse? No dice. Does the game present people with moral decisions to choose from? It won’t be presenting Chinese players with the decision to buy it. No alternate history games, nothing provoking controversy, and no alternate versions of real people. No historical nihilism, and god forbid you approach Nazi Germany or the Japanese military.

The list goes on and on and while it doesn’t ban every single type of game, it puts the kibosh on a huge spectrum of titles. It’s also a painful reminder for developers that the rules can and will be changed at a moment’s notice by an entity that has no concern for working out an amicable solution. And sure, devs can make their games knowing the vast majority of Chinese gamers will still be able to get them via VPN. But who is to say that hole doesn’t get sealed in the future? Who is to say that China’s regulations don’t go deeper? They can. They have.

While it seems unlikely that game developers will stop making their games with Chinese gamers in mind, this should put an end to developers for the foreseeable future trying to shape their games to get approved by Chinese regulators. Unless your game is straight up pro-PRC propaganda in which case you’ll be fine.

But what do I know, I dated a check for 2020.

%d bloggers like this: