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China introduces new game approval process, limiting total approvals per year

HTML5 games now require approval, anti-addiction system policy expanded to mobile titles

China's State Administration of Press and Publication (SAPP) has offered clarity and new information on the game approval process following a six-month-long freeze last year and the resumption of new game approvals in December.

At a conference reported on by Niko Partners, SAPP offered that the reason for the freeze last year was due to the fact that the Chinese gaming industry had developed so quickly, regulations had not kept up. According to deputy director of the Publishing Bureau of the Central Propaganda Department Feng Shixin, China's gaming industry brings in $30 billion in annual revenue, includes 200 public game companies, 6,000 total game companies and over 600 million players.

With the resumption of game approvals comes a new application process. So far, a total of 1,029 games have been approved, but the regulator is still working through a backlog and stopped taking submissions for new games in February of this year. However, the regulator will resume taking new submissions on April 22 using the new application process, and new titles will begin to see approval alongside titles still in the backlog.

Along with the new application process, other changes coming with the new regulations include:

  • An Online Game Ethics Committee formed of experts and scholars, which will evaluate whether or not games submitted follow China's social values
  • A limit to the number of games approved each year. Niko projects fewer than 5,000 games will be approved in 2019.
  • Games that are copycat titles, poker, mah-jong, or games that include obscene content will not be approved.
  • Anti-addiction systems targeting children under 18 similar to the ones already in use on PC games in the country will be implemented on mobile.
  • HTML5 games will now be required to go through the game approval process.
  • Chinese publishers will be encouraged to self-regulate and promote titles with China's core values in mind while avoiding misrepresentation of history, politics, or law.

The SAPP provided this additional guidance for publishers looking to submit games:

  • 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.

The new application process will be implemented this week, with new application formats being released soon and local bureaus being advised on the new procedures.

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