Beijing and Shanghai want to be global gaming capitals, but content controls are a problem
Beijing hosted the League of Legends World Championship in 2017 and Shanghai had The International 2019, but analysts worry tightening controls will dampen industry creativity
When you think about global hubs for gaming, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Seoul are likely the first places that come to mind. But China is hoping to broaden that list.
If you’re familiar with China’s gaming market, you’re no doubt thinking of the most obvious reason to be skeptical of China’s gaming aspirations: Control.
“The policies today revolve around maintaining control,” said Jintiao Zheng, co-founder of media outlet Gamer Boom. “We have been trying to expand our industry overseas for a year now, but we have barely seen any competitive titles. If policies are still control-oriented, it makes it even harder to have quality titles.”
But even as local governments try to embrace gaming, another problem looms for China’s gaming industry: The national government is quickly tightening its grip on video games and other digital content.
Given that, Beijing’s goal to have the market reach 150 billion yuan (US$21.4 billion) by 2025 seems aggressive, Media Create analyst Midori Tanamachi said.
Niko Partner analyst Daniel Ahmad echoed Tanamachi’s assessment. “We note that China does have a nationwide strategy to grow video games, but not to the same extent as this new announcement from Beijing’s local government,” he said.
Ahmad said that the government has always played an active role in the sector. “China’s government has been involved in the growth of the video games industry in China for more than a decade, being one of the first governments to recognize esports as an official sport in 2003,” he said.
The next challenge for China’s gaming industry is creativity, but Gamer Boom’s Zheng also sees limits to this in China in the current climate. Zheng attributed the recent growth of China’s gaming industry to the country’s massive “fan economy,” not the result of more creativity in new game development.
And that lack of creativity returns to the issue of control.
“So long as pre-release government approval is still there and a government license is the only way to go, we will still run into a number of key problems,” Zheng said. He suggested that game developers are sometimes reluctant to release their games in China because they might not make it past the censors.
Trying to boost creativity in gaming is a challenge for China because China’s gaming sector can seem completely siloed from the rest of the world. Mainstream games that do make it to China often need a completely separate version just for that market to comply with local regulations.