China’s games regulator is bringing in new approval guidelines this month

The State Administration of Press and Publication in China (SAPP) has long been around to regulate and approve games within the country. To sell their titles in the country, publishers must submit them for “content and monetisation review” before they can go on sale. This process is about to change, however, as China’s games regulator is bringing in new approval guidelines this month.

SAPP’s goal with these new regulations is to focus on “game quality and content” alongside addiction, especially regarding minors. The first decree is an online game ethics committee. Introduced back in December, this group is made up of gaming “experts and scholars” who will ensure that approved games fall under China’s societal values.

Second is to redo the approval process of newer games. Last April, the committee halted the approval of new games, which lasted until December. However, there is a backlog of games that had been submitted during the break. The team has seen April to July of last year’s submissions but still have more to catch up on. Because of this, the SAPP had suspended submissions again from this February until April 22nd. From that date onward, the group will validate both new submissions and titles from the backlog.

The third change is to limit how many games receive a license every year. China’s regulator wants to prevent “copycat games,” overly vulgar games, immoral titles, and poker and mahjong games that are under legal scrutiny. In 2017, the SAPP approved 8,561 games, and 37% of them fell into that category. Due to this change, the committee expects just 5,000 games will see approval in 2019.

China's games regulator is bringing in new approval guidelines this month

Another issue is gambling among youth. The SAPP wants to prevent this, and will bring in anti-gambling policies for mobile titles. This change is on top of China’s anti-addiction rules from back in 2007, which prevent gamers from spending too much money on PC titles. Under this rule set, publishers will have to have some anti-gambling features in their title. Also, the SAPP notes that these changes don’t affect overall revenue, as younger gamers don’t contribute much of the profits.

Browser-based “mini-games” will also need approval before release. These include HTML5 titles and those introduced by WeChat, a popular social platform within the country that’s not unlike Facebook. Games already in the system will need to seek approval within ten days of the new framework.

Interestingly, the SAPP wants to encourage self-regulation within Chinese game publishers. To help with this, the group will make their process more clear so others can follow along. While games still have to be approved by a team, this clarity could help expedite the process.

Finally, the group intends to help promote games with Chinese culture as well. These titles must be historically accurate but are ideal candidates for the promotion of China’s “core social values.”

The SAPP details some additional policies as well that should help streamline the approval process:

  • “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.
  • 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.
  • If an online game has offline content, the application must indicate that and explain the offline content.
  • 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.”

Overall, this entire process should be in place by the end of this month. At that time, a new application template will be ready to send to publishers.

Online games have brought in over $30 billion of China’s annual technology revenue. There are over 200 public game companies that participate, with 6,000 total game companies that serve around 600 million gamers. Hopefully these new policies will help this industry thrive even more in the space.