Chinese regulators are reviewing new games to determine whether they meet stricter criteria on content and protections for children, people familiar with the matter said, an effort that is likely to slow rollouts in the world’s largest mobile arena.
China’s National Press and Publication Administration is reassessing titles submitted for approval by developers from Tencent Holdings Ltd (騰訊) to NetEase Inc (網易) to ensure they comply with fresh curbs on playing time and other anti-addiction safeguards unveiled last month, the people said.
The watchdog turned back applications late last month and asked developers to resubmit titles with the new mandatory measures built in, they said.
The review is stoking nerves across an industry already dealing with heightened uncertainty, as Beijing pursues a campaign to rein in unruly Internet spheres, curb gaming addiction and nudge its youth toward more productive pastimes.
On Aug. 30, regulators unveiled rules that went into effect this month to limit play time for minors to just three hours a week, and banned companies from providing services to users without real-name registration. Beijing is also zeroing in on “money worship” and unsavory content such as “effeminacy.”
The strictures can be very specific: Regulators are cracking down on increasingly popular zombie-themed games because they’re “too scary” by the agency’s standards, one of the people said.
Another person said that there was increasingly tight scrutiny over what regulators see as undesirable subjects, including the recently trendy “boys’ love” themes.
The adjustments have revived painful memories among investors of a 10-month freeze on game monetization licenses in 2018. Still, while the new criteria introduces an additional layer of complication, regulators continue to process applications, the people said.
A Tencent spokesperson declined to comment, while representatives with NetEase did not respond to requests for comment. The agency did not respond to faxed requests for comment.
The criteria China will use for approving new titles became the subject of fierce dispute last week after regulators summoned the nation’s biggest games companies to a discussion of new requirements and decried the “solitary pursuit of profit,” Xinhua news agency reported.
The South China Morning Post initially reported there would be a freeze on approvals, but later corrected its story to say approvals would merely slow. A protracted delay in game approval is likely to weigh on gaming business growth at Tencent and NetEase, which depend on the launch of new titles to sustain growth and draw in new users.
Adding to the confusion, Tencent’s hotly awaited League of Legends mobile title did not launch on Wednesday as initially anticipated, because “it needed to improve the gaming experience,” while regulators have not yet released their regular monthly list of approved titles for last month, which is typically unveiled just before or after the end of the month.
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