Beginning July 2016, all games published in China (mobile or otherwise) must go through a licensing and approval process with the National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA) – formerly the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT).
Note: In older documents, SAPPRFT was called the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), as this agency was later merged with the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television to form the SAPPRFT. It is was also sometimes referred to as the General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (GAPPRFT). Later, the agency was split into the National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA) and the National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA). The NPPA now handles game licenses.
Another agency to note is the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), formed in 2014. The CAC is the primary regulator, censor and policymaker for China’s internet industry, and primarily oversees websites, e-commerce, search engines, and apps.
At that time, the agency released a detailed list of content restrictions that remains in effect to this day, but with some additions. Game published before that time were required to resubmit and go through the approval process.
Later, in November 2019, SAPPRFT (now called the NPPA) released a notice requiring online games to restrict access to games during weekdays evenings and add in-app purchase spending limits for children under 18, once again noting that the real age account verification system must be implemented in order to enforce it.
Game Startup Procedure
Game Content Restrictions
In addition to the types of games that are not allowed, here is a broad overview of the in-game content that will cause your mobile game license application to be rejected in China.
These restrictions are all-encompassing, referring to the language, script, story, maps and scenes, character designs and models, in-game items, music and sound effects, missions and quests, instructions, and advertisements in your mobile game.
Your mobile game cannot include any content that:
For a more detailed explanation and thorough list of the 2016 guidelines, see our translation of the official 2016 Mobile Game Content Standards.
In 2019, a few additional clarifications were given along with the new submission process:
Loot Box Restrictions
Chinese law is particularly strict and detailed on loot boxes, as they are seen as a form of gambling:
Publishers must also limit the quantity of loot boxes a player can open in a day, and give a clear in-game display showing the player how many opens they have left:
China’s loot box laws are difficult to police, and they tend to be enforced unevenly. For example, for Overwatch in China, Blizzard decided to allow purchase of in-game currency with real money, and threw in loot boxes as a “free bonus” for the purchase. Because of the complexity of these rules, many publishers choose to remove loot boxes entirely from the Chinese version of their games.
Social and Communication Elements
To the extent that your game allows players to talk with each other or post messages within the game or online, your game will need an established method to control, monitor, and moderate this content. You will need to submit your plan for dealing with reported issues and content takedowns, and you will also need to install filtering software to automatically block harmful and illegal content.
We expect to see more detailed restrictions on socialization in online multiplayer games in the wake of April 2020’s unofficial Animal Crossing: New Horizons ban. The popular Nintendo Switch game was pulled from e-commerce retailers in Mainland China in April 2020 after authorities realized some players were using in-game elements and map-modification features to stage virtual protests in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. Some have speculated that the new laws may also prohibit gamers from meeting and chatting with gamers outside the Great Firewall.
Plagues, Map Editing, and Organizing a Union
Due to the Animal Crossing incident and the politically-sensitive nature of the COVID-19 pandemic (which also led to the removal of the popular mobile game Pandemic, Inc. from China’s app stores), authorities are also expected to issue new laws banning plagues, map editing, and “organizing a union” inside games. These are undesirable because map editing could be used to promote a geographical split of the motherland, while references to viruses, plagues and pandemics could be used to covertly refer to the COVID-19 virus in a way that is slanderous to China and Chinese people. Details on these items have yet to be announced or finalized.
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