Why the world's hottest PC game could get locked out of China
The world's hottest video game is set to be shut out of the biggest market.
A Chinese gaming association said in an announcement posted online that PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is too bloody and violent for sale in the country. The gladiator-style mentality of the computer game -- where competitors kill each other until only one remains -- deviates from the values of socialism and is deemed harmful to young consumers, according to the China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association.
It's highly unlikely for the game known as PUBG to receive an official license for China, given that the association consulted with the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television before issuing its statement. SAPPRFT is the regulator that licenses virtually all content in China, and has previously banned content such as the TV series "BoJack Horseman" and "The Big Bang Theory." PUBG's premise runs counter to President Xi Jinping's recent calls for unity, aimed at tightening party control.
"This basically spells the death sentence for PUBG in China," said Benjamin Wu, an analyst at Shanghai-based consultancy Pacific Epoch. "PUBG's main problem is that the underlying ideology clashes with what's preached in China."
PUBG, published by South Korea's Bluehole Inc., has been the surprise hit of the gaming industry this year, selling more than 13 million copies globally. The title sells for about $30 a copy and is played on PCs.
There's been growing interest among Chinese gamers in getting their hands on PUBG, but the game has lacked official approval for distribution. That means users can only download and run the game through virtual private networks, which are slow and often blocked. Tencent Holdings Ltd., China's biggest gaming company, was in discussions to purchase licensing rights, the South Korean company said last month. Neither company responded to requests for comment.
Not all violent games are banned in China. One of the country's most popular games is Tencent's Honour of Kings, in which teams of five hack their way through a battle arena to vanquish opponents. But the characters are cartoonish, while PUBG's are realistic.
The Korean title is like a digital version of "The Hunger Games," where 100 combatants are dropped onto an island and proceed to slaughter each other. China's content watchdog strongly opposes duel-to-the-death games and they will have a hard time wining operating licenses, according to the industry body. The association also recommended that Chinese companies do not develop such games and discouraged livestreaming of related content.
"I suspect it won't affect Tencent too much because no one can touch survival games anymore," said Wu. "It doesn't have to worry that a competitor will supersede it."
China is the world's largest market for video games, with industry revenue expected to hit $27.5 billion this year, slightly ahead of the U.S. with $25 billion, according to researcher Newzoo. But regulators in the world's second-largest economy periodically clamp down on forms of content they deem threaten social stability, often without warning.
Honour of Kings did come under scrutiny this year when the leading government newspaper blasted the title for harming children in the pursuit of profit. The Chinese company also publishes a first-person shooter called Crossfire, developed by South Korean developer SmileGate Holdings. Both titles are still available in China.
Bloomberg's Yuji Nakamura contributed.