Issues with video game licensing in China remain relevant. According to a new report, it has been over 500 days since any foreign game was approved for distribution in the country.

Chinese regulators haven't approved any foreign game for over 500 days

According to an official administrative page (spotted and translated by ResetEra user Ceerious), the last time the National Press and Public Administration (NPPA) approved a foreign title was on June 28, 2021.

So it’s been 509 days since any video game from a non-domestic company was granted a publishing license in China.

Only 11 projects in this document were console games, including Super Mario Party and Rayman: Legend. Most of them were mobile titles, including Diablo Immortal, co-developed by Blizzard and Chinese tech giant NetEase.

As Ceerious pointed out, China has been gradually reducing the number of approved foreign titles over the past few years. For example, the country’s regulator licensed 456 foreign games in 2017, compared to 180 in 2019, 76 in 2021, and 0 this year.

How does game licensing work in China?

  • No video games, whether local or foreign, can be distributed in China without a special license from the NPPA. 
  • Last year, the government put the approval process on pause. The licensing freeze lasted 263 days, which was the longest one since 2018.
  • Although the NPPA started licensing video games again, Chinese tech giants like NetEast and Tencent had to wait many months to approve at least one new title, not to mention that foreign developers are still struggling to do so.
  • The slowdown in video game licensing has also led to a new wave of restrictions on the games industry. This includes cutting playtime for minors to only three hours per week and several proposed measures like holding parents of game-addicted kids accountable.
  • It is worth noting that most foreign game developers operate in the so-called legal grey area. Chinese players still can get access to many unlicensed PC video games through the global version of Steam, which hasn’t been officially banned in the country yet.
  • The grey market, however, is also turbulent. Last year, China’s second-largest e-commerce platform stopped selling unapproved games, including The Last of Us, Call of Duty, and GTA. So even some of the biggest vendors started self-regulating for fear of government retribution.
  • There is also the official Chinese version of Steam, but it still has only a few dozens of games allowed for distribution. So it is no surprise local gamers continue to look for different ways to bypass restrictions.

This information comes after the news about the expiration of Blizzard’s licensing agreement with NetEase, which has been publishing its games in China since 2008. That’s why the operation of World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and other titles from the studio will be temporarily suspended in the country early next year.

Blizzard will have to find a new partner to bring its games back to Chinese players. However, this will be difficult to do, given that the company must not only receive support from a local publisher, but also go through the approval process again. So it is unclear how long this process could take.

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