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China mobile games market update: stricter regulations on the horizon

China mobile games market update: stricter regulations on the horizon

In the past six months, there have been two major announcements on the regulation of China's mobile games market: in November, the central government announced playtime restrictions for minors; at the end of February, Apple made a previously grey area crystal clear by announcing their enforcement of ISBN requirements for China's App Store.

Coupled with a forecasted reduction of ISBNs to be granted by Chinese authorities, it appears the Great Wall will loom higher than ever for foreign mobile game developers.

Two weeks ago, new details were released to inform all game developers of the changes that will be necessary and warn them of consequences for non-compliance.

Even so, according to research by Statista and Newzoo, China leads all other country markets (with the US coming in second) in mobile game revenue. It is not a market developers can really afford to write off as "too difficult".

While the regulations can be challenging, the rewards for those dedicated to developing hit games that harmonize with the rules and cultural preferences are potentially boundless.

In the upcoming months, games without a valid ISBN license will be barred from User Acquisition in China

At Yodo1, we have spent the last eight years turning overseas games into mega hits in China. Here's our summary of how to get your game China-ready.

1. ISBN Regulations

A single ISBN will no longer work for multiple games. Certain publishing companies have used the same ISBN for several games within the same genre. If your game is on such a "shared license", it will be directly removed from all Chinese app stores, its license will be revoked, and the publisher will be penalized.

Our advice: Avoid partnering with questionable agents. Yodo1 is a globally recognized company with an experienced publishing team; we will help you obtain a valid ISBN and assist you in your success with our comprehensive product suite.

UA will be prohibited for games without a valid license. In the upcoming months, games without a valid ISBN license will be barred from User Acquisition in China.

2. Player Restrictions

ID registration will be enforced. In order to enforce the recently announced anti-addiction system for minors, the National Press and Publication Administration will set up special industry-wide inspections before June 2020. This will ensure that every player is registered with their real ID number and identify those who are subject to playtime restrictions.

New users who are not registered will not have access to paid services such as in-app purchases.

Limited Tourist Mode will replace Guest Mode. The common Guest Mode will be banned and replaced by a limited version called Tourist Mode. Aimed at players joining a game for the first time, playtime in this mode will be restricted to one hour every 15 days, with no option to purchase content.

Global servers to be blocked. If your game allows Chinese players to interact with overseas players, whether in the gameplay or via chat, it will be necessary to remove this function.

China's gaming regulations and their enforcement will only expand over time, and eventually cover every corner of the industry

3. Content Limitations

Prohibited content regarding COVID-19. Any in-game references to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, including zombies, plagues, and doomsday scenarios, are strictly forbidden. Unhealthy words such as "kill", "death", "ghost", and "demon" are to be avoided and content that may incite poor conduct among adolescents—such as having multiple romantic relationships—is not allowed.

Limitation to user-generated content. Games may not include map creation or editing features that allow players to edit the boundaries of the game world or modify Chinese borders.

Implications for Developers

The Chinese mobile gaming scene has been undergoing deep transformations for several years now, with the government paying increased attention to the industry as a whole.

We strongly suggest that you apply these changes before officially undergoing the ISBN application procedure to increase the possibility of obtaining a license and shorten the review period.

Now more than ever, the need for a long-term and trusted local partner is vital to overseas developers who want to enter the Chinese market or have been surviving in the country without proper licenses. China's gaming regulations and their enforcement will only expand over time, and eventually cover every corner of the industry.

Yodo1 can help you navigate this sea of regulations. With a comprehensive service platform and years of success in China and around the globe, we’re here to closely support your journey into the world's largest mobile gaming market.

Aside from helping you obtain a valid ISBN license, we will work with you to optimize marketing, UA, and local ad network monetization—as well as provide IP licensing opportunities.

To learn more about how to reach China’s 600+ million mobile gamers, contact us at bd@yodo1.com.

About Yodo1

Yodo1 is a game platform company that helps developers better market, manage, and monetize their games. Our AI-powered tools and global expertise in areas such as mobile ads, community management, and digital IP licensing enable partners to increase playtime, revenue, and retention. Our vision is to open the world of gaming success to anyone with the talent to develop. To learn more, visit www.yodo1.com and follow us on our social media.


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Paul Flanagan Advisor at Creative Mobile
Excellent article, thanks for summarizing the recent changes.

Must say though, I was struck by the content restrictions. No mention can be made of COVID-19 or zombies. Seriously, a link is being made between COVID-19 and zombies?

Is there something we should know here??
John Ozimek Director & co-founder at Big Games Machine
Paul - the details of the new regulations are a lot more detailed and limit a range of in-game depictions of disease - probably an overreaction to the big spike in popularity of the Plague mobile game back in Feb that led it to being banned in China.

Zombies don't have a direct analogue in China. The closest is 'jiang shi', kind of undead vampires that come out at night. I would guess that due to the different views on folklore and superstition in China it was easier just to ban anything related!

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