China’s Latest Task: Harmonizing Social Games

The Chinese government appears to be expanding its control over the games industry, this time setting its sites on social games and networks, according to a guest article on TechCrunch.

When the government gets involved and censors certain content, commenters refer to the game as being "harmonized," as happened with Mafia games during the Summer. But apparently social games are taking a closer look at actions and changing language in their games in an attempt to stay a step ahead of the Chinese censors. For example, players of the popular Happy Farm now pick their neighbors crops, not steal them:

Five Minutes, the developer of the smash hit Happy Farm (the first SNS farm game), confirmed that the terms had been voluntarily changed in an interview with BloggerInsight. This comes as the government is "considering specific social gaming laws and regulations, to be enacted as early as next year … to end the chaotic market conditions," according to ChinaNews, which scooped the story on Wednesday last week.

The article says that the government has gone so far as to spread doctored news accounts to damage the reputation of popular social games like Happy Farm.

And the threat of regulation is prompting some developers to be proactive to stay ahead of the government:

Although the SNS landscape is splintered, the government is determined to maintain control. There is no Facebook, no single dominant social network for all of China: the top 3 are Qzone, Kaixin001, and RenRen (see chart).  When it comes to games, Qzone and Kaixin001 develop everything in-house with games inspired from Facebook, while Renren has a mostly open API so it can tap into outside developers to copy games for them. All have keyword lists and teams responsible for the instant removal of “objectionable” content.

Platforms have borne the responsibility for game regulation until now, but developers may soon become practiced in self-censorship too. The new regulations will likely be similar to those for MMORPGs: a list of “do’s and don’ts” for Chinese social games, according to an industry insider. This could include age ratings or a requirement that social games be suitable for players of all ages.

The article concludes with a warning to Western game developers hoping to tap into the Chines market:

The China market is seductive, but outside game companies should proceed with caution. Foreign developers would be wise to cultivate political ties and partner with or build a local studio, as Popcap Games did. Also, be sure your games promote "harmonious social values" — Mafia Wars need not apply.

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  1. 0
    Erik says:

    Why when I hear them wanting to promote "Harmonious social games" do I hear them wanting games that promote blind patriotism?

    -Ultimately what will do in mankind is a person’s fear of their own freedom-

  2. 0
    hellfire7885 says:

    While I do agree that developers and publishers should give up on China indefinately, China isn’t an inspiration ot JUST Atkinson. Politicians all over the world, for all the shiny language they use, would LOVE to have what the chinese government has, just they can’t go for it as there would be hell to pay, though it does feel like they are trying.

  3. 0
    SeanB says:

    it’s not even just managing to make a game that fits the requirements that’s hard. Every once in a while they make huge sweeping changes, and everybody gets to scramble to meet the new requirements.

  4. 0
    Rodrigo Ybáñez García says:

    China is a lost cause, and a model of inspiration for Michael Atkinson.

    As for China government asking for occidental developers to get more close to China´s side, I would say: "Go to hell, if you don´t like my games then make your own damn games".

    With so many restrictions of what to do for that market, China is surely NOT the best market.

    How long more are gonna that people to take crap from their government?

    My DeviantArt Page (aka DeviantCensorship):

  5. 0
    Neeneko says:

    Part of me is terribly amused but the outrage at China’s behavior, since when you start getting into coin-op games, but the US and UK behave like this.  Complete with random sweeping changes.

    In the UK there is basicly a board with no  guidelines or rules, thus ‘what will get allowed’ documents people people produce are little more then descriptions of the board member and what they happen to like.

    In the US it is done at a state leve, with some states having just a single person deicde what is acceptable and what is not.  NJ is like that, which explains why anythign OTHER then full blown gambling machines tend to be about a decade behidn (or simply unavailable).

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