Our friends at JoyPac recently wrote us some tips about how to get your game published in China. In this second installment, JoyPac’s Falko Böcker looks at the details of China’s ever-evolving process for granting publishing licenses.

Publishing games in China is a complicated business. The State Administration of Press & Publication (SAPP) decides who can get a license to publish games, and their approach is very much ‘quality over quantity’. They’re limiting the number of developers who can publish games in their territory, and they’ll only greenlight games of a high standard that they see as healthy entertainment for Chinese gamers.

The rules have changed recently, and are likely to keep changing in the future. So we’re going to run through what it takes to get a license, and explain how we go about navigating this tricky process.

So what’s changed?

Games are now even more heavily regulated on content and style

SAPP will reject any game with political or violent content. And they’ll change the rules, if they need to, to eliminate any efforts to get around them. With these latest changes, for example, you can’t show any blood of any color. Previously, showing green or blue blood was technically allowed. But not anymore.

Western games get even more scrutiny

There’s a separate, stricter approval process for Western games. You’ll need to submit a full business plan for your game, with some very extensive details. More on this in the next section.

Government licenses to release games are limited

Based on the number of licenses they’re approving each month, the maximum they’ll give out per year is likely to be about 5,000 at most.

Even more games now need licenses

Previously, you wouldn’t have needed a license for casual games and games without in-app purchases (like HTML5). But these will need a license from now on. These games have a separate, faster approval process though.

What you’ll need to get a license

Before they’ll be willing to give you a license, SAPP will essentially want to know two things – that your game is good and that it’s suitable for the Chinese market.

To make their decision, they’ll want you to include all of this information with your application:

To prove your game is good

They’ll want to know:

  • The history of your game – where you first launched it, how it’s grown and where it’s available now.
  • How many players you have (roughly) and where they’re based.
  • How much money your game makes (roughly) on a monthly basis.
  • How your game’s perceived in other countries. Any review scores, awards or rankings will be useful here.

To prove your game is suitable for the Chinese market

They’ll want to know:

  • Your game’s age ratings.
  • Absolutely every word that appears in your game. You’ll need to submit a Word document containing every last bit of text a player can read – including dialogue, system messages, menus and item names.

Don’t: rely on Google Translate

You can view the recent policy changes online. But, naturally, it’s not that simple.

Chinese doesn’t translate neatly into English at the best of times. And when each word, clause, and comma is relevant to the legal interpretation, using a translated version is awkward at best.

And that’s not just based on the limitations of Google Translate. Even when you have, as we do, plenty of native Chinese speakers in the office who can translate, you’ll still have plenty of follow-up questions for SAPP. Like, for example:

  • What exactly would the ‘core values of socialism’ consider to be ‘kitsch’?
  • What Chinese phrase resulted in the strange translation ‘others necessary situation’?
  • Does ‘demonstration videos intro’ mean videos that work as introductions? Or a demonstration that introduces the videos?

Ultimately, translating these rules into English or any other Western language won’t fully demystify them. The rules reference numerous other pieces of legislation and aspects of Chinese culture that are hard to navigate for the unfamiliar.

Do: work with a local partner with the right connections

For all the complexities of navigating the Chinese system, having the right local partner will make a massive difference to your chances of getting a license. They’ll have connections with all the important agencies, be up to speed on all the latest policy changes and make sure any contract you sign is watertight.

Having confidence in the contracts you sign is really important. SAPP won’t publish any game whose copyright for the Chinese region isn’t held by a native individual or a domestic company. So you’ll need to sign over your game’s Chinese copyright to whatever publisher you choose to work with.

We’ve found that the key to being a good partner is a combination of Chinese know-how and Western service. You can choose a Chinese publisher with the best industry experts in the whole of Asia, but if you’re always stumbling over language and cultural barriers with a partner in a totally different time zone, simple interactions can become very tricky.

The reverse is true too. Knowing the Chinese market from afar is only going to get a publisher a certain level of clout – mainly because doing business in China is heavily based on face-to-face relationship building. With all the admin and legal hurdles involved, there’s no substitute for having an office in Beijing, full of native gamers who know the culture and the gaming industry inside out.

We find the ideal approach is to have three stages of communication:

  1. You speak to your publishing partner’s Western office. They guide you through the process and answer all your questions along the way.
  2. The Western office makes sure the Chinese office has everything they need to give you the best chance of getting your license approved.
  3. The Chinese office deals with the authorities directly and operates the game once it’s released.

Done right, publishing in China comes with huge rewards

Don’t, for a second, think that all these complexities mean trying to publish your game in China isn’t a worthwhile endeavor. It absolutely is.

China has quickly grown to become the world’s biggest gaming market – with over 600m players and $23bn spent on mobile games alone in 2018.

And the difficulties in getting games released there can very much be a positive for Westerners. For such a gigantic market, it’s still relatively untapped by a lot of Western developers. Some have their license applications rejected, some get lost in an endless cycle of admin – some just don’t bother trying.

All this means that when you put the work in, choose the right partner, and become one of the few who can get your games released there, you’re walking into a goldmine.

About JoyPac

Our main mission is to help studios from outside China gain access to this growing gaming economy – quickly and at scale. If you want to learn more about publishing in China, then feel free to get in touch with us here. Or, if you’re interested in finding out how we use GameAnalytics, take a look through our case study here.

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