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The world of mobile game development is a harsh one. Developers tend to not only deal with a market over-saturated with mobile games, but also with stringent standards of approval. Whether they are submitting their game through the App Store or Google’s Play Store, there’s always going to be a few aggravating hoops to jump through.

Unfortunately, it seems the Chinese Government has decided to add a few more hoops to the mix by putting together some regulations for approving mobile games. ZhugeEX, a user on Twitter who works as an analyst for a mobile company got his hands on these new regulations . It didn’t take him long to put together a blog post that breaks down the details of the mobile game regulations and approval process, and how they affect mobile developers and users. 

According to ZhugeEx’s blog, the process is managed by the SAPPRFT (The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film & Television), which regulates all the media in China, and was put into place on July 1st of this year. The approval process is not only enforced for games produced after July 1st, but for any mobile game produced before which will have to submit games by October. So any developer who already has a mobile game released must run their game back through the new approval process. 

On top of this, the process comes in two flavors: a simplified and standard one.

Simplified Approval Process –

A developer can use the simplified approval process if their game meets certain criteria. The criteria includes:

  • Game copyright must be owned by domestic (Chinese) individual or entity
  • Do not contain sensitive gameplay elements regarding politics, military, nationaility or religion
  • Have no storyline or very simple storyline
  • Are casual games like endless runners etc…

Now, you would think that simplified process would be well, simple, but apparently, this couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Once the developer established that their game meets the above criteria, they must submit the game “at least 20 days prior from launch”. Within that time they must fill out a lot of paperwork, put the game on a phone (either Android or iPhone) with a working SIM card and an active data plan, and send it to SAPPRFT. If your game can run on both Android and iPhone platforms, then you have to purchase two phones and two data plans and send them both to SAPPRFT. Once all this is submitted it will take up to 18 days for the SAPPRFT to approve the mobile game.

After the mobile game is launched, you are then required to report to SAPPRFT on the details of your launch. These details include the launch date, the app stores it is being sold from and other details. This must all be done within 7 days of the launch. 

Standard Approval Process – 

The standard process of approval for a mobile game is initiated if your game does not meet any of the strict criteria required for the simplified process. So basically if your game includes sensitive elements related to religion, politics or the military, has complex storylines or isn’t a simple game like an endless runner you have to use the standard approval process. 

It seems the biggest difference between the standard process and the simplified process is that once your game is submitted to SAPPRFT, you will have to wait up to 3 months for your game to get approved. 

Unfortunately, these new regulations and processes have been estimated to cost mobile game developers in China between $3,000 and $6,000 to work with a Chinese publisher for a single title. This makes it incredibly difficult for independent mobile game developers to get their foot in the door when they’re required to purchase an Android or iPhone along with a data plan and active SIM card, submit their game and have no guarantee that the purchase will pay off. 

The difficulties don’t stop there. Foreign developers seeking to cash in on China’s mobile game market will also be affected by the new regulations and processes. Currently, foreign devs can use a loophole to get their mobile games onto the Apple App Store without having them vetted by the SAPPRFT. Domestically this loophole has already been closed, but there’s a strong chance that it will be closed for foreign devs as well, which will then require them to work with a Chinese publisher to get their mobile game to the Chinese public. 

On top of this, the SAPPRFT has put together a list of “must not haves” that will affect both foreign and domestic online games and may even lead to game content being censored. This includes:

  • Gambling-related content or game features
  • Anything that violates China’s constitution
  • Anything that threatens China’s national unity, sovereignty, or territorial integrity.
  • Anything that harms the nation’s reputation, security, or interests.
  • Anything that instigates racial/ethnic hatred, or harms ethnic traditions and cultures.
  • Anything that violates China’s policy on religion by promoting cults or superstitions.
  • Anything that promotes or incites obscenity, drug use, violence, or gambling.
  • Anything that harms public ethics or China’s culture and traditions.
  • Anything that insults, slanders, or violates the rights of others.
  • Other content that violates the law

What’s even more damning about this situation is that China’s CAC (The Cyberspace administration of China) plans to implement rules on August 1st that will force domestic developers to allow the CAC access to the personal information of the mobile game’s users. The developers will also have to monitor every user of their app and police them if they note any suspicious activity or if the user is trying to spread content that is either illegal or “goes against China’s culture.”

In the long term, it’s difficult to say the amount of damage these new regulations will cause to China’s mobile game market and the indie developers trying to get a start in the mobile gaming business.  

What do you think will be the impact of these new regulations on both Chinese and foreign mobile game developers?

Jon Schear

Staff Writer

Graphic and web designer by day, amateur digital artist/illustrator and writer for Techraptor by night. When I’m not doing any of those things, you can find me getting extremely angry in WoW as I watch my Moonkin get killed multiple times in PVP or drinking scotch.