China appears to have blocked the sale of Animal Crossing: New Horizons on online public platforms like Taobao. The Chinese marketplace website Taobao reportedly received an order late on April 9th instructing it to restrict all sales of New Horizons, plus related merchandise and special edition consoles.
There's a good chance that Animal Crossing: New Horizons' pattern creation system is to blame for the ban. There's a feature in the game that allows you to create custom patterns for things like furniture and clothing. Players have been using that system to create material that's politically sensitive, both in China and overseas, most notably in China's case in regards to the Hong Kong protest. PingWest also found that New Horizons WeChat groups were kicking out members who discussed the ban at length.
Industry analyst Daniel Ahmad, who tweets as @ZhugeEX, corroborates the story of the Chinese New Horizons ban. Ahmad says that it's not technically a ban; China strictly regulates its video game industry and approves every single title it releases before launch. Animal Crossing: New Horizons was never approved, but Chinese gamers could buy it via Taobao or in smaller mom-and-pop stores throughout the country, as well as by changing the region on their Switch consoles.
Animal Crossing does not have an official release in China, but fans could still buy an imported version of the game from overseas.— Daniel Ahmad (@ZhugeEX) April 10, 2020
Today, listings of the game were removed from Taobao (It's like ebay) and fans can no longer purchase the game from the site.
Thread below> pic.twitter.com/klmjIzs9Ug
Ahmad says that the Taobao ban is an enforcement of a 2017 rule banning the sale of imported game media. If this ban is enforced, it usually means that the game contains offensive content or that it's become popular and caught the attention of regulators. Chinese gamers can still play New Horizons, and Ahmad says that if you visit mom-and-pop stores, change your Switch's region, or contact Taobao sellers privately, you can still get a copy of the game.
Whether or not this will lead to an official Chinese version of Animal Crossing: New Horizons remains to be seen. There is an official China-approved version of the Nintendo Switch, but only three games have been approved for it: Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. The Chinese approval process for games is notoriously lengthy and grueling, but Animal Crossing: New Horizons has proven incredibly successful, so this may be something Nintendo pays attention to. If it does happen, it will likely require some monitoring or curtailing of the pattern creation feature in the region, much like Minecraft's official version is monitored by Netease. We've reached out to Daniel Ahmad for comment on this story and will bring you more as soon as we get it.
How do you feel about Animal Crossing: New Horizons being banned on Taobao? Let us know in the comments below!