PUBG – or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds – was one of China’s most popular online video games. In the 15 months since it was released by Tencent it accrued 400 million players worldwide – 150 million more than Fortnite, which makes more headlines in the West. But last Wednesday Tencent suddenly removed PUBG in China and replaced it with another less gory, more patriotic version called Game for Peace.
It is still a shoot-em-up style game but there is no blood or death. Instead avatars glow blue if they are shot and walk away waving. Other changes include alterations to the overall landscape – previously players battled for control of an abandoned island and fought in ruined buildings. Now the buildings are newer and are festooned with People’s Liberation Army slogans. The feel is now one of a military training exercise rather than of real combat – the winner is even presented with a large cake and balloons.
Some 500 million Chinese play online video games regularly, the majority on their mobile phones. But there’s also a growing concern over gaming addiction, especially among younger people.
In 2017 a woman from Guangdong went blind in one eye after a spending a week continuously playing a Tencent game called Honour of Kings. Later Tencent introduced time limits on the game so that people would be forced to take breaks.
The Chinese authorities have been trying to crack down on addictive, violent games for more than a year now, fearing their impact on both physical and mental health. The licencing process for online games has been overhauled with the responsibility for vetting new games going to the newly created State Administration of Press and Publication (SAPP).
Tencent repeatedly applied to SAPP for a licence for PUBG but despite its overwhelming popularity it was unable to get one.
Without a licence Tencent was unable to monetise the game in China. Elsewhere the company makes money from the free-to-download game by offering so-called “microtransactions” – where players buy more ammunition or pay to personalise their character’s uniform, for example.
In April the South China Morning Post reported that the newly formed SAPP finally issued guidelines for game developers seeking a licence: blood and dead bodies were out, as were games that can be played for money such as mahjong or poker. Games that hark back to China’s imperial past, and allow players to collect wives and concubines, were also outlawed.
In the past gaming companies got round the official dislike of gore by having avatars bleed green liquid or by turning them into skeletons rather than corpses. The appearance of Game of Peace with its blue light to indicate a player has “died” suggests even these options are now unacceptable.
Initially players of PUBG were furious their favourite game had suddenly disappeared. But Tencent then announced they would be allowed to start Game of Peace at the same level where they left off with PUBG, and with the same amount of points.
Crucially Game of Peace has been given a licence, meaning it will soon contribute to Tencent’s bottom line via those microsanction purchases.
However, in a further nod to government policy only people aged 16 or above can play and additionally a daily time limit of two hours will be imposed on players aged between 16 and 18.
According to data from Sensor Tower, Game of Peace was the most downloaded free game on Apple’s China App Store last Friday, helping Tencent to rake in $14 million in the three days after its launch.
Keeping track, Jun 14, 2019: PUBG Mobile generated $76 million in revenue in May on the apps stores of Apple and Google in May, while its Chinese version Game For Peace raked in $125 million. Altogether they crossed the $125 million generated by Tencent’s previous hit Honour of Kings, a fantasy role-playing multiplayer online battle game, the Financial Times reports. The game performed better than expected because the content is largely the same, which helps retain users, according to a local brokerage, which estimates that the game is earning more than Rmb1.1 billion every month.
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