After enacting temporary changes at the beginning of 2014, China has at last reversed its ban on the import and sale of foreign videogame consoles. Originally enacted in 2000, the ban prevented the Chinese populace from playing console games despite the fact that many of them were manufactured in the country.
Now, all consoles created in the Shanghai Free-Trade Zone will be able to be sold throughout China. While some Chinese people have been able to use these consoles thanks to a black market that has developed over the last 15 years, for many this will be their first ever taste of console gaming.
However, this presents a new challenge for the industry as a whole. Previously, the Chinese market only needed to be considered when producing PC games, but now all games manufacturers will need to prepare their products for this nation. With an estimated value of over $20 billion in 2015, it would be foolish to ignore the Chinese gaming sector.
This means console game manufacturers will need to adapt their localization strategies. As much as China is an exciting new market with a lot of potential, it also comes with a lot of restriction and some significant challenges. Here are a few of the ways localization will change following the lifting of the console ban:
While China’s growing middle class is enthusiastic about gaming, it is worth remembering that for many Chinese people a console simply costs too much. Even if they can afford the original console, the high price of games might put them off even more. As a result, there has been a race to create a new, budget console for this market.
For example, China’s version of Kickstarter, currently employs a console called OUYE. Its design has received a lot of negative attention from critics, as its body is extremely similar to Playstation 4’s and its controller looks identical to XBox One’s. However, it may succeed simply because the console with one controller around $70.
These new budget consoles could prove problematic if they grow in popularity. Games manufacturers may have to adapt their products in order to have them work properly on these new systems, which could add a new wrinkle to their localization strategies. However, only time will tell.
The second – and perhaps the largest – problem that games designers face when localising in China is that of government censorship. China is well-known for harshly restricting its arts in order to convey – or ban – certain messages, and the games industry is no different in this regard.
According to the terms of the new regulations governing foreign games, certain content is prohibited from being presented. This includes, among others, anything that promotes “obscenity, gambling, violence and drug-related criminal activities, or abetting a crime”. However, China’s government is also prepared to ban games that it considers to undermine national sentiment or unity, or violate public morality or cultural traditions.
The game ‘Battlefield 4’ is a high-profile example of one that was banned in China, as it was viewed by some as being a threat to the nation’s security. As such, game manufacturers will have to be careful regarding the content of their games, and may have to cut certain sections in order to sell them in China.
Another concern to bear in mind is geography. If a game contains a map, it stands a good chance of being banned in China if said map shows Tibet, Hong Kong or Taiwan to be a separate nation, even if it would be historically accurate to depict them in this way.
This has already happened to Hearts of Iron II, a strategy game set in World War II, and Football Manager 2005. The former was due to its map depicting the above countries as separate entities, while the latter was because these nations had their own football teams. In the opinion of the government, this detracts from the national unity of China.
Finally, there are several cultural changes that must be taken into account in order to implement a successful localization policy. These are not 100 per cent necessary, however they will make a game more appealing to Chinese audiences and will prevent cultural misunderstandings.
One example is colors. In China, white is associated with death and mourning, as it is the color worn at funerals. Red, on the other hand, is not associated with anger and violence as it is in other cultures. Instead, it represents good luck and happiness. These are important things to bear in mind when marketing games, in order to evoke the right emotions.
There is also the matter of getting a good translator for any dialogue in a game. The differences between Mandarin and Cantonese must be remembered, as well as period-specific dialects if the game is set in the past. Remembering these cultural differences is key to making sure a product is well-received in China.