A mobile gaming market of 600 million players, China’s mobile app stores have unprecedented revenue potential. 

With mobile gaming revenue at 7.7 billion US dollars for the first quarter, 2020 is a particularly lucrative year to publish your game in China. 

At the same time, regulations are getting increasingly strict

Since 2011, Yodo1 has been helping game developers and studios of all sizes achieve success in the Greater China region. Our publishing team is constantly scouring the news and researching new regulations to provide our partners with the most current information.  

In this article, we have compiled everything you need to know in 2020 to comply with old and new regulations so you can make your game a success in China.

Getting Your Mobile Game Approved for Publishing in China

In order to publish any gaming app in China, you must apply for an ISBN.

What is an ISBN for mobile games?

An ISBN—or International Standard Book Number—is a code assigned to published material, used to permanently identify the publication. As the name implies, it is generally used for books. 

In China, however, an ISBN—sometimes referred to as a version number or simply a China license—is also required for published online and mobile games. 

Whether you have yet to enter the Chinese market or already have titles listed in the country’s Apple and Android app stores, you won’t get far in 2020 without a valid ISBN. 

A wake-up call to developers, recent announcements from Apple—for example—have made it clear that games in China without a valid ISBN will be delisted from the country’s Apple App Store starting August 1.


For a summary of the latest news from Apple China, as well as implications and advice for developers, please refer to our App Store ISBN news page.


In short, gaming apps today cannot publish in China without applying for and receiving an ISBN from the NPPA—National Press and Publication Administration—in practice, the Chinese gaming authority. 

For details on how to begin the application, you can refer to our translation of the NPPA’s approval process

Complying with China’s Mobile Game Regulations

Below is a summary of five major new requirements your app must meet in order to obtain an ISBN and publish your game in China.

 

1. Business Plan

The first step to obtaining permission to publish in China will be submitting a lengthy list of information about your game, including:

  • Revenue approximation;
  • Game launch history and user base;
  • Social perception;
  • Full game script.

For an expansion on the above points and a list of action items for developers, you can refer to our article on information China requires before your video game can launch.

 

2. Local Server Requirements

When an April update from the Chinese gaming authority outlined the need for international games to use an exclusive server for Chinese players, our team put together a developer’s guide to setting up a local server.

Firstly, we address a number of the advantages of having a local server in China, including providing players with a more consistent gaming experience and reducing language barriers.

Among the cloud server providers we recommend are:

3. Regulated Playtime for Minors

In November of 2019, China announced a plan to limit the amount of time children and teenagers under 18 can spend playing games—aiming to counter addiction and avoid distracting minors from academic success. 

The plan includes:

  • Player registration: Players of all ages must provide their real name and national ID number in order to play mobile games.
  • Playtime limits: Playtime is limited to 90 minutes per day and limited to daytime hours.
  • Purchasing restrictions: There are spending caps for different age groups.
  • Age rating system: Based on content, type, system, playtime, and payment methods. More details below.
  • Caregiver involvement: Guardians are expected to monitor the minors in their care.
  • Developer responsibility: Game companies will be expected to comply; those found incompliant can have their license removed.

Update on the age rating system: Proposed along with the plan to limit the time minors spend playing internet games, we expect China’s new age rating system to roll out after a committee of researchers, press, and gaming executives assess the proposal and present their feedback. 

So far, we know that it will feature four categories: 6+, 12+, 16+, and 18+. The gaming authority has warned that children under six should only be allowed to play online games when accompanied by an adult. 

All in all, game developers who want to receive or hold onto their license are expected to proactively follow China’s anti-addiction directives for minors. 

For more information on how to comply, please read our article on China’s regulation of game time for minors.

 

4. Loot-Box or “Gacha” Monetization

Announced in May, 2019, China’s gacha law affects games that use loot boxes to generate revenue.

Since the regulation, gaming apps must have:

  • Daily limits on the number of purchased loot boxes a player can open;
  • Clear in-game display of a player’s daily limit;
  • Drop chances that gradually change in the player’s favor.

For details, check out our guide to complying with China’s loot-box design rules.

 

5. Ban on Blood and Anything Like It

One of China’s first steps toward tightening the reins on international games came in the form of a ban on blood and graphic violence.

In the past, games that wanted to publish in China could get away with “colored” blood—meaning any color but red. 

With the new rules, however, there is no way around it: games that want to publish in China may not contain blood of any color, nor anything that could be imagined as blood.

Depending on the genre, it may be near-impossible to imagine your game without blood. However, developers have been finding clever ways to rethink their animated violence and representations of combat.

For examples and advice on how to deal with the restrictions, check out our original article on China’s blood ban.


Granted, the Chinese market may not be the easiest to enter—but it’s full of promise: Yodo1- published games such as Rodeo Stampede, Transformers: Earth Wars, and Ski Safari have found the payout more than worth their while.

If you’d like help getting licensed to publish in China’s app stores, get in touch via bd@yodo1.com.


About Yodo1

Yodo1 is a game platform company that helps developers better market, manage, and monetize their games. Our AI-powered tools and global expertise in areas such as mobile advertising, community management, and digital IP licensing enable partners to increase playtime, revenue, and retention. Our vision is to open the world of gaming success to anyone with the talent to develop. To learn more, visit www.yodo1.com and follow us on LinkedIn.