Nintendo made a brief announcement on April 26th, 2019 via their official website that they’ve partnered with Chinese mega-corporation, Tencent, which has its hand in a multitude of other publishers including Ubisoft and Epic Games. The news was rolled out by the official Kyoto, Japan office and it’s literally just one sentence.
“Nintendo Co., Ltd. is announcing that a collaboration is in progress with Tencent Holdings Limited (HQ: Shenzhen, China; Chairman of the Board and CEO: Ma Huateng) to release the Nintendo Switch video game system in China.”
Now this is referring to a mainland China release, not a bootleg release, or a Hong Kong import, but actual distribution of the Nintendo Switch across major retailers in the massive country. In order to release a product in China, however, all foreign companies must partner with a local Chinese business for distribution purposes.
Obviously this would be huge for Nintendo given that the Nintendo Switch is very much the kind of product that would easily appeal to the sensibilities of Chinese; it’s small, it’s portable, and it’s cheaper than most high-end mobile phones.
Whether or not it becomes a blockbuster seller is completely up in the air, especially given that the Xbox One and PS4 weren’t really flying off the shelves in China the way they were in other parts of the world.
However, the Switch has a lot of software that already aligns with the 10 Rules of Censorship that mainland China has in place. Many of Nintendo’s first-party titles aren’t bloody or gory, don’t have sexual content or nudity, and lack foul language or any kind of heavy political messaging. So they wouldn’t have to worry too much about that.
The main issue that they would have to worry about is content restrictions and limitations from China’s Publishing Bureau of the Central Propaganda Department and the Ministry of Culture.
China’s state party introduced a new Online Game Ethics Committee guided by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China to overview and evaluate games to ensure that they abide by China’s societal values.
The Ethics Committee is part of a broader regulatory overhaul established back in December of 2018, and will be the standard bar for game approvals moving forward. As detailed in the Niko Partners article, they have a limited number of game approvals that will be allowed to release throughout 2019…
“We also note that games that include overly obscene or immoral content, such as imperial harem games, will also not receive approval. Therefore, we expect less than 5,000 new games to be approved in 2019. “
That’s right… don’t expect many waifu dating sims to get the green light in China now that the new ethics committee is in place.
They also want games that promote “core social values” and the promotion of traditional culture, which means no outward LGBTQ games.
They also want games to only include historically accurate information whenever possible for the topics of history, politics, and/or law.
Now locally, China will be ensuring that development studios and publishers have an overseer to guide content creation to abide by China’s Communist standards. The Niko Partners article states…
“Chinese game publishers are being encouraged to self-regulate their own games with an independent editor team that will check the content of games before submitting them for approval. The SAPP plans to make content regulations more transparent so that these teams can provide useful guidance to developers.”
Gamers abroad are absolutely terrified about the implications this could have on games made outside of China but scheduled to release in mainland China. We saw how Ubisoft jumped through hoops to butcher the content in Rainbow Six: Siege.
This was briefly covered in a video by Inside Gaming, which discussed the implications of China’s budding gaming industry might have on Western (and Eastern) developers and publishers.
Fears are now mounting that Nintendo could walk back their current nonchalant policy on third-party content in order to appease the Chinese.
For those of you who don’t know, Sony has instituted a PS4 censorship policy, which is based on the whims of a censorship “officer”. Games containing certain kinds of fan-service (usually aimed at straight men) get hit with the censorship ban hammer, but Sony has no qualms about LGBTQ content. Nintendo on the other hand, has no censorship policies in place for third-party studios. If it’s a game that gets approved by the regional ratings board, then it’s allowed on the Nintendo Switch.
How well this will work out with releasing games in China remains to be seen, but given the bad blood between the Chinese and the Japanese, it’s difficult to see Nintendo bending the knee to the Chinese State party and censoring all their games released in China, Japan, Europe or the U.S. Now it is likely that certain games would be modified to fit within China’s new regulatory system, but only for the Chinese release, much like how certain games are modified specifically to release in Japan or in the U.S.
Of course it’s still early days and we won’t know exactly how this partnership with Tencent will affect Nintendo in the long term. For now, Nintendo seems to be on the right track by allowing developers to basically make whatever they want for the Switch.
(Thanks for the news tip Sweet Maple)