May 11, 2017

Hearthstone Chinese Meta Analysis

Hearthhead, a site that focuses on all aspects of the online TCG Hearthstone, has started running a regular Chinese meta game analysis column that takes a close look at how players in China are playing the game.

The site outlines the most popular and successful classes for the major competitive game types (Standard, Wild, and Arena) using the Chinese app Hearthstone Hezi (HS Box) and information from game manager NetEase. They also include some decks from the top players in China like LvGe, OmegaZero, and Icefox, as well as class-by-class match-up breakdowns. Take a look if you're interested in comparing the meta across regions-- US meta analysis is available at Vicious Syndicate.

May 6, 2017

Content/Censorship Guidelines for Game Developers

Game developers have a lot to keep in mind as they create their new IPs. Character design, maps, names, music, coding, troubleshooting, among countless other duties-- what looks good to us, what will our players like, and most importantly, for Chinese developers, what will the government permit. According to a 2010 PPT (still in use as late as last year) about the online game content review process put out by the Internet Culture Office and the Ministry of Culture, government reviewers will focus on 19 points when deciding if a game may proceed with publishing. In addition to the 19 points, developers must also follow a six-page document titled Interim Measures for the Administration of Online Games, which further details requirements a developer must meet before publication of their game. Below, I've outlined the PPT's details for each of the 19 points, which the Ministry of Culture states is useful for developer self-censorship in order to pass the review process.

Game contents are reviewed in accordance with Article 4 and Article 18 of the Interim Measures for the Administration of Online Games (hereafter referred to as Measures) with regard to the following aspects:

May 4, 2017

Laws for Arcades and Net Cafes

Wondering why you can't walk to a net cafe after school to play some games of League or DotA after your middle school classes? Want to go to an arcade tonight but forgot your ID? Frustrated that GTA continues to be banned? China has some strict laws regarding location and operation of "electronic games centers" along with content of games, movies, and TV, outlined in its Law of the People’s Republic of China on Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency. Most pertinent are Articles 26, 32, 33, and 55, which read:

Article 26
Distance from Primary and Middle Schools
It is prohibited to set up commercial singing and dancing halls, commercial electronic games centers and other places that are not suitable for juveniles in the neighborhood of middle or primary schools. The kinds of halls, centers and places mentioned above shall be specified by people’s governments of provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the Central Government.

Article 32
Content of Games, TV, Films, Radio
No programs of radio, film, TV and drama may contain such contents as may impair the physical and mental health of juveniles, contents that exaggerate violence, pornography, gambling, terror, etc.
The administrative departments for radio, film and television and the administrative departments for culture shall strengthen administration of the programs of radio, film, TV and drama and the various showplaces.
Article 33
Juveniles Are (Usually) Not Allowed in Electronic Game Centers
Around commercial singing and dancing halls and other places that are not suitable for juveniles, conspicuous no-admittance signs for juveniles shall be put up, and no juveniles may be admitted into such places.
Juveniles may not be admitted into commercial electronic games centers except during festivals and holidays specified by the State, and conspicuous no-admittance signs for juveniles shall be put up there.
Where it is difficult to judge whether a person is juvenile or not, the worker of such a center may ask person to show his identity card.
Article 55
No-Admittance Signage
If commercial singing and dancing halls, other places that are not suitable for juveniles, and commercial TV games centers, in violation of the provisions in Article 33 of this Law, fail to put up conspicuous no-admittance signs or allow juveniles to go there, they shall be ordered to set it right, given administrative warning, ordered to suspend business for rectification, their illegal gains shall be confiscated, and they shall be fined by the administrative department for culture, and the persons who are directly in charge and the other persons who are directly responsible shall also be fined; if the circumstances are serious, the administrative department for industry and commerce shall revoke their business licences.

December 16, 2016

One in Ten Chinese Young Adults Show Symptoms of Pathological Video Game Playing


Video game playing has become a very popular activity globally and has even become recognized as a sport by some countries, including China. The prevalence of problematic video gaming in mainland China is just beginning to be explored, while so-called addiction rehabilitation camps conduct questionable procedures to “cure” those viewed as addicted to video games. This paper reports on the prevalence of problematic gaming in a sample of 317 mainland Chinese young adults. The survey included questions about demographics, video gaming preferences, frequency of video game playing, and video game related problems as measured by the Problem Video Game Playing scale (PVP). Most of the students (88.29%) reported having played video games in the past, and 17.75% reported playing games daily. A little more than 1 in 10 of respondents (12.6%) endorsed 5 or more of the PVP items (males 21.43%; females 4.29%). Further research is required regarding appropriate means of prevention and treatment of problematic video game playing, as well as deeper investigation into risk factors and the psychological impact of gaming dependency.

Keywords: Mainland Chinese, prevalence, problematic gaming, problem video game playing (PVP) scale, young adults, video games

What follows is the Discussion and Conclusion portion of my graduate thesis dissertation for Concordia University Irvine. For the complete document, please send a request via email.

August 27, 2016

Taobao Offers Pokemon Go Essentials

Pokemon Go, the mobile game released in selected countries in July 2016, has become a global phenomenon with more than 130 million downloads. Although analysts say China will likely never get Pokemon Go for various reasons (including ties with Google and heavy reliance on GPS), popular online retailer Taobao is advertising Pokemon Go “essentials” on its front page. It calls the sale an “overseas special” with the hope of tapping into players abroad with access to the game (Hong Kong in particular).

The products in the “Pokemon Go” collection include portable battery chargers, cell phone cases, charging cables, backpacks, and hats.

August 1, 2016

ChinaJoy 2016: The Future of VR and Mobile Gaming

ChinaJoy is like the E3 of China, the Tokyo Game Show of Shanghai. It features nearly every company with a finger in the video game pie, whether it be mobile, console, or computer; both hardware and software. There are booths for motherboards, PC case mods, headphones, and keyboard; stages set for League of Legends, CounterStrike, and StarCraft 2 tournaments (along with mobile MOBAs trying to break into the scene); beauty pageants, dance shows, and cosplay competitions; 120,000 square meters of digital media companies vying for the attention of 270,000 visitors. Although ChinaJoy's name recognition in the West comes from the big Hearthstone announcement, VR headsets dominated the show floors.

From huge companies like Sony showing off their VR hardware, to tiny unknowns like Viriver Network Technology, ChinaJoy was overcome with VR fever. If there was any concern that VR would simply be a gimmick technology, worry no more-- development is huge and looking to grow. There were FPSs, survival-horror, extreme sports, and hentai games; augmented reality, bicycling, and racing; Oculus Rift, Vive, PlayStation VR, and Chinese brands; there was, in short, something for everyone. A sizable booth even advertised the relaxing qualities of VR. Famitsu put together an album of the range of VR experiences that were available at the convention, which includes white water rafting, jet skiing, and tanks.

Mobile gaming also came out in full force. Stations with cellphones set up to play different games were everywhere; teams sat on stages playing multiplayer mobile games that were projected onto giant screens behind them-- mobile esports. You could even earn prizes by playing the circuit of games set up by companies with booth babes ushering you from one to the next. They ranged from MOBAs, to puzzle games, side scrolling, to 3D action-- mobile gaming in China is unlikely to be eclipsed by the new console market any time soon.

ChinaJoy was 3-4 days of ten warehouses full of video games, cosplay, and anime. It was crowded and hot, with extremely tight security on the show floor, and too much to do-- more than could possibly be done in those three days. ChinaJoy 2016 is a sign that video game companies are making a huge investment in China, and that gaming is alive and well in all its different formats and genres in the Middle Kingdom.

Hit the jump for some pictures.

March 7, 2016

Retrospective: Dota 2 Shanghai Major

The problems that came up during the Dota 2 Shanghai Major are best summarized by Weibo user 际部歌王_Storm:
Game delays, equipment failure. The orchestra under suspicion of being fake, and now it’s coming out that teams’ personal equipment was pulled out of their rooms for cleaning. The most upsetting thing is that all the Chinese teams lost, while showing pictures from TI2 and TI4 on the screen. If the game isn’t perfect next time, you’ve lost face for all Chinese people. @DOTA2 @PerfectWorld @EsportsHaiTao @JinghouzheDC
It all began during the Group Stage when there were broadcasting problems during the English stream of the event, leading to the unceremonious firing of host James “2GD” Harding, the production crew from KeyTV, and an end to the official English broadcast. Subsequent games were broadcast raw, leaving viewers to either watch it without casting, watch unofficial casts, or watch in a different language until Valve could get an English panel back online. Bonnie, the translator-turned-director wrote up a neat summary of what went down backstage during this meltdown, writing that there were issues with equipment, staff not getting enough sleep, poor Internet, and poor communication about problems.

Things didn’t get any better during the Main Event, when more complaints started pouring out from teams and fans attending. There continued to be problems with equipment (including losing a player’s keyboard) leading to game delays of up to 2 hours, streams lagging and disconnecting, player booths not being properly soundproofed and smelling strongly of glue, terrible food, an awkward opening ceremony, no buses taking talent home after the show, and games going as late as midnight local time.

Why Was 2GD Fired?

His firing, along with the firing of the production company KeyTV, was the herald of things to come for the Shanghai Major. There doesn’t seem to be a clear reason for why he was fired, but the most reasonable speculation I found was the nature of the jokes he was making on air. Esports is known for being playful on air, of making jokes that might be considered low-brow, and to many that’s just what 2GD was doing. However, Chinese culture is very different from Western culture, and there are lines you don’t cross, one of them being questioning the Party. 2GD didn’t make any government jokes, but he did make pornography jokes, and pornography is banned in China, so suggesting that he was watching some the night before the broadcast implies he got around censorship to watch something the Party has explicitly banned. That got him a warning, but the next day he made a joke calling a player a “bottom bitch”—a reference to prostitution. To build rapport with the Chinese government in order to continue having Dota events in China, it would have been necessary for Valve to remove someone causing tension and disrespecting the laws of the Chinese government, even if it seems unreasonable to Westerners.

The Problem with KeyTV and Perfect World

According to a Perfect World insider’s post to Tieba (a forum), the problems with KeyTV come from a somewhat soap opera-like problem. Perfect World has exclusive rights to market and distribute Dota 2 in mainland China, according to an agreement with Valve made in 2012. A man named JingLing runs the Dota 2 branch of Perfect World, and he is married to Ruru (LGDRuru, the owner of LGD; KeyTV is also her company). The head of KeyTV, T-boy, refused to listen to Valve and would only listed to JingLing, who was not present at the Major. Really, the only reason KeyTV got the production rights was because of the Chinese concept of guanxi: a system of social networks and influential relationships which facilitate business and other dealings.

Whether or not that’s how it really happened, or if it is Perfect World trying to cast all the blame on KeyTV, is unknown, but Ruru and Jingling’s relationship does cast some doubt on the true ability of KeyTV to handle the event if they got the deal as a result of nepotism.

We might never know who to truly blame for all the problems at the Dota 2 Shanghai Major, it’s likely a combination of many elements coming together to form the perfect storm. Its possible Perfect World didn’t allow Valve to get a word in about who to hire for production, and did all of the preparation at the arena themselves. However, some oversight needed to be present to stop at least some problems before they got out of hand—such as the non-sound-proof booths and the smell of glue. Regardless, it has damaged the reputation of Dota 2 as an esport, and of China as a desirable location for future events. It turned the country and Valve into laughing stocks, so as  际部歌王_Storm writes, things will have to be perfect next time.

February 23, 2016

Chinese Game Localization Fact Sheet

Interested in localizing your game for a Chinese audience? Check out this useful fact sheet created by Localize Direct for game creators looking to tap into the Chinese market.

It includes information on types of games that are popular in China (Puzzle, Casual, Social and Racing games; along with free-to-play MMOs), and font and text considerations. It's not comprehensive (you can find more information about the Chinese market and user behavior here), but there's not a lot going around for Western game developers, so the more the merrier.