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China's most recent gaming restrictions: What has changed and the implications for the prominent players in the mobile gaming industry

In what appeared to be a shift towards a more lenient approach to its homegrown game developers, China's gaming landscape took an unexpected turn with the introduction of intensified "anti-gaming" regulations. The seemingly promising increase in the number of titles allowed and a glimpse of past glories now face a significant setback.

On December 22, 2023, the Chinese regulator unveiled proposed restrictions targeting in-game purchases and aiming to curb "obsessive gaming behavior." Notably, standard industry incentives like rewards for regular logins and first-time purchases could become illegal, accompanied by vague threats of enforced pop-ups warning players of "irrational playing behavior."

The proposed regulations go further, prohibiting games from offering probability-based lucky draw features to minors, effectively putting an end to popular monetization methods like loot boxes and gacha mechanisms. Publishers will also face restrictions on in-game spending, with bans on enabling auctions or speculation of in-game items.

The aftermath of these regulations has been swift and severe for China's gaming giants, erasing billions in stock market value. Tencent shares plummeted by as much as 16%, while NetEase shares saw a substantial drop of up to 25%, reversing the recent positive trajectory after prior compliance with restrictions.

The crux of the problem lies in the uncertainty introduced by the new rules. While the intention is to "safeguard and promote the healthy and prosperous development of the online gaming industry," the ambiguity surrounding which in-game actions and gameplay would be deemed illegal raises concerns. Chinese game makers find themselves in a state of limbo, unable to proceed with business and future plans due to the looming threat of further regulation and legislation.

The new regulations are set to be implemented sometime after January 22, 2024, following a consultation period that gives developers and publishers only a month to voice their concerns. The lack of a specific effective date adds to the industry's uncertainty.

Amidst the panic induced by these developments, the Chinese government has expressed a willingness to listen and clarify the specifics of in-game actions and monetization methods that might trigger issues. While this offers a glimmer of hope, the Chinese games industry and global investors are in suspense, awaiting potential amendments to the rules. The regulator's promise to "earnestly study expressed concerns and views" suggests a possibility of adjustments based on input from various stakeholders.

As the Chinese gaming industry navigates this uncertain terrain, stakeholders worldwide are closely watching for the resolution of this regulatory upheaval that could reshape the landscape of one of the largest gaming markets in the world.

Source: adapted from an article by Daniel Griffith, Editor for

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