By Pei Li and Brenda Goh
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese gaming companies, including giants Tencent <0700.HK> and NetEase <NTES.O>, unveiled new titles at an industry meet that show off socialist values and patriotic themes amid stricter state censorship and a push to back Communist Party propaganda.
The games, introduced at China’s largest gaming convention that ended on Monday, point to the industry’s rapidly changing landscape after state suspension of fresh approvals last year against a backdrop of growing criticism of addiction among younger players and violent content.
Titles showcased at China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference, known as ChinaJoy, ranged from ones that promoted domestic culture to others that recounted the country’s history, such as Shengqu Games’ “Codename: South China Sea”, which allows users to run a coastal town set in the Ming Dynasty.
Tencent said it was collaborating with state newspaper People’s Daily to roll out a new game, “Homeland Dream”, and with the propaganda department of the Communist Party’s Guangdong arm on a title called “Story of my Home”.
Players of “Homeland Dream”, for example, will be tasked to develop a city that will need to execute policies like poverty alleviation and tax reduction, which are key goals of Beijing.
“This year is the 70th anniversary of the founding of new China, to that end Tencent has done much pre-planning and made investments to the theme of ‘me and my motherland’ … to create products reflective of the current era,” Steven Ma, Tencent’s senior vice president, said on the sidelines of the conference.
Tencent’s push to show off its red credentials comes as it was hit particularly hard by last year’s lengthy freeze in approvals in the world’s largest gaming market.
It was forced to pull a popular Texas Hold’Em poker video game and then waited in vain for over a year for approval to earn money on global blockbuster “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” (PUBG) even after giving it a socialist makeover.
Tencent later pulled PUBG and shifted users to a similar, more patriotic version.
Shares of the world’s top gaming firm tumbled more than 40 percent in 2018, but have recovered slightly since then.
The company’s new titles mark its “desire to survive and is a very rational business choice”, said Fang Kecheng, assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“These themes sometimes can perform well on the market, so it doesn’t totally conflict with business interest.”
Tencent’s main rival, NetEase, also said it was making more efforts to promote Chinese traditional culture and values in its titles such as “Ink, Mountains and Mystery”, an adventure game with monster characters from traditional Chinese mythology.
Under President Xi Jinping, China has pushed to cleanse online content, from video streaming to games, to meet strict rules banning material that goes against Communist Party values.
Gaming companies “need to seriously consider social effects … and always steer in the right direction in politics, value, content theme, and quality, and never provide platforms and channels for wrong views and low taste”, Guo Yiqiang, the head of the publishing bureau under China’s Communist Party Propaganda Department, said at ChinaJoy.
(Reporting by Pei Li and Brenda Goh; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Himani Sarkar)