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Chinese game licences in 2023 could surpass the past two years combined

Niko Partners points out the positives of recent changes in China
Chinese game licences in 2023 could surpass the past two years combined
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After tumultuous times in China when it comes to new game licences, it appears that approvals are finally back on track. In fact, Niko Partners is expecting this year’s total number of licence approvals to surpass those in 2021 and 2022 combined, with an estimated 1,100 or more.

This would represent a return to the levels seen back in 2020.

Opening up

China’s crackdown on gaming has included limitations on livestreaming, time limits for young people playing games, and more. Yet, this year, 88 new licences were approved in January, followed by 87 in February and 86 in March. Now, AI chatbots may even be coming to Tencent and NetEase games.

The regulator responsible for giving out gaming licences in China, the National Press and Publication Administration, has approved 288 games overall in the first quarter of 2023. Of these, 261 were domestic titles, meanwhile 27 were imported.

Compared to last year, this already represents 56 percent of total annual approvals. After all, early 2022 saw the continuation of a licence freeze in China – lasting from August 2021 to last April. Even after this freeze thawed, approval numbers remained negligible compared to prior years.

Among the positive trends seen thus far in 2023, Niko Partners noted that the granting of domestic licences has returned to levels seen earlier in 2021 with approximately 87 games per month. The company expects up to three more "batches" of imported games to be licenced this year also.

Whilst Niko doesn’t expect approvals to reach the highs of the pre-2018 era, it does suggest developers looking to enter the Chinese market should remain optimistic; Korean devs have seen 11 games receive new licences since December 2022, with Japan, the US and Poland among others finding recent success in this regard.

"The return to a regular monthly cadence of domestic game approvals, the restart of import game licence approvals, a more positive stance from regulators, and increased supply of global IP into the market are strong indicators of a new normal for China game market licensing in 2023," Niko Partners stated in its recent post.

Last month, the Chinese games industry published a draft of rules for self-regulation in the country. Games may be disqualified if they promote obscenity, gambling or violence, among other things.