China's video game regulations have been holding back the once dominant mobile games industry but this year has proved something of a return to form with approval numbers comparable to those seen before the pandemic. Even when it comes to imported games, the total approvals this January to August have already surpassed 2022’s total for the whole year.
2023 started out on an optimistic note with a total of 88 new game licences in January, Honkai: Star Rail among them. Approvals remained consistent in the months that followed, with 87 in February and 86 in March, showing a trend that broke away from the licence freeze of 2021-2022.
This level has remained stable into the summer, with 88 approvals again in July. Tencent and NetEase have frequented the monthly approval lists, and they appear once again in August.
As for games foreign to China gaining approval, August has marked the second batch of 2023, and the biggest so far. After 27 imported games were approved in March, a further 31 have now been added to the list, bringing the total number to 58.
Among the foreign-developed titles are mobile adaptations of franchises The Lord of the Rings and One Piece, as reported by South China Morning Post, with NetEase receiving approval to publish the former and Tencent the latter. The Lord of the Rings: Rise to War has been available for some time internationally, but this is its first time gaining approval in China.
Of the 31 foreign games approved in August, 22 are available on mobile - and 21 of those are mobile exclusives.
However, the future of mobile gaming in China remains uncertain, with policy changes often changing its trajectory. It was only last month that China announced plans to expand its game licencing system to all mobile applications. Regulators have also imposed new restrictions on those aged between 16 and 18, allowing them a maximum of two hours of mobile use per day.