Fresh off surpassing Facebook in market value, Chinese tech giant Tencent is now tasked with figuring out how to make the massively popular battle royale shooter PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) conform with socialism with Chinese characteristics.
On Wednesday, Tencent announced on Weibo that it had secured the rights to officially release the world’s hottest computer game in China — though apparently it will be needing a bit of fine-tuning before that happens.
Last month, there were some worries from Chinese gamers that PUBG, developed by South Korea’s Bluehole, wouldn’t be getting an official release in China after it was slammed by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT), the country’s media watchdog, for being too violent, harmful to adolescents, and for “severely deviating from socialist core values.”
However, those worries were mostly cast aside as Tencent continued to pursue acquiring Bluehole, eventually buying a 5% stake in the company, hoping to capitalize on the game’s tremendous popularity in China. Since its early release on Steam in March, PUBG has sold 20 million copies worldwide, and nearly half of its active players are in China.
For PUBG’s official China release on a Chinese server, Tencent says that it will make sure that the game follows all of the country’s relevant regulations and guidelines, including ensuring that it is in accordance with “socialist core values and traditional Chinese cultural norms and ethics.”
The tech company also promises that the game will pass on “healthy and positive cultural values and guidance” to its younger users.
How exactly Tencent plans to do all this is not clear, though it will likely involve decreasing the amount of blood and gore in the shooter, along with possibly some propagandistic design touches (more on that later).
Meanwhile, the company has said that it will also take on another task of equal difficulty and complexity — combatting the thriving community of Chinese PUBG hackers.
Magpie Digest notes that earlier this month, the game’s third-party moderation team banned nearly 100,000 players in a single weekend for cheating, most of them from China. For the unsporting Chinese gamer, hacks of all kinds are available on gaming forums, Taobao, and even in the game itself, as the blog post points out:
Developing hacks is a lucrative black market business. In a curiosity voyage around the prevalence and cost of these hacks, Sohu user 高玩癌 discovered that there are two pricing models: pedestrian hacks range from 40-100 RMB (USD $6-15)/day, while the higher quality stuff, including setups that pipe out a non-visibly hacked display for livestreamers, is only available as monthly subscriptions from 4,500 – 6,000 RMB (USD $680-$900/month). Even at the lower end of the spectrum, that is an iPhone X at inflated Chinese prices every two months!
At the same time, a number of different — and hugely popular — PUBG clones have been developed in China. NetEase-made games “Terminator 2” (终结者2) and “Wilderness” (荒野行动) have both been accused of shamelessly ripping of PUBG. Of course, they are also now the first and third most downloaded free mobile games in the country.
In a possible preview of things to come, NetEase reacted to SAPPRFT’s denunciation of PUBG by changing how its games were presented. Rather than trying to be the last survivor on a deserted island by wantonly killing others, Wilderness players are now told that they are participating in a military training exercise in order to become a member of a peacekeeping force. While shooting at their fellow trainees, they can look up to read familiar red banners carrying banal slogans.
When it comes to complying with orders from China’s moralistic police, Tencent has already shown itself flexible.
The second most downloaded game in China is Tencent’s own “King of Glory,” an insanely addictive multiplayer online battle arena game that has been known to cause blindness. In July, the People’s Daily published an article calling the game a “poison” for China’s youth, causing Tencent to begin limiting daily playing times for its younger users in order to “ensure children’s healthy development.”