Much to the dismay of Chinese gamers, Tencent pulled mobile battle royale game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds from app stores in China today—but it’s been replaced with a less violent, patriotic alternative.
PUBG has been in a trial period in China while it, and plenty of other games, awaited approval after the government put a halt on approving new video games back in March. During this period, Tencent was unable to monetize the game. The freeze was lifted in December, but Tencent’s games remained unapproved. PUBG competitor Fortnite is currently approved in China, but there are regulations that on the game. (Tencent owns 40 percent of Fortnite developer Epic Games.) Players under 18 are encouraged to take a break from playing after three hours. The game remains unlocked, but the progression system is dramatically limited.
According to a translation from Reuters, Tencent posted on Chinese social media site Weibo that it was pulling PUBG in favor of a new title called Game for Peace. Game for Peace earned “monetization approval” from the Chinese government in April, Reuters reported—something Tencent was unable to achieve with PUBG.
"Game for Peace and PUBG MOBILE are two different, separate games," a PUBG Corp spokesperson told VICE.
"In essence the games are the same," Daniel Ahmad, a video game industry analyst at Niko Partners, told VICE. "The main difference is that Game for Peace positions itself as a military training exercise game (in collaboration with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force) and not a traditional Battle Royale. The game has also made content changes such as removing blood and removing violent deaths. The game will also be the first to use Tencent’s new healthy gaming system that prohibits players under 16 from playing the game without parental consent."
Users on Chinese social media site Weibo, translated by Reuters, have reported that progress has transferred from PUBG to Game for Peace. (PUBG is a free-to-play game, but players earn experience points and other in-game currency for playing and completing missions. With these points, players can unlock crates filled with cosmetic items.) Others have noticed that Game for Peace has removed much of PUBG’s violence. “When you shoot people, they don’t bleed, and the dead get up and wave goodbye,” one user wrote on Weibo, as reported by Reuters. And, indeed, this is what happens. Video clips of Game for Peace have begun surfacing on social media and YouTube. After peacing out of the game, players leave behind their loot.
“Resorting to pulling a huge title like PUBG in order to capitalise on the lucrative battle royale trend demonstrates that even the biggest companies are being forced to conform,” IHS Market games analyst Louise Shorthouse told VICE in an email. “This also has implications for other games in the genre, like Apex Legends, which EA are in the process of bringing to China.”
Game for Peace is reportedly very similar to PUBG, described by Tencent (and translated by Reuters) on its website is an anti-terrorism game “pays tribute to the blue sky warriors that guard our country’s airspace.” (This is slightly confusing, given that PUBG’s combat is ground-based.) IHS Market analyst Cui Chenyu told Reuters that the game is “very similar” to PUBG, with the same environment and design, while Tencent said “they are very different genres of games.”
“It’s more difficult than ever for international publishers to access the Chinese mobile games market,” Shorthouse said. “Games will need to be specifically tailored to meet the stringent demands of the Chinese government. This will be both costly and time-consuming, and many publishers will be unwilling to take the risk. China’s segregation from the global mobile games market will continue, and likely intensify.”
In July 2017, People’s Daily, an official newspaper of the Communist Party, criticized Tencent’s Honor of Kings for being “poison” for China’s youth, according to a Forbes report. Game approvals were frozen shortly after, from March to December 2018, as the industry continued to be criticized for being both addictive and violent.
Now with government approval for monetization, Game for Peace is expected to bring in plenty of revenue for the company. Just hours after launch, Tencent shares had increased by two percent, Reuters reported.
Update: This story has been updated with comment from Daniel Ahmad and PUBG Corp.