Gamers bracing for Apex Legends to be censored in China
Electronic Arts’ partner Tencent already replaced PUBG Mobile in China with a more patriotic battle royale game
For a country obsessed with battle royale games, you’d think that EA’s decision to bring Apex Legends to China would be celebrated. They’re even making a mobile version in a country dominated by smartphone gamers. That’s good news, right? Well, not necessarily.
Rather than celebrating EA's announcement, many Chinese gamers have been jeering the announcement online.
“For the Chinese version of the game, I think a good name is ‘Peace One Belt One Road Legends.’ Does this have enough socialist core values? Does it sound like the melody of socialism?" a Weibo user wrote.
Chinese gamers are cynical because EA's Chinese partner Tencent recently killed its most popular battle royale game PUBG Mobile in China. In its wake, Tencent released Game for Peace, a wholesome, hyper-patriotic shooting title nearly identical to its predecessor.
However, to please China’s censors, Game for Peace is positioned as a military training exercise game. It’s littered with propaganda for the Chinese government and the Chinese Air Force, as opposed to the more anarchic feel of traditional battle royale. It also removes the blood and gore, replacing it with people who wave goodbye and vanish into thin air (instead of just dying valiantly in battle like a true warrior).
It’s no wonder gamers are worried about what a Chinese release of Apex Legends might look like.
“I advise Apex Legends to collaborate with the Chinese Navy and be renamed Huawei Legends,” one Weibo user sarcastically suggested.
EA hasn’t specified how it will bring Apex Legends to China, but the company has reportedly been in talks with Tencent about it. This is perhaps the most natural route for the game to get a China release since Tencent, the largest gaming company in the world, already publishes other EA titles in the country.
Even as they crack jokes, though, Chinese gamers will still have to grapple with the fact that many foreign game companies will have to deal with Tencent when publishing in China.
"Foreign developers and investors will probably continue to believe that Tencent is going to navigate this situation the best they can, which, as funny as it is, is better than anyone else," said Charlie Moseley, founder of Chengdu Gaming Federation.
Even with tightening content restrictions in China, it’s possible Apex Legends will not face the same level of scrutiny as Tencent’s hugely popular PUBG Mobile. Gamers may not really have to put up with a Peace Legends makeover.
“Apex's announcement of entering China and Game for Peace are two separate cases with different circumstances. We can't simply generalize," said Zhe Li, CEO of Tianjin-based game developer Dotoyou Games.
All foreign game publishers should still expect to face censorship in China, even if PUBG Mobile’s fate was extreme. It’s simply part of the difficulty foreign companies face when trying to tap into the Chinese market.
“In order to get approved, games must avoid any elements that may lead to censorship," Newzoo analyst Jinjin Huang said. “World of Warcraft eliminated skulls in game, and Civilization 6 changed the emperor to Qin Shi Huang, both to make sure they don't conflict with the mainstream culture.”
Some argue this is just part of doing business in a conservative country that seeks to maintain some level of cultural purity.
“We do need some levels of control for cultural products, otherwise it's too easy for audiences, especially teens, to get access to low-level games, movies, or books that would probably lead to trouble or grave danger,” said Sun Jing, a researcher at Beijing International Studies University.
But what constitutes “low-level” content? Presumably whatever the Communist Party decides to censor.
Many Chinese gamers would prefer to make up their own minds about the content by playing international versions of the games they love, even if it requires breaking through the Great Firewall.
“[Apex Legends should be] renamed VPN Legends,” one Weibo user quipped.