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China Ends Freeze on Game Approvals for Tencent and NetEase, but No Big Titles Yet

Chinese regulators approved two games from Tencent and one from NetEase on Thursday, ending a nearly yearlong freeze on the two gaming giants. But the blockbuster titles “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” or “Fortnite” still failed to make the grade in the world’s largest gaming market.

China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and TV approved 95 new games in the fourth such batch of approvals since mid-December, according to a list published on its official website. The list brings the total number of titles approved for distribution to just 353 since the process was halted last March – a stark contrast to previous years, with regulators approving 716 games last January alone.

In a blow to Tencent, regulators did not greenlight the company’s two key titles, “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” and “Fortnite,” keeping Tencent shut out from a potential source of major new income. Instead, they approved two educational mobile games: “Folding Fan,” which seeks to cultivate an appreciation in players for the craftsmanship of traditional Chinese fans, and “Wood Joints,” about building traditional Chinese furniture.

“Nowadays, young people have totally no concept of the good things in our traditional culture,” the creator of “Wood Joints” says in a trailer for the app, which cuts to quotes from its young developers exclaiming over how much they’d already learned about wooden furniture-making.

The two approved mobile games “are not high revenue-generating titles,” said Daniel Ahmad, an analyst at Niko Partners, a consulting firm focused on Asian gaming.

Though it remains to be seen whether “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” and “Fortnite” will eventually gain approval, “the overall situation looks a lot more positive for Tencent right now as game approvals begin to ramp up,” Ahmad told Variety.

Tencent, the world’s largest gaming company, was able to weather the storm of the past year thanks to a strong pipeline of games approved prior to the freeze. The company was able to release the titles after the freeze began, a number of which broke into the top 10 charts.

The game approved for NetEase is a MMORPG war game whose name roughly translates to “War in Spring and Autumn.” It is set in the historic Spring and Autumn period in China that ran from about 770 B.C. to 480 BC.

China is home to 620 million game players, who last year shelled out $37.9 billion on online games, according to market research company Newzoo.

Regulators are believed to be working through a backlog of more than 7,000 games. Ahmad expects it will take about six months to clear through the pile, with games being ruled on in the order that they were submitted. He said more titles would probably be approved this month.

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