Clinton Raethel / Sat 29th Apr 2017
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In part 1 of this series we looked at the history of gaming in China and the groundwork it has laid. Gaming in China is a very unique experience thanks to heavy laws, censorship and a generally negative connotation based on addiction and rebellion. PC gaming is king thanks to a 15 year console ban, and due to the expensive cost of hardware relative to income, many Chinese cannot game at home. The other problem is that due to the excessive piracy here, many foreign game companies are reluctant to enter the market - if they do, it's generally an online only title based around subscriptions to maximise profits and minimise IP damage/losses.
Combine all of these factors with a low average income and you get a market that plays almost exclusively in internet cafes, and almost always online. Internet cafes do their part to combat the negative stigma by enforcing age limits to protect minors, and imposing time restrictions on your gaming session to 'help' with gaming addiction. Entering one requires a passport/Chinese ID, however entering does not necessarily mean you can play - many online games require a Chinese ID for registration, so unless you are friends with a Chinese national who doesn't want to play that game, you'll be out of luck. For the record, logging in with a foreign account is not possible as all games run on China-specific servers. If you do manage to make it this far however, you'll be greeted with games such as League of Legends, Starcraft II, Dota 2 and Warcraft III.
The other option of course is mobile and social-network gaming, which in China is huge. In 2016, the amount of mobile gamers rose by almost 60% in the space of one year, with this industry alone worth over $10 billion. Fun fact, the Chinese made Happy Farm (2008) made Wired's list of the '15 Most Influential Games of the Decade', and was responsible for inspiring Farmville and many other sequels/spin-offs. Apps such as Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies and Fruit Ninja are incredibly popular, but then we run back into internet censorship issues - all Google services are blocked unless you have a VPN, meaning accessing the Play Store to download these games is a lesson in futility. Given most phones here run on Android thanks to imitation brands and incredibly cheap prices, the market has instead turned to browser-based gaming. iOS has no issues, but with brands like Huawei, Oppo and Xiaomi gaining massive followings both in China and the western world, this trend is here to stay.
With all of this in mind it's easy to get discouraged as a foreign gamer looking for their fix in China, but there are definitely options. LAN gaming is still possible, and if you have a friend whose ID you can use you can play online, but do be prepared for the language barrier. If you bring your gaming laptop/console you'll be able to play whatever you want, so long as you bought the game overseas and are happy to play offline. If you do want to access online services you will need a VPN or tunnelling service, but keep in mind you'll need a quality paid one to get acceptable and reliable pings. Services like Steam are also accessible through VPNs, but if you're looking for a local option check out Tencent Game Platform - China's equivalent. There is of course the mobile option, but let's be honest, it's just not the same.
The biggest piece of advice is be prepared to compromise. Gaming here is difficult, but not impossible.
In part 3 of this series we will take a look beyond playing and instead at the scene itself - locally made games, esports and pop culture.