China's Ban On Twitch Is Beginnings Of An All-Out Attack On Gamers

Jesse Collins,

September 24, 2018 7:15 PM

China has been cracking down on children playing video games and gaming disorder, going as far as banning Twitch in the country altogether and putting a freeze on new games. But, could their seemingly noble actions have bigger consequences?

Anytime an important facet in the video game industry gets dismantled or blocked is cause of concern for gamers. Earlier this week, streaming site Twitch was officially completely blocked from viewers and users in China. This is another brick in a wall being placed by the Chinese government to curb internet addiction and gaming disorder. But, why is this happening and what consequences will we see from it?

Starting off, China is big for video games (seriously, really big). Most of us in the USA don’t really realize how big unless shown the stats. Let’s consider the popular MOBA game Dota 2 for a moment. Their biggest event is known as The International, which pits all of the best teams across the world against each other in a Dota 2 championship series. This includes teams from the North American, EU, and Asia organizations, so when I say “across the world”, I mean it. If you just counted English speaking viewers for the week and a half long event this past August, there were nearly a whopping 1.2 million viewers on its own. That’d be fantastic if you didn’t know that if you added the Chinese viewers back in, that number goes to just about 15 million. That’s not a little jump. That’s over twelve times the amount of people.

In addition, Tencent is a “Chinese multinational investment holding conglomerate” that handles a large chunk of multimedia for China. Tencent Games is a division of it and is widely considered to be the largest video game company in the world, with stakes in Riot Games (League of Legends), Bluehole (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds), Epic Games (Fortnite), Ubisoft (Rainbow Six, FarCry), as well as a long list of notable companies within the industry. If a game developer is trying to deal with China, it’s likely they deal with Tencent or a similar company. When we say the Chinese is closely associated with gaming and can affect everyone, there’s nothing that can be truly compared to here in the west.

We have LAN Centers and Internet Cafes in the US, but China has a few more. 

In a similar feel to the US arcade era of the 1980s, internet cafes are as prominent in China as Starbucks are here. Oh, did I say Starbucks? That’s a probably lot, right? There’s nearly 14,000 of them in the US alone as of 2017 and pushing 27,000 worldwide, on every corner in some cities. Now, knowing this, there’s 145,000 registered internet cafes in China alone as of 2017. But, what is an internet cafe and why is it so popular there? Generally, they’re small LAN center-style rooms that allow customers to pay to be there and play video games on their computers while offering snacks and caffeine at the counter. While some people come in and out to check email and do minor business, the majority are there for avid gaming. Hourly, the prices tend to be ridiculously low, with Wired Magazine reporting that Lemon Internet Bar is a mere 50 cents per hour, plus drinks and snacks. Doing the math, this brings the monthly total to $372, if a patron never left.

Source: Wired, Jingli Wu
Source: Wired, Jingli Wu

And yet, some never do leave. This has helped lead to internet and gaming addiction (used interchangeably) across China. With the widespread access to internet cafes and cheap pricing, patrons are finding it harder and harder to leave the game. While internet cafes have a strict 18+ age rule, minors still get in often. Earlier this month, China’s media brought the growing number of internet addicts to the forefront which China promptly opted to crack down on gaming as a whole, much to the chagrin of the population.

Gaming Disorder is the root cause for this.

Announced earlier this year, “gaming disorder” is being added to the World Health Organization’s 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) during the mid-2018 changes. They describe it as being “characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.” Arguments in the west from major organizations, like the ESA, have said this is unnecessary and can lead to more trouble for multimedia in the US and EU (with even popular streamer Tyler "Ninja" Blevins commenting on the discussion), but the Chinese are taking a full swing at the matter.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government officials released a document at the beginning of September outlining their plan to quell gaming addiction and help improve myopia (or nearsightedness) in children. The new rules are incredibly strict in the statement, saying that parents “should minimize the use of electronic products when they are with their children. The use of electronic products for non-learning purposes should not exceed 15 minutes and should not be more than one hour per day.” This plan is designed to last until the year 2023. This means that Chinese children probably won’t be playing many video games due to the longevity of most game in the near future.

China's crackdown won't affect anyone but Chinese children, right? Wrong.

But, how will this new ruling affect the adults in China? With Twitch now being completely banned from Chinese users, it’s one less thing to sit and watch at the internet cafes, as plenty of people have a “when I’m not gaming, I’m watching someone else game” mentality. Additionally, that “world’s largest video game company” Tencent has been affected by a recent freeze to approvals of new games back in August. This means Tencent, as well as several other major companies, can’t introduce new games to China, making profits at a stand-still and, in some cases, a loss. Tencent confirmed that this freeze has made their profits decline for the first time since 2005, partially blaming the incredibly popular PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds not bringing in profit on top of it.

What can this lead to in the west? We’re safe from this impact, right? Think of it as a trickle-down effect. Let’s start with WHO’s “gaming disorder”. While the Chinese outcome has taken a much more extreme precaution to the matter, the UN-based WHO organization affects the majority of the world, including the United States. While unlikely to happen, if the US were to implement a similar structure as China’s, a large majority of the gaming market would be affected.

It’s likely that overall streaming viewership will be down dramatically already due to the Twitch ban in China starting this month, but companies like Tencent work in both directions as well. Tencent is bringing popular titles like Arena of Valor to the west, and are majority stakeholders in League of Legends developer Riot Games. With recent management and culture issues at Riot Games, they have enough on their plate already than to deal with their main investor potentially shedding them. Tencent, as stated earlier, is a majority shareholder for some of the west's biggest games. But, companies like Nexon, Ubisoft, and even Acivision-Blizzard are already seeing some of the outcome here, which is likely to cause changes and restructuring for said companies.

How will China’s decision affect us? Now that we see an extreme side of a government cracking down on “gaming disorder”, who will follow suit? Unfortunately, only time will give us these answers. In the meantime, the rippling effects are likely to reverberate across the world as we expect the worst is yet to come, but hope for the best.



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