Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six Siege is a tactical first-person shooter game that has grown rapidly throughout the western world. They have set their eyes on expanding into the Asian market, especially into China, the country with the most active gamers. But not every game can pass through so easily: they have to adhere to China’s strict rules that force game developers to censor violent and sexual content.
These strict rules challenge many game developers have to get rid of “violent” and “sexual” visuals such as strippers signs, blood, gore, and skull imagery. Once they do this, they can release their game in China. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is a game that was censored before entering China. They had to change cosmetic items, remove all traces of blood, and replace death animations. A rule that China has is that the game cannot smear the image of China and endangering national security. A game that broke that rule was Battlefield 4 because they made the main story about a fictional war in China triggered by a Chinese gang who has plans to overthrow the current Chinese government and is supported by Russia. In the story, then China goes to war with the U.S.
In order to gain access to the Chinese market, Ubisoft planned to alter Seige’s game graphics. They previewed some of these changes on their test server. The Clubhouse location icon was originally depicted with a prominent skull but was changed to a masked head. Another change on the map Clubhouse was the gambling machines, which were removed and replaced by beer bottles. In addition to this, they announced that they were going to remove blood trails when you knock out an enemy player. This would have been game-changing because you wouldn’t have been able to track where downed combatants were moving. They would have been able to retreat to another teammate and be revived, costing you a kill and potentially the entire match.
When Ubisoft announced these changes, both the community and the pro scene were outraged. A member of the community said, “Ubisoft has enough to have 5 teams working on 5 different builds of the game. They are just lazy. Ubisoft could of made a new client just for China.” Some players from China complained that they don’t want these changes either.
On November 21st, Ubisoft caved and announced that they would not be pushing these changes anymore and would instead look for another way to expand into China. Ubisoft said that they didn’t know how this would impact the Chinese player base of Rainbow Six Siege, but that “players in Asian territories can continue enjoying the same game as everyone else.” The players in China will still be able to buy Rainbow Six Siege on Steam. It isn’t clear yet whether or not Ubisoft or Chinese players will face consequences for the game content.
The community has suggested making a separate version just for China like for other games. Perhaps Ubisoft will follow in the footsteps of Counter-Strike and do just that.
Another game that made it into China is Overwatch, whose developers had to alter to increase the chances of winning valued items in in-game games of chance in order to sidestep Chinese regulations against gambling.
In the future, developers that want to release their games in China will need to come up with ways to appease both the censors and the gaming community. They may chose to make multiple versions of the game, but that will add to development costs. They may instead simply chose to avoid certain kinds of imagery and content altogether, avoiding stories that feature negative portrayals of China for instance. Given the amount of money to be made in China, the effects of Chinese censorship laws will not doubt be felt by North American gamers as well.