How to Release a Multiplayer Game in China

Jul 6, 2023

Key Highlights

Overview of the complexities of multiplayer game hosting in China, even for Chinese studios. How accelerators (VPNs) may be commonly used, but are less than ideal and how proxies open your game to legal challenges. Complying with local laws and regulations is recommended, and how multi-cloud using Chinese cloud infrastructure can assist game studios in ensuring proper game performance in China.


Context

Hosting game servers in China is a complex process, even for studios based in China.

First, are content-related challenges that are most known. Complexity arises from a new law that censors all forms of media, including video games. The censorship guidelines prohibit game studios from featuring elements such as crimson blood, ghosts, skeletons, and excessive skin display. Unfortunately, many popular video games include these elements.

Considering that the Chinese gaming market was valued at US$43 billion in 2020, it's understandable that game studios want to tap into this lucrative market. The Chinese government has outlined a path for studios to follow: create a multiplayer game that adheres to the censorship guidelines, obtain a license (ICP) granted by the Chinese government, and then launch and sell the game in China while hosting game servers in Chinese data centers.

The Challenge

However, this approach comes with several challenges. First, many games are centered around combat, which can severely impact the game's design when censorship restrictions are applied. The biggest challenge, though, lies in obtaining the license. The office responsible for issuing these licenses is known to close for months at a time, and even when open, they only provide a limited number of licenses.

This situation leaves little hope for studios to successfully release their games in China unless they are well-known entities like Tencent or NetEase. Another option is to rely on Steam. Releasing a game on Steam and translating it into Simplified Chinese is relatively straightforward. This allows Chinese players to discover, purchase, and play the game. While this may seem like the most logical solution, it is far from ideal. Steam's future in China is uncertain, as there is a risk that the Chinese government might block its traffic. Additionally, hosting game servers for multiplayer games without the proper license is prohibited in Chinese data centers.

Accelerators / VPNs

A possible solution, albeit with its own challenges, is for Chinese players to use game accelerators (commonly known as VPNs) to bypass the restrictions and connect to game servers hosted outside of China.

However, these accelerators introduce new complications for game studios. From the studio's perspective, Chinese players appear as if they are connecting from different countries, which hampers effective matchmaking and communication among players. Moreover, these accelerators are beyond the control of the studios and are subject to changes based on Chinese enforcement.

Proxies

A second option involves hosting game servers outside of China and implementing a proxy within China to redirect player traffic to the servers abroad. By doing so, players are relieved of the burden of using their own VPNs or accelerators, and the studio gains more control over the various components involved.

However, the legality of this approach is still in question, although it technically circumvents the prohibition on hosting game servers within China.

Implementing this solution requires a complex setup. It involves deploying, managing, and controlling proxies throughout China and doing the same for the game servers. While this may be manageable for a skilled DevOps engineer during a proof of concept, creating a scalable and cost-effective solution is a different story. Studios interested in pursuing this option should explore game server orchestration solutions and inquire about their support for Chinese regions.

Conclusion

All of the above skirt the regulations and open game studios to challenges with China’s governing body. It is safer to comply with the laws and regulations of the country where their game is being played.

There are multiple possible solutions for releasing a multiplayer game in China. Edgegap can help you find the best path forward to get your multiplayer game running properly worldwide.

Contact us for more information!

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