Gaming in China

475 million online users and a gaming community of 340 million gamers – China is the worldwide biggest market for online games. With two-figure growth forecasts, this business sector is one of the biggest and fastest growing markets of the world, and therefore of great interest for international gamers and producers. Popular in particular is the unique trade called “gold farming”.

image: Cory Doctorow, Game Cafe, Guangzhou, China,
image: Cory Doctorow, Game Cafe, Guangzhou, China,

The Chinese gaming scene has its origins about ten years ago in urban “internet cafes”, which hosted mainly young men, who played online games for hours in dark smoky rooms. Meanwhile online gaming became so popular and accepted in China that the national sports association acknowledged competitive gaming as an official sport in 2003, and even founded a national team for online games in 2013.

Why is particularly online gaming the number one leisure activity the majority of Chinese internet users?

The law that prohibited consoles, passed by the ministry of education in the year 2000, could be responsible for the dominance of PC usage. Since it was illegal to purchase Playstation, Xbox and so forth, the gamers focused on the use of PCs and therefore online games. Furthermore, most online games are for free. The revenue model of these games is based on micro payments for additional gaming features. Even though the law was cancelled in 2014, real-time strategy games like “Starcraft” and “League of Legends” are inherent part of Chinas everyday life.

At the same time, foreign companies like Sony or Blizzard Entertainment are not allowed to promote their online games in China. Only Chinese internet companies are allowed to purchase a licence. Hence, all rights for trade and marketing of the worldwide top games are in the hands of Chinese companies. According to this, the games are only distributed by Chinese partners. After all, a gaming product does not enter the market without any approval by the ministry of education and the arts. Furthermore, games which might threaten national unity or security are forbidden. In fact, the Chinese government uses online games for moral education campaigns and political propaganda. However, it is badly received by the Chinese society.

In contrast, “gold farming” is clearly more popular. In this industry more than 400.000 Chinese, who are called “gold farmers”, are employed as professional gamers, who collect great amounts of items and level gaming characters in “Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games” (for short MMORPG).Afterwards they sell these “resources” to professional gamers. Since it takes a lot of time to build the game characters in these extensive games and bring them to higher levels, these accounts can ask for heavy prices. For many young Chinese it is an absolute dream job. Typical for these jobs are hierarchy and fellowship – combined with kind of a gang atmosphere. Despite the market value of 500 million Dollar, the Chinese government prohibits the “virtual currency trading” since 2009 – according to the motto “fair play”. Gold farmers are not only poorly paid and overworked, the games, which are primarily meant to be for fun, are more and more capitalized, for example through shortage of game resources. The pureness of a casual game does not exist anymore.

The gaming scene in China – one of the most significant and at the same time peculiar ones. In any case a gaming scene, that plays by its own rules.