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Epic Games pulls out Fortnite from China

Fortnite game loading on a gaming setup. - Unsplash

Epic Games officially pulled the plug on plans to establish Fortnite in China on Monday after a three-year attempt to penetrate the world’s biggest gaming market hit a brick wall set by the Chinese Communist Party in its effort to combat online addiction and the tech sector.

Fortnite developers announced the shutdown at the end of October when they said the “test” is “coming to an end”. Players could not register as new users or download the game from November 1, and the game was finally switched off on November 15.

“Thank you for boarding the bus to participate in the Fortnite test!” the announcement wrote.

Epic Games had planned to establish its presence in China with its most popular game in the world at that time, Fortnite, since 2018. The multiplayer shooter game had brought in more than $1 billion worldwide. Chinese tech mogul Tencent Holdings Ltd., an investor of Epic and Fortnite’s local publisher, had a vision to replicate the success in China.

Chinese gamers seemed to respond very well. Approximately 10 million players pre-registered the game that summer to get early access to the beta version. The level of enthusiasm from the Chinese market gave Epic a reason to be optimistic. However, recent regulatory changes in the country changed everything.

Chinese players confirmed that they could access the game any more on November 15. They have been posting farewells on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. A special Fortnite discussion thread had been viewed and accessed 470 million times at the time of writing.

“It’s a pity,” a user, Ding, spoke to AFP. “I don’t understand why it ended so quickly.”

Another player named Zheng, 24, told AFP he was quite emotional and would “first cry for a little” since he had played the game for more than two years while he was studying at university.

Chinese government’s crackdown

The Xi administration has been strengthening its grip on online and tech companies to insert more control over what those companies can and cannot do in China.

Due to the increasingly difficult regulatory environment, Epic Games is just one among many other companies, such as Microsoft and Yahoo, that have decided to stop their operations in China. In October, Microsoft announced that it would soon shut down its Chinese version of LinkedIn, while Yahoo announced that it would be exiting the Chinese market earlier this month.

Foreign tech companies are required to comply with strict and sometimes arbitrary local laws and government censorship to be able to operate in China. In 2010, Google had to depart from the country because it refused to follow Beijing’s requirement to censor and take down certain search results.

Meanwhile, on the video game industry front, China has not approved any new games since August. The government once suspended approvals of new video game titles for more than nine months back in 2018, and chances are it would do so again.

Following the Chinese government regulatory crackdown, Tencent Holdings recorded its slowest revenue growth since it went public in 2004 on Wednesday,

“We are proactively working with the regulators on implementing all the necessary changes,” Tencent president Martin Lau said, as per Reuters.

“We expect that once the industry has really complied with the new regulations, have made all the adjustments, even when new regulations come around in the future…as the industry adapts further the impact on the industry will be less over time.”