Recently, countrywide bans of several popular mobile games have raised questions about the predictability of access to games in today’s global games marketplace.
On December 27, Iran’s Ministry of Justice blocked access to Supercell’s “Clash of Clans” after the Committee for Determining Instances of Criminal Conduct received a report from psychologists claiming that “Clash of Clans” encourages violence, tribal war, and is extremely addictive, posing a danger to youth. The ban of Supercell’s game comes following Iran’s “Pokémon Go” ban, which was reportedly blocked in the country due to “security concerns” in August.
More recently still, China in early January that Niantic’s “Pokémon Go” would also be blocked in the country, citing a report by the China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association report that determined the game was a “threat to geographical information security and the threat to transport and the personal safety of consumers”.
While China and Iran’s recent actions are currently in the spotlight, they are certainly not the only countries to propose barring access to popular mobile apps. Looking at “Pokémon Go” alone, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia, Indoenisa, and Turkey are among some of the countries that have proposed or enacted bans to Niantic’s popular mobile game.
Some countries, like Saudi Arabia, had early clues of the ban (Fatwa No. 21,758, functionally banning the Pokémon franchise from the country, has been in place since 2001). The concerning part of these recent bans is rooted in the fact that most of bans came without any early indicator of trouble. This lack of predictability is problematic; many times developers cannot predict a problem until it is “too late” and their game has already been banned.
Game developers planning on global releases already must cut through masses of red tape and enormous checklists in order to have a successful global game launch. In addition to costs related to localization of a game, developers must apply to numerous rating agencies (such as the ESRB or PEGI), ensure that their games are compliant with regional data privacy standards, and for games with physical media, that the media are correctly encoded for the region’s hardware. Additionally, there are more particularized content rules to be noted for individual countries that could hamper a game’s release. Germany’s PSK notoriously led to the gutting (pun intended) of gore and blood from many games in the early 2000’s, and China famously made headlines in 2007 with its sensitivity to depictions of skeletons in online games.
This recent rash of game bans adds immense pressure to developers as these wildcard bans are often not tied to any previous law or precedent. To hop through every hoop and deftly navigate every hurdle only to be banned from some of the largest game markets in the world could severely cripple a developer’s chance of growth, and almost certainly makes global presence impossible. Increased cognizance of these happenings and a more shrewd eye turned to the privacy and cultural concerns of regional markets in a global context may be the best antidote to this ailment for the immediate future. More forward thinking solutions should include engagement of regional key stakeholders and governance to understand what regional markets want out of their games and what middle ground can be met to ensure achievement of 1) Successful localized game releases and 2) efficient and predictable compliance with domestic and foreign law and public policy.