Tech giant Tencent has dropped the hugely popular mobile version of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds in China after failing to secure a license from the government to collect revenues from the game.
Instead, the company is migrating users over to a similar title, Heping Jingying or Elite Force for Peace, reports Reuters and the Financial Times. Heping Jingying has already been approved for monetization by the Chinese Communist party, thanks in no small part to its patriotic overtones. One analyst described the game as “a tribute to the People’s Liberation Army Air Force” — part of China’s national military — with anti-terrorism themes.
PUBG Mobile launched in March last year, and has become one of the world’s most popular video games, with as many players as Fortnite. According to estimates from China Renaissance, the game had roughly 70 million domestic players, which would have allowed Tencent to generate annual revenues from in-app purchases of roughly $1.18 billion to $1.48 billion.
However, an array of political and cultural factors seem to have doomed the title. Over the past few years, the Chinese government has become particularly hostile to video games perceived as violent or addictive, with the state-run People’s Daily paper describing Tencent’s mobile smash hit Honor of Kings as “poison” that spreads “negative energy.”
Tencent has already shut down one game because of this hostility, and is making accommodations in new titles. Not only is Heping Jingying patriotic, but it’s less violent than PUBG. Characters do not bleed when shot and only those aged 16 and over can play.
Geopolitics might also have contributed to PUBG Mobile’s rejection. Tencent licenses the game from South Korean company Bluehole, and Chinese authorities can be hostile to South Korean goods. In 2017, Beijing launched a boycott of South Korea’s products and services after the country agreed to the installation of the American missile-defense system THAAD along its border with North Korea.
For Chinese gamers, though, the disruption should be minimal. Tencent is allowing users to port over characters from PUBG Mobile to Heping Jingying, and one analyst told Reuters that the new game was incredibly similar to the older title.
“The gameplay, the background, the graphic design and the characters, they’re almost the same,” said IHS Markit games analyst Cui Chenyu.