China’s gaming market returns to growth in 2023

China’s beleaguered gaming industry is finally back to double-digit growth this year after being battered by a lengthy crackdown and the global economic slowdown.

Overall video game sales increased 14% this year to reach 303 billion RMB (42.7 billion USD), the South China Morning Post reported on 16 December. This comes after last year’s 10.3% decline in sales revenue, a result the China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association attributed mainly to the impact of COVID-19.

However, the regulatory crackdown on the gaming industry also dealt a huge blow, alluded to in an official 2022 industry report as “anti-addiction work”. Regulations on which age groups can play games and how often, as well as stricter criteria for deciding which games receive publishing licenses, all formed part of the government’s mission to curb youth gaming addiction between 2019 and early 2023. During 9 months from 2021-22, gaming license approvals were halted altogether, significantly denting gaming companies’ revenue.

Although the government never called an official end to the crackdown, the greenlighting of game licences returned to a normal pace this year. A total of 873 games were approved for publishing in the first 11 months of 2023, compared to 755 in 2021 and 512 in 2022. State media reported in the summer that only 26% of the games approved since January had either launched or announced an official launch date, indicating that a slow launch process may still be a barrier to sales growth.

China’s gamer base also climbed to a record 668 million players this year, meaning roughly one in two people in China now play video games. Although this marks only a meagre 0.6% increase on last year’s figure, it is a breath of fresh air after 2022 saw the number of gamers decline for the first time, sliding down to 664 million.


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