Fortnite shuts down in China, the latest foreign video game to face off with regulators—and surrender

November 2, 2021, 11:24 AM UTC

Fortnite, the ultra-popular battle royal video game, is shutting down in China.

Epic Games, the developer behind Fortnite, stopped all new user registrations on Monday, while the game server will be shut down completely on Nov. 12, the company announced on its website.

Epic, headquartered in Cary, N.C., didn’t specify a reason for the closure, but Fortnite China thanked “all the players who boarded the Battle Bus and participated in the test run with us!”

The reasons for Fortnite’s closure are likely both recent and long-standing.

Beijing has in recent months cracked down on gaming, and the “extremely difficult climate for game studios in China right now” is the likeliest reason for Fortnite shutting down in the country, says Serkan Toto, CEO and founder of consultancy Kantan Games. Toto adds that a “whopping 103 days” have passed since any new game has been officially approved for release. “Given the recent signals from the [Chinese] government, the drought might continue,” he said.

The current tough climate for game studios, especially foreign ones, has compounded what was already a problematic situation for Fortnite. Fortress Night—as Fortnite is known in China—was originally introduced to the Chinese market in 2018 as a beta version, but regulatory approval for a full launch in the country never materialized. Fortnite’s lack of an official license to fully operate means the game couldn’t be monetized through features like in-app purchases. The lack of revenue probably set the stage for Epic and its China partner, Tencent, to close the game when faced with Beijing’s gaming crackdown, says Daniel Ahmad, senior analyst at video game research firm Niko Partners.

Extremely difficult climate

Earlier this year, a Chinese state-run newspaper decried online games as “spiritual opium.” A few weeks later, in August, Beijing cracked down on the video game industry when China’s National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA) restricted children’s video-game playing time to no more than three hours per week. Gaming firms should “fully recognize the importance and urgency to tackle video gaming addiction…[which] has affected [children’s] studies and normal life,” the NPPA said in a statement.

Fortnite’s shutdown in China is only the latest—and likely won’t be the last—in a long string of video game bans in the country as Chinese authorities tighten their control over the industry, analysts say. Western games, particularly battle royal games that feature violence, tend to face heavy censorship and content changes from state regulators.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, or PUBG as it’s commonly known, is a battle royal shooter game that also failed to obtain approval for its PC version (despite its mobile version being highly popular in China), after regulators introduced more stringent game approval rules over the past few years. First-person shooter game Battlefield, developed by Swedish firm EA DICE and published by U.S. game firm Electronic Arts, was denied a license for portraying China in a negative light. And action-adventure game Grand Theft Auto, published by New York-based Rockstar Games, was banned for being overly violent, says Ahmad.

Meanwhile titles like shooter game Call of Duty, FIFA, and Pokémon were able to enter the China market “after ensuring that content changes were in line with regulations,” he says.

In Fortnite’s case, the game isn’t particularly violent (it only features mild cartoon violence, rather than blood and gore, which Beijing prohibits), and doesn’t include imagery that regulators would likely view as problematic, says Toto. But Fortnite’s target audience of preteens and teenagers made it an obvious target.

As one of the world’s most popular games, Fortnite’s high-profile retreat from China is a signal to other foreign game developers that it’s becoming harder to do business in the country.

Toto says that an increasing number of foreign studios “will refrain from even trying to bring their games to the Chinese market, given the current regulatory environment.”

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