The gaming market in China is heavily regulated by the state authorities in charge of filtering video games, blocking maps with Taiwan, and “handling” historical facts. This isn’t all that surprising, as we have previously reported on the country’s ban on online gaming for kids, their ban on cryptocurrencies, and the whole lineup of Western-made films. Now, most recent reports suggest that Roblox, an online gaming platform and creation system, had to implement various censorship methods to enter the Chinese market.
As reported by Motherboard, ten days ago, a hacker posted a cache of internal documents stolen from an employee working at Roblox after a failed extortion attempt. The illegally obtained documents also contained information on some of the most popular games and game creators on the platform, bits of personal information, and a revealing document regarding Roblox’s entry into the Chinese market. Apparently, the company had expected and prepared for the possibility that any Chinese partner might try and hack or otherwise clone Roblox.
Whether or not Roblox was ever targeted is a different discussion altogether, but the platform did release a Chinese version called LouBuLeSi. As per Chinese law, to gain access to the Chinese gaming market, the company had to partner up with Tencent, which manages the gaming market in China and hosts all user data on local Chinese servers. However, Roblox’s documents reveal that the platform assumed the possibility of a cyberattack or the possibility of Tencent outright copying the game and passing it as their own product.
The same document also reveals steps that Roblox, just like any other game or games platform, had to take in order to make its game compliant with the Chinese censorship laws. This means that all in-game maps must respect the integrity of the country and not misrepresent Chinese territory, including the Chinese recognition of Taiwan as part of its territory. Additionally, users and developers are forbidden from tampering with historical facts and must not use any imagery or names of national leaders.
Ultimately, there’s no evidence that Tencent ever targeted Roblox, though the incentive for hacking was always there. Roblox is a massive platform that generated over $500 million in the first quarter of 2022 alone. Chinese love copying western games, as was the case with a League of Legends clone that reappeared on the North American market. Interestingly, League of Legends was created by Tencent’s subsidiary, which sued their Chinese “colleagues” for copying the game.
On top of that, Tencent had repeatedly failed to launch its own user-generated content gaming platform, such as Roblox, in the past few years. Said failures, paired with a strong financial incentive, could’ve prompted the company to reverse engineer Roblox’s code once the game is on their servers, but that has never happened. Roblox was approved in China, though it had to take controversial steps to appease the Chinese government to get approval.
Educative content is strongly supported on gaming platforms, and Roblox even leveraged some of its top educational content creators to gain a foothold. It also had to implement various user identification methods, considering that the Chinese government uses facial recognition and national IDs of its users to track their gaming habits and issue a “you should be learning” message once the government-approved gaming time is up.