Chinese Regime Controls Public Opinion Through Mobile Game Ads, Expert Says

June 26, 2020 Updated: June 26, 2020

In Taiwan, many of the best-selling mobile games are developed by Chinese gaming companies. One expert says this phenomenon is significant because the Chinese gaming industry is backed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). These CCP-backed games provide a platform for censorship in China and also indirectly exports the CCP’s political agenda, the expert said.

The Chinese regime considers Taiwan part of its territory, despite the self-ruled island having its own democratically-elected government, military, and currency. Thus, the CCP has infiltrated and influenced Taiwanese society in an effort to persuade citizens to accept “unification” with the mainland.

According to the latest data from U.S.-based mobile app market analyst firm Sensor Tower, eight out of the 10 best-selling mobile games in Taiwan in the first quarter of 2020 were developed and owned by the Chinese gaming industry. The other two games, “Lineage M” and “Princess Connect! Re:Dive,” were developed by Korean and Japanese companies, respectively.

The online gaming market in Taiwan has been flooded with Chinese games. Journalist and political commentator Hsu Ching-Huang told The Epoch Times that Taiwan’s gaming market has shifted away from doing development. Chinese game developers such as Tencent, which created “Honor of Kings,” are usually backed by the state even if they appear to be private enterprises—thus, this gives them an unfair advantage over their competitors, he said.

Hsu indicated that censorship is the biggest problem with Chinese-made games. Take the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” gaming app developed by the Japanese company Koei Tecmo Holdings, for example. Ali Games, a subsidiary of Chinese tech giant Alibaba, was authorized to develop the mobile version. However, slogans such as the “umbrella revolution” were censored from the app. “Umbrella Revolution” refers to pro-democracy protests that occurred in Hong Kong for nearly three months in 2014. Hongkongers had opposed the Chinese regime’s proposal for the city’s elections, which would have given Beijing the power to handpick political candidates.

Hsu observed that Chinese authorities have imposed more strict rules on the gaming industry in recent years. For instance, April 4 was designated as a national day of mourning for CCP virus victims, and authorities prohibited gaming. Chinese gaming developers cut off their connection for 24 hours.

Hsu said that many players found out they were subject to a permanent suspension of their own accounts after they complained about the abrupt cutoff on China’s mourning day. They did not get a refund for the service suspension.

In April, Taiwan’s Wanin International, a gaming partner of the Chinese game developer Seasun, ended its collaboration after players were suspended upon mentioning the CCP virus in a chatroom while playing “JX3 Online 3,” a popular martial arts game. Wanin rejected the decision and reinstated the players’ status. Wanin said the decision was made because it believed there should be “no sacrificing free speech over a game.” Wanin offered a refund to those Taiwanese players.

Cultural Invasion and Fraudulent Activities

Hsu said that in recent years, Chinese companies have quietly invested in gaming companies around the world. For instance, Tencent owns a 5 percent stake in U.S. video game maker Activision Blizzard.

The gaming industry is also a means for the CCP to spread its agenda. Hsu mentioned that the mobile game “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” has many players in Malaysia and Singapore. When Chinese authorities shut down the game on China’s mourning day for CCP virus victims, international players had no choice but to comply. It is a tactic used to take control of another society, he said.

Hsu also pointed out that there is a lot of corruption within the industry.  In October 2016, Taiwanese prosecutors began investigating allegations that Chinese gaming industry tycoon Wang Ji was the mastermind behind a scheme to manipulate the stock prices of XPEC Entertainment Inc., a Taiwanese video game developer.

Influencing Public Opinion

Some social media users allege that owing to the lucrative Chinese gaming industry, some platforms have been forced to censor discussions on topics the Chinese regime does not like.

In Taiwan, an online celebrity known as Kuan Chang was a spokesperson for many Chinese games in 2018 due to his outspoken criticism of the local political party, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The Chinese regime also frequently lambasts the DPP, as it traditionally advocates for Taiwan’s formal independence.

However, when Kuan Chang began criticizing the pro-Beijing Kuomintang (KMT) party and former KMT presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu in 2019, the Chinese gaming industry immediately severed their ties with Kuan.

According to Hsu, during Hong Kong’s mass pro-democracy protests last year, many YouTube videos about the subject were demonetized, meaning the creators would not earn ad revenue from people’s viewership. Many YouTubers were forced to stop chatting about Hong Kong as a result, he said.

Hsu believes that it is not easy for the CCP to control public opinion alone through online video games because the regime cannot directly interfere with the gaming market. Though most games are free for download, when gamers spend money on in-app features, they are providing revenue to Chinese gaming developers who help the CCP to manipulate public opinion in Taiwan, Hsu warned.