China’s love-hate relationship with gaming won’t stop it from dominating the industry
China has long been ambivalent about technological change, attempting to reap the rewards of innovation while also protecting existing traditional structures. In the 15th century, the treasure fleet commanded by the eunuch admiral Zheng He that brought riches and territorial expansion to the Yongle Emperor was destroyed, some historians theorize, after it threatened the Confucian hierarchy by allowing merchants to become very rich, very quickly. The first railroad in China, just outside Shanghai, was dismantled in 1877 because it threatened Confucian social order, not to mention the steamships used to navigate the canals surrounding Shanghai.
Nowadays, this ambivalence manifests itself as a strained relationship between the market forces of entertainment and an older generation wary of things they don’t understand. However, unlike in the past, China not only recognizes the importance of embracing change, but also the capability to shape how it impacts the broader culture, putting it on the path to become a gaming powerhouse.
In 2018, the country had an estimated 463 million mobile game players, according to a report by China’s Game Publishing Committee and Gamma Data. That’s almost 60% of all mobile phone users in China and 44% of all mobile game players worldwide, according to Statista data; around 33% of all Steam users come from China, based on calculations via publicly available figures about the platform’s user base. In 2019, data from Statista shows that the country is projected to lead the world in mobile game revenue, and just recently, the central government recognized gaming as an official profession.
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