On Monday, Tencent Games held its annual gaming conference Spark 2023 online, introducing dozens of new gaming-related titles and projects. The Chinese gaming giant also highlighted a slew of “social value” projects using gaming technology, in an attempt to show that the gaming industry can have a positive impact upon society as it emerges from a lengthy period of regulatory scrutiny in China. 

Why it matters: China’s gaming industry has faced heavy regulation since the summer of 2021 but saw signs of this easing earlier this year as licenses for new games continued to return to regular levels. Tencent Games, the leading company in China’s gaming sector, is eager to prove to the regulators that the industry can provide value to society, outside of just producing popular entertainment. 

Details: Tencent introduced a series of new projects using gaming technology for “social value,” including a flight simulator, a game-driven robot-learning project, a 3D online tour of the Great Wall, and games related to clinical research. The gaming unit also announced 26 updates on its more traditional gaming titles, including new games and new updates on hit titles such as Honor of Kings.  

  • Tencent will launch a full-motion flight simulator next month. The simulator is based on a gaming engine developed by Tencent Games’ CROS (Common R&D and Operation Systems) unit and was created jointly with Nanhang Xiangyi, a subsidiary of China Southern Airlines. Tencent said during the event that the simulator aims to create a more realistic and efficient training scenario for pilots.
  • A new robot-learning project initiated by Tencent Games’ START Team and Tencent Robotics X Lab was also announced. It uses AI to generate the actions and decision-making of the robots, combining gaming and robot development. Tencent claims that the training efficiency of a single robot is improved by 20 times after CPU optimization via the project.
  • Tencent’s online tour of the Great Wall combines photo-scanning modeling, game engine, and cloud gaming technologies. The project uses gaming technology to achieve fine-detailed rendering and immersive digital imagery usually seen only in AAA games rather than cultural heritage projects. The tour is accessible through a mini-program on WeChat and has received more than 40 million views since it was launched last June. The project won one of the 2022 Global Awards for World Heritage Education Innovative Cases awarded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The gaming giant also unveiled a similar project featuring detailed scans of the historic Buddhist artworks at the Unesco-protected site of the Mogao grottoes near Dunhuang.
  • Another “social value” project came with the showcasing of narrative puzzle game Pavlov: Brain’it On, which looks to harness clinical research to “help players exercise various cognitive capacities, such as attention, thinking speed, memory, inductive reasoning, and spatial imagination,” according to Tencent. The title was developed by the Chinese tech giant’s Social Value Exploration Center in collaboration with NExT Studios and the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute (TCCI).
  • The firm’s Social Value Exploration Center also worked on Room 301 NO.6, which aims to help the public better understand the world of Alzheimer’s patients. The narrative game “allows users to experience, feel, and understand the lived experience of patients with Alzheimer’s,” Tencent claims.
  • In terms of new out-and-out gaming titles, Valorant and Lost Ark attracted significant attention at the event. Valorant is a first-person tactical hero shooter game developed and published by Riot Games in 2019, but which will now be available in China for the first time after Tencent announced a distribution deal. Valorant hit a new record with an estimated total of more than 20 million active players throughout April 2023, according to Tracker Network. The China version will start beta testing in June.
  • Lost Ark is a 2019 MMO (massively multiplayer online) action role-playing game co-developed by Tripod Studio and Smilegate. Lost Ark will be launched for the Chinese market this summer, with unlimited pre-release reservations now open. In February, Lost Ark recorded more than 1.3 million concurrent players on Steam, according to Studio Loot. With this number, it overtook CS:GO to claim second place in the all-time concurrent peak charts, behind leader PUBG.

Context: The National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA), China’s gaming regulator, announced 86 new licenses for domestic games in April, the latest sign that the licensing freeze that spanned August 2021 to April 2022 has now thawed. But despite a return to relative normalcy, many gaming companies are still feeling the pressure of a tighter approval environment. 

  • Facing heavy regulation and stagnant growth at home, Tencent Games has been accelerating its expansion in overseas markets in recent months. In March, it brought its highest-grossing mobile game in China, Honor of Kings, to Brazil, where it quickly became the most downloaded mobile game in the country.

Jessie Wu is a tech reporter based in Shanghai. She covers consumer electronics, semiconductor, and the gaming industry for TechNode. Connect with her via e-mail: jessie.wu@technode.com.