By Pei Li
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Chinese fans of Animal Crossing: New Horizons are paying a premium on foreign consoles and are finding ways to get around the limits imposed by local regulators on a game that has become both a global hit and a political flash point.
The game has become a global best seller because its players describe the ability to create virtual versions of themselves and their homes and to interact with other players as a form of real-world escape from blockages. coronavirus, but it is not authorized for sale in China regulated game industry.
To get the game and play to its full potential, players in China pay a premium of up to 50% for unlocked Switch consoles sold abroad and brought in through intermediaries, obtaining foreign bank accounts to pay for items or pay for services to get faster internet speed to access foreign game servers.
“I think everyone is like that. After a while, you will want to talk to someone, chat with someone, or go out somewhere with someone. But there are not many such opportunities during this epidemic, “said a Chinese tutor. Zhao Tianyu, who purchased a Switch console on Alibaba’s Taobao e-commerce platform from a third-party vendor in February.
“This game is a way for us to communicate with each other. “
Analysts say it has created the most buzz in China of all overseas-made games, and players took the opportunity to mimic real-world scenarios, imposing temperature controls and wearing mask the virtual islands they create and even display patriotic posters with images of President Xi Jinping.
But some aspiring players must now use code words to find Animal Crossing for sale online after Hong Kong Democratic activist Joshua Wong used the game to criticize Beijing, causing a continental crackdown on illicit sales.
His compatriot Liu Jici, 25, said he played about eight hours a day. “It’s like in real life. Despite my forties, I can still hang out with my friends. “
Nintendo said Thursday that Animal Crossing: New Horizons had moved a record 13.4 million units in its first six weeks after its March release, and that increased demand for its Switch console had tripled profits of the Japanese firm.
LOCKED CHINA CONSOLE
Nintendo has been selling Switch consoles in China for the local market since December of last year through a partnership with Chinese game giant Tencent, but these contain a server lock that prevents players from connecting to foreign servers .
Some players told Reuters that they originally purchased the Tencent version, thinking they could use it to read their gray market copies of Animal Crossing, but then found that they weren’t in the market. able to do it.
Zeng Duanxuan, a Beijing fashion designer, said she paid 2,100 yuan ($ 297) for a Tencent branded console earlier this year but was selling it now because it couldn’t be used to play her copy of the game. .
“What drew me to the game was that you can call friends just like you do in real life, go fishing and interact with friends. Now, I’m just going to pretend that I never bought this Switch, “she said.
Compared to Japanese versions of Switch consoles that were sold by third parties up to 4,000 yuan, new brands stamped Tencent are sold at about half of those of e-commerce platforms such as Pinduoduo, with almost new ones. even lower price. on resale sites like Idle Fish.
Daniel Ahmad, an analyst at game research firm Niko Partners, said that Animal Crossing was at a disadvantage when compared to Tencent when it tried to promote its console in the world’s largest video game market.
“This will always lead base console players to import gray market versions first,” he said.
The National Press and Publications Administration of China, the government agency responsible for overseeing print and online media, and Tencent did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Nintendo declined to comment.
But there is little hope that the Chinese government will loosen its stance toward the server lock or green light quickly to sell Animal Crossing in China, as the game became a political flashpoint after the activist from the Hong Kong democracy Wong used it to protest against Beijing’s reign over Chinese territory.
Last month, Wong posted a screenshot of his island on Twitter with a banner saying, “Free Hong Kong, revolution now.” Shortly thereafter, cartridges of Animal Crossing and related thematic merchandise were removed from e-commerce platforms in the Chinese gray market.
Mainland players must now search for the game using code names such as “macho man picking tree branch” and “macho man fishing bass” to find suppliers willing to deal privately, and this has fueled additional frustration among the majority, who say they carry out mundane, not political activities like dressing up their cartoon avatars or growing vegetables.
“If it was a very violent game that had been banned internationally, I would understand,” said Zhao.
However, some Chinese players reacted to Wong’s messages by decorating their island with slogans such as “one country, two systems, unite China”, in reference to Beijing’s policy towards Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Wong has since shared photos of his island showing portraits of President Xi and the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a simulated burial with a sign saying “Wuhan pneumonia”.
“We are doing our best to turn an island into a protest site,” Wong told Reuters. ($ 1 = 7.0757 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Report by Pei Li in Hong Kong, additional report by Martin Pollard in Beijing and Pak Yiu in Hong Kong; edited by Brenda Goh, Michael Perry and Raju Gopalakrishnan)