China Bans Imported Sales of AC: New Horizons After In-Game Protests
Animal Crossing: New Horizons only released a couple of weeks ago, and already it has seen a huge amount of popularity in nations all over the world. This includes China, but for people living there, the situation is a lot more complicated. Due to the country's lengthy approval process for the sale of video game consoles, the Nintendo Switch wasn't officially sold there until late last year. Even with that, the only Switch games currently available on it in China are Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. So how, you may be wondering, are players getting access to New Horizons? It's simple, really: Imports! As it turns out, the game was being sold on online Chinese stores Pinduoduo and Taobao, which were selling imported copies from other countries. Just as quickly as that happened, however, China has banned sales of the game on these websites.
When it comes to what flies with the Chinese government in fictional media like video games, it's like stepping around eggshells. Games can be censored or outright banned for very little. In New Horizons' case, the reason lies in in-game protests. Due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, a large portion of the world is now staying indoors to help fight the spread of COVID-19. For China, this means outdoor protests effectively ground to a halt. Along comes New Horizons, a game that allows players a lot of freedom with multiplayer and artistic expression. It didn't take long for reports and images to leak out, originating in a story by USGamer. As seen in the screenshots, protesters have been arranging online gatherings in New Horizons, as well as putting together custom artwork that displays protest art. This is done with New Horizons' custom design in-game app. The whole situation feels remarkably similar to the fate of horror game Devotion, which got pulled from every market imaginable after China discovered it contained a meme making fun of Chinese president Xi Jinping.
According to Daniel Ahmad, a Niko Partners video games analyst, the cause, in this case, stems from two factors: First and most obviously, the protests and artwork. Secondly is the fact that New Horizons is so insanely popular on social media. Mix the two facts together and it becomes clear how quickly and easily the protesting can spread. Ahmad pointed out that despite the ban on sales on online marketplaces, players still have other ways to access the game. This includes certain stores that may sell it under the counter, or the simple solution of changing the Switch's native region in the settings so that you can access New Horizons on the eShop. There's no definitive proof that the protests are the reason China has banned the game's sales, of course. It just seems like the most obvious reason, especially when backed up by all of the above evidence and history of game censorship in China. "Animal Crossing does not have approval in China and there isn't an official China version of the game, but that doesn't stop people buying it and the game has become extremely popular in China," Ahmad wrote on Twitter. "Even places like the Shanghai Fire dept used AC to create some in-game messages."
This likely won't be the last time we hear about Chinese protests coming out of New Horizons; doubly so, when you consider all of the ways the game can still be accessed. Animal Crossing: New Horizons released on March 20th last month as a Nintendo Switch exclusive and the newest official Animal Crossing game since 2012's New Leaf for the Nintendo 3DS. It introduces a lot of new mechanics to the series, including crafting and island terraforming. The game has been selling like hotcakes in pretty much every region it's available. The sales are likely extra soaring when one considers the fact that it's the perfect game to cozy up with when quarantined at home in the middle of all of this craziness. Since its release, Nintendo has been very on top of updating the game frequently, even responding to user complaints in some instances. I don't think the game could have released at a better time.