US tech giant Epic Games said it will shut down its popular survival game Fortnite in China, months after authorities imposed a series of strict curbs on the world's biggest gaming market as part of a sweeping crackdown on the technology sector, an AFP report explains.
Beijing has embarked on a wide-ranging regulatory clampdown on a number of industries in a drive to tighten its control of the economy, with tech firms taking the brunt of the pain.
In September, officials said they wanted to curb addiction in the gaming-mad nation by announcing drastic cuts to the amount of time children can spend playing online and ordering players to use ID cards when registering.
The new restrictions forbid children under 18 to play online games from Monday through Thursday, effective September 1, a Reuters report explained. They can only play for one hour, between 8 and 9 p.m., on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. Moreover, online gaming companies must ensure they have put real name verification systems in place, and all titles will eventually need to be connected to an anti-addiction system being set up by the NPPA or the National Press and Publication Administration, the regulator which approves video game titles.
The moves dealt a severe blow to companies' ability to make profits and sent the share prices of gaming firms tumbling. Now, Epic has pulled the plug on Fortnite, saying it will shut down the massively popular game on November 15.
"Fortnite China's Beta test has reached an end, and the servers will be closed soon," it said in a statement. "On November 15 at 11am, we will turn off game servers, and players will no longer be able to log in."
The move brings an end to a long-running test of Epic's version of Fortnite specifically created for the Chinese market, where content is policed for excessive violence. The Chinese test version was released in 2018, but Fortnite never received the government's green light for a formal launch as approvals for new games slowed, the AFP report adds.
The action-packed shooter and world-building game is one of the most popular in the world, boasting more than 350 million users -- more than the population of the United States. The online video game, released first in 2017, follows a battle royale format where users and other players battle to be the last one standing.
Epic is the second US-based company to pull a popular product from China in recent weeks, after Microsoft announced in October that it will close its career-oriented social network LinkedIn.
In September, hundreds of Chinese video game makers including Tencent vowed to better police their products for "politically harmful" content and enforce curbs on underage players, as they looked to fall in line with government demands.
The 213 gaming firms promised in a joint statement to ban content that was "politically harmful, historically nihilistic, dirty and pornographic, bloody and terrifying".
Chinese gaming firms have also been ordered by regulators to stop focusing on profit and gaining fans, with enterprises that are seen as flouting rules threatened with punishment.
Fortnite's announcement was met with sadness from fans in China, who took to social media to mourn the loss of the game. "I'm genuinely crying so hard -- I was just playing with my boyfriend and was really looking forward to what was coming next," one Weibo user wrote. "This is just so sudden."
Many said they had poured hundreds of hours into building up their characters and social networks on the game. Multiple Fortnite fan accounts on Weibo shared a link to a petition where players urged Epic to transfer players' data to servers outside China, writing they would lose the gaming data with "our heart and mind" stored in it.
(With inputs from AFP and Reuters)