How the Gaming & Esports Industry in Indonesia and China Reflect the Respective Characteristics and Policies of each Country
The Chinese government's tendency to censor the internet is is highly reflected in their gaming industry
Indonesia and China have several things in common, such as their unusually large population. China is the country with the largest population size, while Indonesia has the fourth largest population size. From a geographical standpoint, Indonesia and China are also quite close, facilitating some extent of cultural exchange between the two countries. Therefore, it is not surprising that the leadership style of the Indonesian government closely mimics that of China's government. But of course, this notion does not imply that Indonesia's government follows communist ideologies.
In this article, we will discuss the similarities between the regulations that the Indonesian and Chinese governments impose on the games and esports. We will also compare the two governments in different sectors such as internet infrastructure, smartphones, and state-owned enterprises. From this discussion, we hope to see if the regulations these governments impose in the gaming and esports industry arise from laws in other related fields.
The Gaming Industry
Nationalism is one of the prevalent topics that are discussed in both the Indonesian and Chinese gaming industry. In Indonesia, there are often marketing using the sentiment of "games made by Indonesian children!" It is undeniable that certain segments are truly interested in these games. However, this marketing strategy can certainly backfire if the game is not equipped with interesting gameplay. In the end, we mostly play games for the sake of our own satisfaction and not for supporting the sovereignty of a country. Despite that, developers often incorporate local culture features into the game in the right place and time to attract specific users.
The sense of nationalism is also held in high esteem in China. Beijing even intervenes directly to ensure that all games released in China do not introduce content that contradicts their country's ideology. This concept also applies to foreign developers who want to publish their games in China. Nationalism in China is held to the extent that all in-game texts must be translated to Simplified Chinese. According to the Niko Partners report, there are even games that got banned because they display English words such as "Winner" or "Attack”.
In China, the number of games released each year is also limited. Games that promote Chinese culture or history will also be prioritized. The government's goal of filtering the release of games is to improve the quality of games and expand the audience that they can reach. By limiting the release of foreign-made games in China, the government indirectly protects local game developers by eliminating competition.
On the other hand, the Indonesian government does not impose any limitations or filter the circulation of games in the country. Instead, the government supports the local developers by hosting events, such as Game Prime, that showcase the creations of these developers. Furthermore, they are also trying to facilitate local developers through investments and the promotion of local games, such as Lokapala.
Chairman of the Indonesian National Sports Committee (Komite Olahraga Nasional Indonesia or KONI), Norman Marcioano, visited the headquarters of Anantarupa Studios - the developer of Lokapala - in December 2020. At that time, he expressed his desire for KONI to participate in promoting Lokapala as a national esports game, as quoted from Kompas. The goal can be achieved by including the game as part of a competition in the XX Papua National Sports Week (Pekan Olahraga Nasional or PON) 2021. Fortunately, Lokapala is also now one of the games competed in the Menpora Cup.
Apart from upholding nationalism, both Indonesia and China also have another thing in common, namely the tendency to block games. In 2017, the Ministry of Communication and Informatics blocked a game called Fight of Gods. The game was blocked as it features characters in the form of religious figures or gods from various beliefs, such as Jesus, Buddha, Zeus, and Anubis. At that time, Kominfo explained that their premise of blocking the game was to prevent quarrels between religious adherents.
Furthermore, the Indonesian Ulema Council also issued a fatwa declaring the haram of PUBG Mobile. The news prompted Aceh to ban PUBG Mobile and other similar games. According to a CNBC Indonesia report, MUI argues that PUBG has the potential to alter the behavior of its players and harm their health. This event triggered rumors that Kominfo will also block PUBG Mobile. Unfortunately, in March 2019, Kominfo claimed that they were ready to block PUBG if MUI deemed it necessary. However, Kominfo later confirmed that all this news was just nothing more than a hoax.
Interestingly enough, PUBG Mobile is also blocked in China despite being released by Tencent Games, a Chinese company. The Chinese government blocked the game due to the violent and explicit content they display. As a result, in May 2019, Tencent relinquished the development of PUBG Mobile and launched a similar game called Peacekeeper Elite. The game has the exact same gameplay as PUBG Mobile but introduces a theme of war against terrorism instead of killing for survival.
The Esports Industry
The Indonesian and Chinese governments also share a common view towards esports. Although both of them seem to support the industry, they have their own unique methods in doing so.
For example, the Chinese central government supports the industry by declaring esports professional players as official jobs. In Indonesia, however, the local government often shows its support through financial means. Shanghai is one of the cities in China that is deeply invested in the esports ecosystem. In 2019, the local Shanghai government expressed their desire to make the city the "capital of esports". They hope to realize this plan within the next 3-5 years.
Shanghai is not the only city that cares about the esports industry. The Hangzhou government has also shown an interest in making the city the central hub for esports. To achieve this goal, the Hangzhou government has prepared a budget of US $ 280 million to build a 360 thousand square meters esports complex. The Hangzhou government's decision prompted LGD Gaming and Allied Gaming to open offices in the complex. LGD Gaming is an esports organization that has several successful esports teams. On the other hand, Allied Gaming operates the esports network in China. The action taken above shows the synergy and support between the government and private organizations in the esports industry.
In January 2021, the Shanghai government showcased the design of the esports hub they were planning to build. The esports hub, called the Shanghai International New Cultural and Creative Esports Center, will open in 2024. It is estimated that the Shanghai government will spend US $ 900 million to build this 500 thousand square meter facility. One of the functions of the esports hub is to host esports tournaments. It can also accommodate six thousand people in the arena. Once this esports hub is established, it will become one of the largest esports stadiums in the world. So far, most esports stadiums have a capacity of fewer than six thousand people. As a comparison, Arlington Esports Stadium, the largest esports stadium in North America, only has a capacity of 2.5 thousand spectators.
These two facilities are not the first dedicated esports stadiums to be built in China. In 2018, the Chongqing Zhongxian E-Sports Stadium was built, which has a capacity of 7 thousand people. The stadium is also equipped with a plaza on the outside that can accommodate up to 13 thousand people. The spectators outside will be able to watch the games through a giant LED screen on the outer wall of the stadium.
In Indonesia, the government supports the esports industry by forming an umbrella organization for esports called Pengurus Besar Esports, aka PB Esports, led by General Pol (Purnawirawan) Budi Gunawan. However, before the formation of PB Esports in 2020, there already several similar organizations that exist. These are organizations such as Asosiasi Olahraga Video Game Indonesia (AVGI), formed in July 2019, or Federasi Esports Indonesia (FEI) founded in October. 2019.
At the inauguration of PB Esports members, Budi Gunawan explained that the government wants to prepare everything needed by the esports industry, from regulations to training centers. The place chosen to be the esports training center is Sentul, Bogor. Unfortunately, there is yet news about the training center construction process.
Another form of support from the Indonesian government is the declaration of esports as a legitimate sport in August 2020. At that time, PB Esports representatives revealed that one of the concrete steps they took to develop the esports ecosystem was to capture hidden talents across the country. They will search for talented players at the provincial level and spar them against the national-level teams. In addition, PB Esports also intends to provide guidance to these athletes.
Looking at PB Esports' official Instagram account, they have held many esports competitions at the provincial level with various games, including PUBG Mobile, Mobile Legends, and PES. Moreover, they also held numerous national-level esports tournaments, such as the Student Cup, which offered a total prize pool of up to IDR 500 million, and the KONI Cup, which has a total prize pool of IDR 200 million.
In terms of gaming and esports culture, Indonesia also has similarities with China. For example, mobile esports is growing rapidly in both countries. In China, this happened because Beijing had banned the sale of consoles before 2015. As a result, only PC and mobile games are developing in the country.
In Indonesia, however, mobile games and esports are growing as a result of the introduction of smartphones. Smartphones are much cheaper compared to PCs or consoles and provide other functionalities than just access to games. Furthermore, most mobile games can be downloaded and played for free. The accessibility to games that smartphones provided single-handedly boosts the growth and development of the mobile esports ecosystem in the country. If you are interested, we've also explained why popular esports games are often free in this article.
Internet Infrastructure and Smartphone Business
Like it or not, the gaming and esports industries cannot stand alone. The existence and growth of these two industries are highly dependent on other industries. For example, the smartphone industry and the internet infrastructure greatly dictates the direction of the esports industry. No matter how skillful a player is, he/she will still not be able to play online games or compete in esports competitions if there is no access to a decent smartphone and internet. A poor internet network can even force teams to withdraw from the tournament. This exact incident happened to the Dota 2 national team during the qualifying round of the IESF World Championship 2020 for the SEA region.
Indonesia and China are both developing countries. However, China is much more advanced when it comes to internet quality and speed. Based on data from Speedtest, the mobile internet speed in China reaches up to 113.35 Mbps which is only slightly below South Korea's internet speed (121 Mbps). Meanwhile, the mobile internet speed in Indonesia barely reaches 16.7 Mbps. The broadband internet speed in the country is also relatively awful, only reaching 22.35 Mbps. On the other hand, China's broadband internet speed has reached 138.66 Mbps. In comparison, Singapore - being the country with the highest broadband speeds - has internet speeds of up to 226.6 Mbps.
However, the Indonesian and Chinese governments have a similar approach to the internet: they both care about censorship. China is famous for its massive internet censorship program called the Great Firewall of China. As a result of this program, titan tech companies such as Facebook and Google are restricted from operating in China.
There are three main reasons why Beijing censors the internet. Firstly, the government wants to maintain control of the masses. There are many incidents where social media were used to gather protests against the government. Indeed, not all Twitter hashtags end up affecting real-world outcomes. However, there are many cases where the power of netizens can surface and wreak havoc. One week ago, All England presumably deleted their Instagram account because of the onslaught of Indonesian netizens. Indonesian netizens assumed that the competition was rigged as the Indonesian team was prohibited to play due to a positive case of corona.
Another reason the Chinese government restricts access to the internet is to control sensitive information. By restricting people's access to the internet, there is only a limited amount of information that can be shared or received. Therefore, in theory, the government can filter the information that reaches the public, especially on sensitive topics like the Hong Kong protests. China also censors the internet to protect local industries. The Chinese government bans the operation of foreign companies like Google and Facebook to allow local companies, such as Baidu and Weibo, to thrive.
Just like China, the Indonesian government also censors the internet. However, their objective of restricting internet access is to censor "negative" content, such as pornography. To achieve this goal, Kominfo is even willing to prepare Rp. 194 billion to get a crawling machine. Despite the effort, I'm very sure that it is still impossible to fully censor pornographic content. In March 2018, Kominfo also blocked Tumblr. However, you can easily bypass the blockade by using a VPN. These two examples, unfortunately, show the ineffectiveness of internet censorship in our country.
The Indonesian government sometimes also uses censorship as a means to filter sensitive information. For example, in August 2019, the government throttled the internet speed in Papua and soon blocked their internet access altogether. According to Tirto, the government claimed that they attempted to prevent the circulation of hoaxes that emerged after the Papuan people staged massive protests against the racist treatment of Papuan students in Surabaya.
Now, let us discuss the smartphone industry. We all know China for their vast amounts of factories and immense work power. Meanwhile, Indonesia began discussing the provisions of the Domestic Content Level (Tingkat Kandungan Dalam Negeri or TKDN) in 2015. Local components that can be integrated into smartphones are hardware, software, or investment. To fulfill TKDN, smartphone companies sometimes collaborate with local factories or even create their own factories. However, the reasons for manufacturing smartphone factories in Indonesia and China are somewhat different. Indonesia implements TKDN with the hope of advancing the local component industry.
On the other hand, most smartphone companies choose to manufacture their cellphones in China. Labor cost in China is relatively cheap since the employee salaries are usually lower compared to other manufacturing countries. Besides that, China has an immense workpower. Most of these workers in China also do not mind living in dormitories close to factories to reduce commuting time. China also provides an extent of geographical advantage as they are located near countries with raw supplies. Of course, since there is less distance to cover when importing raw materials, there is far less time and cost spent during the manufacturing stage.
Indonesia and China have also shared some similarities in their State-Owned Enterprises. As the name suggests, these are companies whose shares are controlled by the government. IN SOEs, the government usually owns a majority (at least 51%) or all of the company shares. Generally, there are two types of SOEs. The first type is called profit-oriented SOEs, and examples of these enterprises are PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia or Telkom, and PT Garuda Indonesia. There are also State-Owned Enterprises that focus on providing affordable quality goods and services to the public. Examples of these SOEs are Perum Damri, Perum Perumnas, and so forth. The same is true in China.
Furthermore, both Jakarta and Beijing also impose strict regulations on the financial sector. In Indonesia, one obvious form of government interference in the financial sector is the supervision of the Financial Services Authority (Otoritas Jasa Keuangan or OJK) on fintech startups. In September 2018, OJK issued 9 new regulations regarding fintech, including monitoring and supervision of fintech startups.
In China, regulations in the financial sector are even tighter when compared to Indonesia. For instance, Beijing highly restricts foreign investors to invest in Chinese companies. If foreign investors wish to invest in China, they have to fulfill some set of requirements. These are requirements such as living in China, working for a well-known company from China, or having a residence in China. If an investor was not able to meet at least one of these criteria, the government will carry out an extensive background check before permitting the investor to carry out their business in China. Moreover, the only shares that foreign investors can purchase are non-voting stocks. In other words, they will not have any say or power in the company.
In January 2021, the Indonesian government plans to limit foreign investors by setting a minimum investment of IDR 10 billion. Furthermore, according to CNN Indonesia, foreign investors must also establish a limited company if they want to carry out business activities in Indonesia. However, this regulation does not apply to technology startups wishing to invest in special economic zones. Although the regulations related to Indonesian foreign investment are not as strict as those of China, SOEs usually still dominate the market. For example, IndiHome still stands as one of the biggest ISPs in Indonesia despite receiving lots of criticism and complaints.
The Chinese government does not hesitate to limit people's access to the internet. They conduct this form of censorship to prevent protests and protect local companies from global competition. This philosophy is also reflected in the decisions the government takes in the gaming and esports industry. For instance, Beijing does not hesitate to restrict the release of foreign games if it does not comply with the regulations or display a contradiction against the state's ideology.
The Chinese government also greatly supports the esports industry, spending millions of dollars to build high-end esports facilities. The Chinese government's decision to ban console sales has also affected the growth of the esports ecosystem.
Furthermore, the various decisions taken by Beijing have painted them as an oppressive government to the outside world. However, based on a survey conducted by the Ash Center, Chinese people are incredibly satisfied with the decisions and work of their government. In 2016, 95.5% of the respondents said they were "quite satisfied" or "very satisfied" with their central government. On the flip side, most of the Chinese citizens were unhappy with the local government. In fact, only 11.3% of the respondents said they were content with the work of the local government, as noted by the Harvard Gazette.
Although the Indonesian government shares many similarities with the Chinese government, there are also some key differences between the two. One example is consistency. The Chinese government is far more consistent in enforcing the rules they set compared to Indonesia. They were never hesitant to restrict and push out tech giants like Google or Facebook. Apple and the NBA have even complied fully with rules set by the Beijing government when they wish to create a venture in China.
Translated by: Ananto Joyoadikusumo. Featured Image via: Glogster