China's decision to create an "ethics assessment committee" to vet online titles for release could suggest regulators are preparing to resume game licensing in the near future.
Developers and publishers have been unable to launch new titles in China since August (at the very least), with regulators in the country refusing to issue game licenses in an apparent attempt to quell addition fears and combat near-sightedness in children.
Niko Partners analyst Lisa Cosmas Hanson, however, believes the decision to establish an ethics committee is a step in the right direction, and one that indicates the freeze might soon be over.
Although the committee itself won't be able to grant licenses, it will work directly with the State Administration of Press and Publication (SAPP), which is the main video game regulator in the region.
Formed back in April, the SAPP is currently operating without a director and hasn't yet been granted full control of the game approval process in China.
When it does finally take charge, the SAPP will be given the ability to issue new licenses, while the ethics committee will judge which titles are fit to launch in the lucrative market.
On the surface that's positive news, but Cosmos has warned developers that the new approval process will be strict.
"We believe that the new game approval process will become more stringent as China looks to push for a healthier gaming industry, whilst aiming to balance the economic benefits of digital games with the core values that China holds dear," she explained.
"The gameplay time limit for minors already exists for PC games and is now being extended to mobile games. We’ve already seen companies like Tencent self-regulate in this area.
"The SAPP also plans to reform the approval process by limiting the number of games that are approved for distribution each year and working with the Online Game Ethics Committee to crack down on games that do not abide by the core social values above as well as provide guidance to game developers on how to create games with these values in mind."
Those limitations are expected to primarily impact low-quality copycat games, which are currently flooding the market in China, along with poker and mah-jong titles.
Meanwhile, the ethics committee's hard line stance on anything that violates China's cultural values and reputation could force developers to aggressively tone down or even remove certain elements, such as excessive violence and gore, in order to receive a license.