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The production and distribution of digital content in China. An historical account of the role of internet companies and videogames

Jean Paul Simon (JpsMultiMedia, Seville, Spain)

Digital Policy, Regulation and Governance

ISSN: 2398-5038

Article publication date: 19 June 2021

Issue publication date: 12 August 2021




This paper aims to shed some light on the history of the Chinese videogames industry, to document the growth of the leading companies and reveal how they have been morphing into platforms delivering constellations of apps and digital content (audiovisual, films, music, literature, video streaming […]). The paper tracks the development of digital services through the prism of videogames thereby showing how this industry emerged out of the deployment of the internet.


The paper provides an overview and a synthesis of what is known about the Chinese game industry, particularly based on consultancy documents and publications from firms. The paper is based on desk research, a review of literature and trade press and the analysis of the annual reports of the leading players (NetEase, Tencent […]).


The rise of videogames and the creation of specific company’s “ecosystems” illustrate the capacity of the industry to innovate and its significance for the Chinese economy. It reveals that gaming has been a cornerstone of many Chinese technology companies. The (young) companies came up with the innovative business models (FTP, virtual items) that were required to further expand the market. They found new ways to interact with their customers through communities and various tools.

Research limitations/implications

The paper relies on consultancy documents and publications from firms on heterogeneous data from industry and consultants. This approach comes with some limitations from a methodological viewpoint. It allows documenting the historical trends and describing the industrial landscape but not to qualify the relationships among players. Besides, the use of these sources leads to a greater focus on business models and a more limited one on the policy dimension. The latter is often perceived only through the glasses of the companies.

Practical implications

The data provided are meant to be useful to become familiar with the Chinese games industry.

Social implications

The paper indicates that the online game industry is a complex web of activities with tensions and contradictions between stakeholders (industry, government and consumers). In the case of China, there is a conflict between the willingness to liberalize the economy and the will to maintain an ideological monopoly through cultural industries.


Little research has been devoted to the role of videogames in emerging economies, to its specific features and to the relationships with the media industry and the information and communications technology sector. The contribution of this “digital native” to the production and distribution of digital content remains less studied. The paper provides an up-to-date overview of the Chinese case.



Simon, J.P. (2021), "The production and distribution of digital content in China. An historical account of the role of internet companies and videogames", Digital Policy, Regulation and Governance, Vol. 23 No. 2, pp. 190-209.



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