No Chicken? Tencent's PUBG Stand-In Leaves Gamers Fuming

(Bloomberg) -- Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s latest hit set a string of revenue records right out of the gate. But the newest title from the world’s largest gaming company has already hit a snag.

Game For Peace, the highly touted Battle Royale-style shooter trotted out last week, is starting to rile players just a few days in. More than 80% of reviews on Apple’s Chinese app store have been negative since the title’s debut on May 8, Sensor Tower judges. That compares with just 35% for PUBG Mobile -- the game it replaced in the country. Thousands of infuriated gamers have lashed out online against everything from weird sound effects and fawning Chinese patriotism to the white-washing of violence, according to reviews compiled by the firm.

No Chicken? Tencent's PUBG Stand-In Leaves Gamers Fuming

“Even though it’s playable, it feels so weird for us veteran gamers,” one online commentator wrote. “Give me back the excitement,” another said. “Trash. Delete,” wrote a third.

Following a 2018 crackdown on money-making licenses, Tencent pulled popular but gory PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds last week and swapped it out for the toned-down Game for Peace, developed in-house. But the Chinese company tweaked details to ensure a family-friendly game that would fly with regulators: no blood; nationalistic banners; victims blithely wave rather than die (typically in sensational fashion). Five winners can share the final glory, instead of one lone survivor.

Investors are counting on Game For Peace, known also as Peacekeeper Elite, to help arrest Tencent’s growth slowdown: on Wednesday, the social media titan reported its slowest pace of revenue expansion on record. Yet the rising tide of complaints suggests the jury’s still out on its latest effort. The title debuts just as Epic Games Inc., developer of the similar Fortnite, rolled out local servers Monday that offer Chinese thrill-seekers a rival Battle Royale experience, albeit only on a desktop or laptop computer for now.

To be sure, the negative reviews aren’t putting off all gamers. The title currently ranks as the second-highest grossing app in China, the world’s biggest mobile gaming market, Sensor Tower said. It earned $20 million in its first five days, compared with $465,000 for PUBG Mobile and $2 million for Fortnite over comparable periods. Those latter two games are barred from earning revenue in China. Jane Yip, a spokeswoman for Tencent, didn’t respond to an emailed query.

“It’s not good news, especially since what people are unhappy about are things that Tencent can’t change,” said David Dai, an analyst with Bernstein. “After censoring so many aspects, the game was bound to suffer some setbacks.”

Tencent has struggled to revitalize its gaming business. A nine-months freeze in approvals hampered its ability to make money off PUBG last year, though the mobile game itself took China by storm. The company rolled out Game For Peace only after winning the green light to host in-app purchases, marking its arrival finally in the lucrative duel-to-the-death arena. The new title mimics PUBG’s play: Users downloading Game For Peace even found it automatically replaced the earlier title.

“Chinese players do tend to prefer more realistic military elements in their shooters,” said Randy Nelson, head of mobile insights at Sensor Tower. “This can also explain the sharp downturn in user sentiment when Tencent upgraded players to the less realistic Game for Peace.”

While the game’s launch suggests approvals are back on track, newly instated content curbs can lead to unusual modifications. PUBG’s tongue-in-cheek chicken dinner -- awarded to the last person standing --- has become frosted cake in Tencent’s world.

“We can’t even eat chicken anymore. Deleted the game out of rage. Made myself some roast chicken for a late-night snack instead,” a fourth user wrote.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.