Transforming national culture into intellectual property: Guofeng games in China’s online game industry

Project: Research project

Project Details


A guofeng game (which literally means “national style” game) is one that uses an artistic form or depicts a lifestyle drawn from traditional Chinese culture. Industry reports show that most original gaming intellectual property (IP) in China takes the form of guofeng games (GPC & CNG 2021). The recent popularity of guofeng games has led to many instances of Chinese gamers expressing discontent with the representations of national culture in Chinese online games. On August 6, 2021, a popular Chinese online game called Canal Towns introduced a new character, Yue Fei the Idler, which sparked a heated controversy on Chinese social media. Many gamers were offended by this representation of Yue Fei, who was a military general in the Southern Song dynasty known for fighting the Jurchen-ruled regime in northern China. Gamers argued that the game denigrated a national hero by calling him an idler. Even worse, some gamers associated one of the illustrations of Yue—shirtless and standing beside a sheep— with the Chinese idiom routanqianyang, which refers to a ritual of surrender in ancient China. The game company that produces Canal Towns, Coconut Island Games, was soon forced to withdraw the character and apologize on social media for the “serious mistake made out of ignorance of history and faulty internal controls, which went against our mission to produce a guofeng game that salutes traditional Chinese culture” (Sohu 2021). Recent decades have witnessed the rapid development of the online game industry in China. According to the China Internet Network Information Center (2021), as of June 2021, there were 509.25 million online gamers in China. CNG reports that the revenue of China’s game market in 2021 was $44.48 billion; $33.44 billion of this was revenue from mobile games (Pandaily 2022). Most studies of the Chinese online game industry focus on its business models and policy environment, while a handful of studies tap into the cultural aspects of the industry, including game design, creativity, and game culture. However, investigations into game production are scarce; there are no systematic studies of how the interplay of government agendas, entrepreneurial motivations, game designers’ and marketers’ creativity, and gamers’ engagement have resulted in guofeng games achieving dominance in the industry. To fill this gap, the proposed study asks: how do game companies adopt elements of national culture in developing original gaming IPs? How do they deal with government regulations, business interests, and gamers’ feedbacks in the meantime, to produce and market their guofeng games? To answer these questions, the study will examine how guofeng games are dynamically shaped by using the industrialization of culture model, in which a variety of elements (e.g., culture, social trends, mandates, conditions, practices, texts and public) are at play. The study will (1) analyze policy documents, as well as industry reports, company annual reports, official speeches, statistics, surveys, press articles, trade magazines, and game commentaries that are relevant to the development of guofeng games; (2) use the walkthrough method and discourse analysis to analyze selected guofeng games; (3) interview game designers and marketers, and use the critical media studies paradigm to analyze the data; (4) organize focus group discussions with gamers and use reception analysis to examine their engagement with guofeng games. The findings of the study will contribute to scholarship on creative industries, cultural policy, and game studies. They will be valuable to industrial professionals seeking to promote sustainable innovation given the specific game environment in China—how to make use of government endorsement and gamers’ preferences while at the same time being alert to government regulations and gamers’ nationalist sentiments. The study will also provide gamers with critical knowledge about how the games they play are produced and circulated.
Effective start/end date1/01/2431/12/26


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