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China cracks down on imports of Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Hong Kong protesters use it to spread their message

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in-game image of an islanders village with a poster saying “Free Hong Kong Revolution Now”
An islander’s pro-Hong Kong demonstration in Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Joshua Wong/Twitter via Nintendo
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons isn’t approved for sale in China, but that didn’t stop importers and resellers from dealing it on online auction sites there. Now Chinese authorities are cracking down on that, says an industry analyst who specializes in Asian markets.

Niko Partners’ Daniel Ahmad noted (h/t Eurogamer) on Friday that Chinese players had been importing Japanese, North American, or European versions of Animal Crossing: New Horizons through the enormous online marketplace Taobao. But on Friday, Taobao announced it could no longer distribute imported versions of the game, and searches for the game on the site returned blank pages.

Why? As USGamer reported last week, Hong Kongers had been using the game to post protest art and stage virtual demonstrations, as the COVID-19 outbreak had driven the real-life pro-democracy movement indoors.

Ahmad noted that the game’s popularity in social media likely drew the attention of regulators, who invoked a little-enforced 2017 policy that forbids the sale of imported games. In fact, since the Nintendo Switch cleared China’s cumbersome approval bureaucracy and went on sale in December, only three Switch games are formally approved for sale in China: Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and New Super Mario Bros. U.

The crackdown merely eliminates the most convenient means of getting Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Chinese players can still acquire it from the Nintendo eShop by switching their region; from an independent store that has imported the game without drawing attention to itself; or by contacting a Taobao seller privately and buying it under the table.

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