At a time when gaming giants like NetEase have waited months for approval to launch games, a new game that has gone viral in China hit people's screens with surprising speed.

Important Notes

  •  Despite continued restrictions placed on China’s gaming sector, Tencent’s WeChat introduced a new game at the beginning of this month called “Sheep a Sheep,” which has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity.
  • Rich Bishop, CEO of AppInChina, a company that distributes Western software in China, stated, “WeChat and ByteDance do not now require a game license to publish their HTML5 games on their platforms.” WeChat and ByteDance are both platforms that host games.
  • The National Administration of Press and Publication ceased approving new games from publishers between July 2021 and April 2022 due to Beijing’s increased inspection of the gaming industry.

At a time when gaming giants like NetEase have waited months for approval to launch games, a new game that has gone viral in China hit people’s screens with surprising speed. It happened during this period.

This is because the new game, Sheep, a Sheep, functions as a mini-program within both ByteDance’s Douyin and Tencent’s WeChat messaging app. The user can participate in the game without leaving the app.

Rich Bishop, CEO of AppInChina, a company that distributes Western software in China, stated, “WeChat and ByteDance do not now require a game license to publish their HTML5 games on their platforms.” WeChat and ByteDance are both platforms that host games.

“However, this will probably alter over the next few months as enforcement of existing restrictions becomes more intense,” he said.

HTML5 games are developed utilizing coding tools analogous to those used for developing webpages, and they are easily portable across multiple platforms.

The mini-program rules for online games that WeChat provided did not include a criterion particular to a game license. The text did make it clear that qualification credentials were necessary, depending on the type of game.

Regarding ByteDance, the answer was not immediately apparent from the online developer rules; nevertheless, in response to a question posed on an official online forum the previous year, an administrator claimed that a license was not required for games that did not have in-app purchases.

Approvals for gaming software

Beijing Jianyou Technology, responsible for developing Sheep a Sheep, was established in January 2021.

According to the business database Tianyancha, the company registered the game’s software before the end of July this year. According to posts made on Jianyou’s official Weibo, a social networking platform in China similar to Twitter, the sheep game was released some weeks later, around the beginning of September.

In contrast, according to statistics provided by Tianyancha, NetEase received permission for its first game in over a year, only ten months after the company registered its associated software.

The National Administration of Press and Publication ceased approving new games from publishers between July 2021 and April 2022 due to Beijing’s increased inspection of the gaming industry. When I searched for “sheep” on the list of games that have been given the green light, the only results that came up were for games released in 2018 or before.

In response to a request for comment, neither the administration nor Jianyou quickly responded.

The majority of Beijing’s limitations on games have been aimed at lowering the amount of time youngsters spend playing. According to the guidelines published in August 2021, children and adolescents under the age of 18 are only allowed to play for a maximum of three hours per week during specific weekends and holidays.

According to AppInChina, to sell premium games or games with in-app purchases on the Apple China App Store, developers must first obtain permission from the administration to apply for a game license.

Piqued Curiosity

The developer of Sheep a Sheep states that the success rate for the puzzle is below 0.1%, which contributes to the feeling of rivalry and difficulty that players get from playing the game.

The game’s objective is for players to remove tiles from the board that belongs to the same category in three sets. Successful people are rewarded with a cartoon sheep added to a virtual herd based on the player’s region. This helps to improve the ranking of the player’s home province.

Wang noted that most respondents lacked prior experience with games of this nature. “From extremely easy to extremely challenging, they overheard various individuals on social media talking about that, and that prompted a lot of curiosity, ‘Why is this so challenging?’ Because of this, it is unlike anything else.