In late June, Blizzard launch mere days before the game was set to debut in the country after co-developer NetEase seemingly drew the ire of government censors over an ill-advised social media post. The episode was a reminder of the tightrope act foreign game developers often have to pull off to release their games in China.
Now, newly published documents by offer a rare insight into the steps some companies will take to comply with China’s censorship laws. The publication obtained an internal presentation created by Roblox in 2017 as the company was working toward entering the Chinese market.
In addition to highlighting the lengths Roblox was prepared to go to appease Chinese censors, the documents reveal the risks the company was willing to shoulder. One of the presentation's more interesting insights is that Roblox expected its game would be hacked, likely by whatever firm it partnered with to bring Roblox to China. “Expect that hacking has already started,” states one bullet point. “Expect it to ramp up after a deal is signed, possibly even by partner.”
There’s no evidence Tencent, the company Roblox eventually partnered with, ever targeted the game, but the company clearly had reservations about working with the tech giant. The slides warn a relationship with Tencent would require Roblox to “keep our guard up.” Additionally, they show Roblox also considered working with NetEase and even had a favorable assessment of the company. “Direct, down-to-Earth, flexible problem solvers, acting in the interests of a joint venture,” one slide states. It’s unclear why Roblox ultimately went with Tencent over NetEase, but the fact the former promised the “fastest way to mega acquisition” probably played a part in the decision.
Roblox did not immediately respond to Engadget’s request for comment, but the company did share a statement with Motherboard.
“The slide you reference was from 2017, before we had a formal joint venture relationship in place,” a Roblox spokesperson told the outlet. “As normal for a company entering into a new market, we consider risks and opportunities and plan for them.” The spokesperson added the company’s policy is to comply with the laws of the regions where it operates.
In the end, whatever plans Roblox made to ensure a smooth entry into the Chinese market were not enough. Five months after Roblox launched within the country, the company temporarily to take “important transitory actions.” If you want to read more about the factors Roblox considered before entering China, make sure to read Motherboard’s full report.