A new version of Microsoft Flight Simulator was released worldwide on Tuesday to rave reviews and much excitement–except in China. Even though you can find Chinese airports among the more than 37,000 included in the game, players in China were upset to find that they had to jump through some hoops to try it out themselves.
Some YouTubers who had already tested out the game showed themselves flying past the CCTV headquarters in Beijing and landing in the Forbidden City earlier this month. Now almost anyone can get the game on Steam, the Microsoft Store or Xbox unless they’re in China. All three platforms have Chinese versions of their stores, but none of them carry Microsoft Flight Simulator.
This doesn’t mean Chinese gamers aren’t playing it, though. There are multiple workarounds that aren’t very complicated to follow. While Steam now requires using a payment method in the country where an account is set, people can still try changing regions on the Microsoft Store or Xbox. Some gamers are even posting tutorials about how changing regions can get buyers a lower price.
Microsoft didn’t respond to questions about Flight Simulator’s availability in China.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is one of the longest-running and most popular amateur flight simulators available. The first version was released in 1982. The 2020 version has a massive map for players to explore with detailed cities and terrains. It even includes real-time weather.
But all this detail requires a lot of data, which is streamed through Microsoft’s Azure cloud service. Some people speculated online that the game isn’t available in China because Microsoft doesn’t have enough cloud power there to keep it running smoothly.
A different theory about the game’s absence blames the detailed maps of China in the game, which might be closer to the truth.
“I think it’s a mix of publishing license issues and the content of the game,” said Daniel Camilo, business developer at Apptutti, a company that helps companies publish games and apps in China.
“Since the game allows [players] to virtually travel all over the world and ‘inspect’ many locations in high detail (airports in particular), that would potentially bring up a lot of issues with the content for Chinese regulators, [such as] flying over Xinjiang, Taiwan, and how those regions would be identified,” he added.
The bigger problem might be China’s complex approval process, which both domestic and foreign games need to go through to get an official release in the country. It’s not clear when or if Microsoft applied for a license for Flight Simulator, but the process can take months or up to a year.
Even though gamers can still get Flight Simulator from other regions at the moment, it’s not a perfect solution. Some gamers complain about what they see as an even bigger problem: Flight Simulator isn’t currently available in Chinese.
As one person commented on the Q&A site Zhihu, “I don’t have any other demands except for releasing a Chinese version.”
This article was first published on by the South China Morning Post.