Beyond Gaming: Assessing the Ripple Effect of China's Regulatory Actions on BABA and JD

The Chinese authorities have recently issued a comprehensive draft of rules and regulations to reduce online expenditure and in-game rewards in video games. These impending regulations would prohibit online games from offering incentives to players based on their consecutive logins, first-time purchases, or recurring payments – standard practices typically deployed in online gaming scenarios.

The removal of the incentives could reduce daily active users and in-app revenue. Such a change could ultimately compel publishers to restructure their game design and monetization strategies.

The draft represents the most stringent enforcement to date. It bars games from presenting probability-based draws to underage users and disallows the trading of virtual gaming items. Amid ongoing concerns over user data security, it mandates that game publishers host their servers domestically in China.

The aggressive regulations have slammed the world's largest gaming market. The immediate fallout saw investors retreating in haste, resulting in an approximate loss of $80 billion in market value for China’s two dominant gaming companies, Tencent Holdings and Netease.

Several U.S. and European video game developers saw shares take a hit after Friday’s announcement, but the losses were small when compared with Tencent’s 16% tumble and NetEase’s 25% decline. The regulation news wiped about $54 billion off Tencent’s share value.

The country initiated its major clampdown on the gaming sector in 2021, implementing stringent playtime restrictions for minors and freezing new game approvals for almost eight months, citing increasing concerns over gaming addiction. These regulatory measures led to unprecedented challenges for China's gaming industry in 2021 and 2022, marking the first time the industry witnessed a contraction in total revenues.

While the Chinese authorities resumed approval of new games in the following year, regulators have maintained their focus on managing the duration of gameplay for minors and their overall expenditure within the game.

The recent draft comes as China's domestic game market revenue reached ¥303 billion ($42.6 billion), growing 14% in 2023, reversing a 10% decline from the year before, as per figures from industry association CGIGC. Due to the sheer size and impact of Chinese gaming giants, the global video games market could also be affected in the long run.

The profound impact of China's recent regulations has reverberated beyond the gaming industry and has significantly impacted Chinese tech corporations.

A regulatory storm against big tech firms emerged in late 2020 when Chinese authorities began to express concerns about the extensive influence and growth of the nation's major internet platforms.

This regulatory onslaught against China’s tech giants resulted in the wiping of trillions of dollars in market value, leaving a significant dent in one of the most burgeoning sectors of the world's second-largest economy. This intensified the U.S.-China decoupling, with its effects visibly shrinking those Chinese tech companies that once competed neck-to-neck with their U.S. counterparts.

Alibaba Group Holding Limited (BABA) found itself in the eye of the storm following critical comments made by co-founder Jack Ma against Chinese regulators ahead of the impending IPO of its subsidiary Ant Financial. This fintech affiliate, whose IPO plans in Shanghai and Hong Kong were halted abruptly, created a global tremor among the investment community.

BABA faced a record-breaking fine of $2.8 billion, and Chinese antitrust regulators imposed rigorous restrictions on the company's e-commerce operations. The newly enacted measures – barring BABA from implementing exclusive agreements with merchants, employing loss-leader promotions to attract fresh clientele, and boosting its ecosystem through unauthorized investments – have subsequently weakened BABA's safeguards against market competitors.

Following the censure of BABA, China's regulatory hawks turned their attention toward the online financial service units of 13 other tech titans, including, Inc. (JD).

It was initially predicted that Chinese policymakers would change their trajectory and prioritize growth stimulation in 2023, with tech firms being key players in this strategy. But with recent gaming regulations eroding consumer faith in tech stocks, it is expected to trigger a domino effect, potentially impacting shares of high-flyers like BABA and JD.

Here, we delve deeper into the ramifications and implications faced by these tech companies.

Alibaba Group Holding Limited (BABA)

BABA, previously regarded as China's best contender for becoming a trillion-dollar entity, currently stands near its lowest trading value of the year, a significant reduction from its 2020 peak. The company is navigating through turbulence on multiple fronts. Weakened economic recovery and burgeoning rivals threaten BABA's once primarily dominant position in the online retail sector.

BABA recently aborted plans to float its cloud division due to uncertainties stirred by the United States' export restrictions on advanced computing chips. The tech giant now looks forward to formulating a robust growth model centered around the increasing demand for networked and highly scalable cloud computing services underpinned by AI. However, it's worth noting that U.S. bans on high-end chip exports to China may hinder China's technological ambitions.

In an endeavor to revive profits, BABA is refocusing on e-commerce, leveraging content creators and competitive pricing to remain relevant amid stiff competition. The e-commerce behemoth is looking at slashing prices and is projected to continue heavy investment in curating content encompassing shopping, consumption, and everyday life.

Stricter regulations enforced in recent years have purportedly placed pressure on Chinese tech firms like BABA. This year, BABA has also witnessed a contraction in its workforce. BABA's stock prices dropped following China's announcement to regulate the online gaming industry with tough measures aimed at reducing excessive spending and controlling online game content.

Alibaba Cloud offers custom solutions for the gaming industry, providing dependable support for game development and distribution, ensuring an excellent experience for players and users. Globally, it remains a top choice for gaming businesses intending to streamline their digital transition journey with flexible game development, secure and swift global distribution, and economical operations.

BABA owns several renowned gaming platforms in China, including Youku Games, Epic Games China, and Perfect World. These platforms boast millions of gamers and generate billions of dollars in revenue each year.

Nonetheless, these platforms will also have to conform to new rules that curtail online gaming time for minors and limit game content featuring violence, gambling, or inappropriate language. These newly imposed rules mandate BABA to modify its game development strategy and content to meet the novel standards and evade potential penalties.

Additionally, it might require extensive resources and effort to supervise and moderate its gaming platforms to maintain regulatory compliance, potentially risking the loss of consumers. Such changes could then detrimentally affect BABA's revenue and profitability derived from the online games that the tech behemoth develops and distributes.

However, analysts expect BABA’s revenue for the fiscal third quarter ending December 2023 to increase 4.9% year-over-year to $37.65 billion. Its EPS is expected to come at $2.79 for the same quarter., Inc. (JD)

JD, China’s leading e-commerce platform, has extended its realm of operations to include online gaming under the name of JD Gaming.

What JD is doing in gaming?

The retail giant's gaming venture has several elements to its approach. Firstly, it harnesses the insights of its extensive consumer base, who contribute an abundance of product feedback collected through the platform's transactions. This data is shared with industry partners to inform and enhance their product development.

One key instance is JD's engagement with influential partners like Lenovo, a noted Chinese PC manufacturer, and the gaming behemoth Tencent. The collaboration resulted in the creation of mobile gaming optimized smartphones. Through this strategy, JD not only participates in product development but also acts as a distributor for these devices, directly catering to its gaming clientele via its shopping app.

Secondly, a significant component of JD's gaming strategy involves its stake in e-sports or competitive video gaming. In 2017, JD unveiled its professional e-sports team, JD Gaming, expanding it later by launching JD Esports, a dedicated mobile gaming team, in 2020.

Considering that global esports revenue is projected to surge to $3.8 billion by 2023, the potential for profit is vast. JD intends to ensure that a part of this profitable domain is its.

However, recent changes in gaming regulation affecting youth in China might cause a shift in consumer preferences and gaming habits. Consequently, online games, accompanying accessories, game consoles, and in-game purchases may see a decrease in demand. These developments have the potential to impact JD's e-commerce operation in ways worth close observation.

Analysts expect JD’s revenue and EPS for the fiscal fourth quarter ending December 2023 to decline 1.1% and 3.8% year-over-year to $41.97 billion and $0.66, respectively.

Bottom Line

The sweeping restrictions unveiled before Christmas elicited reminders of the unceremoniously harsh crackdown on the tech sector in 2021. During that year, Chinese regulatory bodies spontaneously initiated limitations spanning various areas from e-commerce to entertainment, effectively destroying the online education industry through the outlawing of profits.

Some believe that there are traces of a governmental aspiration for an enhanced and diverse gaming environment marked by creativity and exceptional quality. The authorities lean toward a marketplace where publishers gain profits via ethical practices and innovative offerings instead of aggressive monetization tactics or endorsing "pay-to-win" games.

In a surprising turn of events, Chinese officialdom has moderated newly formulated online gaming regulations soon after the proposed constraints resulted in major technology firms losing billions of dollars. They sanctioned 105 domestic games, indicating the Chinese authorities' approval for the evolution of online gaming. This could potentially bolster investor sentiment.

However, analysts remain cautious when considering China's e-commerce titans, like BABA and JD. As it stands, the Chinese consumer is progressively tightening discretionary spending amid a frail economic climate. Additionally, the looming threat of intensified sector rivalry might influence company profitability.

Last week saw Chinese stocks taking a downturn, induced by apprehension over a potential surge in COVID-19 contagions, endangering progress in the world's second-most prosperous economy. This puts the decision to open the country post-lockdown under scrutiny, especially considering the resultant economic deceleration witnessed last year.

Given this backdrop, it could be wise to wait for better entry points in the featured stocks