Katie Abson looks at China’s most popular video game and its terminated partnership with Burberry.
Honour of Kings is one of China’s most successful video games, developed by Tencent Games’ TiMi Studios, first released back in 2015. This multiplayer online battle game attracts over one hundred million active users a day and is one of the highest-grossing video games in mainland China.
In November 2020, Burberry partnered with Tencent Games in the hopes of building consumer loyalty with one of China’s largest gaming platforms. In the game, players could buy ‘skins’ to dress their chosen characters. The ‘skins’ featured Burberry’s iconic trench coat and tartan patterned clothing.
The president of Burberry in China, Josie Zhang, explained the partnership by stating, “By allowing our Chinese customers to explore virtual products through the medium of online games, we can connect with our communities in a way that really resonates with them.”
Ampere Analysis senior games analyst Louise Shorthouse further backed the collaboration as she explained: “As owning a Burberry coat or scarf in real life is a symbol of wealth or status, the same can be said for in-game.”
However, last Thursday on March 25th an Honour of Kings representative made a post announcing that the deal was over. A translation of the post, published on Chinese social media network Weibo, states: “The ‘Honor of Kings’ project team has now decided to cancel the new skins of ‘Yao’ and ‘Spirit of Forest & Ocean Legend’ skin project with Burberry.” The official Chinese company Tencent has not yet made a detailed comment explaining their decision. The official announcement of Burberry and Tencent’s union was removed from Burberry’s corporate website soon after.
Last week, human rights campaigns expressed concerns around the allegations of forced labour in Xinjiang’s cotton industry, which produces around a fifth of the worlds cotton. Growing evidence suggests around a million Uyghur – an ethnic Muslim minority group native to the Xinjiang region in Northwest China – have been detained in labour camps where they are forced to pick cotton. in response, many Western brands, including H&M and Nike, have severed ties with the region. The Chinese government continues to deny these allegations.
The decision to end the contract between Tencent and Burberry has been reportedly linked to Burberry’s stance on banning the use of cotton sourced from the Xinjiang region. This received a large amount of backlash from Honour of Kings fans. Around 85% of 11,000 fans that responded to a poll published on Weibo said that they would not purchase the Burberry skins.
Burberry confirmed their position in a letter to the Foreign Affairs and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, dated 9th November 2020: “We do not have any operations in Xinjiang, nor work with any suppliers based there.”
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