In January of this year, reports emerged suggesting that the Chinese government was considering ending its 13-year ban on the sale of game consoles in the country. Ultimately, those rumors were shot down by the Ministry of Culture which issued a flat out denial, but a new report has fanned the flames again with seemingly credible sources.
China Daily reports — via Sinocism — that the government is ready to allow console-makers like Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft into China, on the condition that their hardware and products are manufactured in the country. Companies would be obligated to set up operations within a new free trade zone established in Shanghai, the report claims, in exchange for the opportunity to “promote and sell their products on the Chinese mainland.”
The government has not confirmed this plan, but the China Daily report cites numerous government sources who explain that the general ban on game consoles will still stand despite these new allowances, meaning that overseas-made consoles and items would continue to be prohibited.
“The detailed information (on foreign game console companies’ entry into China) is incorporated in the policy package for Shanghai’s free trade zone,” an anonymous Ministry of Culture official is said to have told the newspaper.
The ban was set up in 2000 out of concern for the content of international games titles, and the possible effect that violent titles could have on young children.
Analysts have long predicted that any legislation to enable console- and games-makers into China could add billions of dollars to the industry. Already, China’s gaming space is a lucrative one. Reports estimate that China’s game industry brought in $9.7 billion in revenue last year across all segments, and the figure could grow to $21.7 billion by 2017 — but there are plenty of hurdles in the way for international firms.
For one thing, Chinese gaming culture has developed healthily without consoles. Thirteen years is a long time and a generation of gamers have grown up using PC-based services, while the past few years have seen mobile gaming take off in a major way as China leapfrogged the US to become the world’s largest smartphone market.
We’re already seeing that smartphone-based games and apps are taking huge chunks out of the portable gaming handheld market worldwide, and, though consoles provide a more immersive and polished gaming experience, it remains unclear how many Chinese consumers are able and willing to stump up for the cost.
Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox One will retail for $499, while Sony’s PlayStation 4 will cost $399, for example. That’s in stark contrast to the current status, Chinese gamers are used to being able to get their hands on titles for far cheaper than the average console game — legally or illegally — thanks to fake copies and hacked consoles which can be bought on the grey market.
Sony confirmed last year that it had received a quality certification for its PS3 console, while noting that it was “continuing to study the possibility” of bringing the device to China. Microsoft launched the Windows version of its Kinect controller last October, though not officially for gaming purposes. For now, they and others will need to wait on official words from the government.
Headline image via ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images