Game on!

By Yang Jing Source:Global Times Published: 2014-4-28 20:18:01

A staff member shows off a Sony PlayStation 4 console at an electronic product store in Tokyo, Japan on February 22 2014. Photo: CFP

Gong Hang, a Beijing-based game player, paid 2,700 yuan ($432.12) for a Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3) in 2010.

The PS3 was originally purchased in Hong Kong, "and then I bought it in Beijing," Gong said.

The consoles used to be banned in the mainland, "but you could still buy them easily," Gong noted.

Gong also plans to buy an Xbox, a popular game console produced by Microsoft Corporation, but now he will not have to buy it from Hong Kong, as the ban on game consoles was lifted on April 21.

Major game companies have been waiting for a long time to explore the Chinese gaming market, which has seen rapid growth in recent years. But experts have warned that censorship and piracy could restrict game consoles' future success in China.

Lifting the ban

Seven Chinese ministries, including the Ministry of Culture (MOC), jointly issued a notice in June 2000 forbidding all manufacturing and sales of electronic consoles in China in a bid to prevent teenagers from over-indulging in video games.

However, the ban did not stop game players from purchasing consoles. Smuggled or counterfeit machines can easily be found in private stores or e-commerce platforms.

For instance, people can buy popular consoles in electronic product markets such as Beijing's IT hub Zhongguancun, and there are about 14,000 items related to the Sony PS4 and its game software available on, a popular Chinese e-commerce platform. 

Shanghai's municipal government released details on April 21 about opening up the culture sector in the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone, including lifting the ban on game consoles.

According to the details, overseas enterprises within the free trade zone (FTZ) can manufacture consoles in the zone and sell them in China after passing a censorship review.

The lifting of the console ban indicates that China is finally opening its doors to overseas game console makers like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, who have been eyeing China's huge gaming market for a long time.

The ban in 2000 did not include online gaming, and China now has a booming online gaming industry.

According to a report on the Chinese online gaming market released by the MOC in early April this year, the market saw total sales of 82 billion yuan in 2013, up 36.3 percent year-on-year. The total sales include 69 billion yuan for PC games and 12.8 billion yuan for mobile games, which saw a surge in growth of 97.2 percent.

Lifting the ban on game consoles may draw some people away from PC games but will have little impact on mobile games, because the groups of people who play them are different, Wu Yuetian, a Shanghai-based gaming industry insider, told the Global Times Friday.

Consoles mainly attract high-end game players, while players of mobile games are not so addicted to games and spend less time playing them, according to Wu.

Early lead

Microsoft appears to have stolen a march on rival firms in the game market.

Microsoft and Shanghai-based BesTV New Media Co together invested $79 million to establish a joint venture called Shanghai Baijiahe Information Technology Co, which is registered in the Shanghai FTZ, BesTV said in a filing with the Shanghai Stock Exchange on October 1, 2013.

The joint venture will develop and promote gaming software, as well as providing consulting services for the console business, according to the filing. 

A staff member at BesTV who declined to be named told the Global Times Thursday that the joint venture is working on introducing the Xbox into China but the specific date and timetable have not been decided yet.

Media reports have predicted that the earliest domestic launch date of the Xbox may be June or July of 2014.

Shanghai-based Oriental Morning Post newspaper quoted an anonymous source on April 22 as saying that Sony will also step into the Chinese market by founding a joint venture in the Shanghai FTZ.

Domestic enterprises are also joining the market.

Telecommunications equipment maker Huawei Technologies Co introduced its new TV-based gaming console "TRON" at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, and said it would launch the console in its home market in the second quarter.

The TRON mostly runs online multiplayer games as well as some single-player games.

Some TV set-top boxes, such as the Xiaomi Box produced by Beijing-based Xiaomi Technology Co, feature similar functions to a game console and cost far less.

The Xiaomi Box is priced at 299 yuan, while Huawei plans to sell the TRON for just under 1,000 yuan.

But Chinese hardware manufacturers are still lagging behind the leading overseas firms, and domestic game enterprises have little experience in development of console games, Xue Yongfeng, a gaming industry analyst with Analysys International, told the Global Times Friday.

So Chinese enterprises may aim at attracting price-sensitive consumers by offering cheaper products, he noted.

Uncertain future

In spite of the boom in the Chinese gaming industry, experts still take a cautious attitude toward the future of the console business in China.

Game consoles provide much better game content and user experience than online games on a PC or on mobile phones, Xue said.

However, Xue warned that piracy will be an obstacle for console makers in China.

Console makers make the majority of their profits from selling game software rather than the consoles, but Chinese players may be not willing to pay high prices for the software, Xue said.

"An official game made by Sony is priced at about $40, which is acceptable for me," game player Gong said.

"But if the price is higher than 300 yuan ($48), I will not buy it," he said, adding that most game players who have bought smuggled consoles download free pirated game software.

Another major obstacle in the sector is censorship.

According to the details released by the Shanghai government, all console games must pass a censorship review by the Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture, Radio and Film & TV.

Media reports said some games designed for adults contain violent content, and might not pass the review.

China does not have a rating system so the censorship standard will be strict, according to Xue.

Considering piracy and censorship in China, the console business still has a somewhat uncertain future, Wu concluded.

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