China's 14-year ban on the sale of video game consoles has finally been lifted entirely. However, It still won't be easy for foreign console makers hoping to make a big buck in the potentially huge new market as there several censorship rules in place.
Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft will be able to sell and manufacture consoles in China through "foreign-invested enterprises" in Shanghai's Free Trade Zone, as stated on Shanghai's government website.
Gaming revenues grew by more than a third in 2012 to about $14 billion in 2013, making China the world's third biggest gaming market. Mobile and PC gaming have dominance in China so it will leave little room for console sales. In addition, console games will need to win the approval from Shanghai's local culture department. This will ensure that the games do not harm China's reputation, national unity, or territorial integrity. It will also make sure that the games do not promote gambling, drugs, violence, racial hatred, or obscenities; preventing some of the more controversial series like Call of Duty, Saints Row, and Grand Theft Auto from entering the gaming market in China.
"Game developers should be worried about selling their content in China, especially when you talk about the violent games, shooting people's arms, heads popping off, and a lot of games also have political background, such as America against North Korea," said Tokyo-based video game analyst Serkan Toto. "A lot of these games are actual multi-million dollar games, so I'm not really sure how these kind of games will resonate with Chinese censorship--my feeling is probably not that good,"
PC games make up nearly two-thirds of the gaming market in China, while mobile and browser gaming make up around 14% and 15% respectively; according to data that was released at the annual China games industry conference last December.
The console ban was first established back in 2000. The government stated that the adverse effects on the mental health of its young people was the main reason for the ban. This forced many citizens to either illegally purchase games or buy knock-off versions. The ban was temporarily lifted in January.
"'Grand Theft Auto' stands for all of these problems: it's successful because it's controversial, and controversy always sells," Toto said.
Back in September 2013. Microsoft joined up with China's BesTV New Media. Co Ltd and invested around $240 million in family friendly games as well as related services. "The joint venture registration in the Free Trade Zone is the first step of many to come for Microsoft and BesTV," Microsoft said in a statement Tuesday.
"We recognize that China is a promising market, and we are studying developments there, but at this point we cannot comment further," said Sony Computer Entertainment spokesperson Satoshi Nakajima added in a statement.