The South China Morning Post reports that China will be ending its 13 year ban on the sale of video game consoles in the country on the condition that all consoles sold are produced in Shanghai’s new free trade zone. The news was leaked to SCMP ahead of a formal announcement of the rules that will govern the new trade zone.
Game consoles were originally banned in 2000 among fears by officials of the effects of gaming on Chinese youth, a move which paradoxically led to the massive popularity of PC games like World of Warcraft. Anybody with eyes can also attest to the widespread black market for consoles in every major Chinese city; consoles are illegal here in the same way prostitution is, that is to say that it’s everywhere and everyone knows about it.
So what to make of the decision to allow consoles, and what will the impact on the industry be over the long term? In the past, China has put “racy” games like Diablo on ice because of skeletons, which are too ‘spooooooky’ for China’s flower-like youth. As one of the SCMP’s sources confirms, games will “still need approval from the culture ministry and other relevant government bodies for their products… because the government wants to make sure the content of your games is not too violent or politically sensitive for young people”.
We’ve seen this model before with the movie industry, and Chinese censorship’s effect on that industry gives us an idea for how the gaming industry may be effected. The size of the China market will push major players into working with regulators and devoting more energy into the video game equivalent of Ice Age 4. That is to say, crap. Just as SARFT has reached its noodly appendage into Hollywood, it will find its way into Redmond, Kyoto, and Tokyo.
And since the black market has made such inroads into China, it’s not like this will mean that Chinese gamers will get access to a wealth of new games and cultures. Rather, this will professionalize what is already there and make it more expensive. Jailbroken hardware and free games may go out the window in favor of global pricing. 400 yuan games, 300 yuan peripherals, and 12,000 yuan consoles might be the future, further isolating the console market to terrible snobby fuerdai.
So the quality of games loses. Your average Chinese gamer loses. Who wins? The Sony Corporation, Nintendo, Microsoft, some larger publishers who have the time and energy to work with the censors, and the Chinese government. But hey, maybe this game gets made:
Lifting China’s games console ban is great for Sony and Nintendo, but bad for gamers