China’s state council finally lifted the ban on game console imposed in 2000, allowing foreign-invested companies to produce and sell game consoles in the newly established Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone. And consoles, after games are censored and approved by authorities, can be sold in mainland China. Microsoft has already established a joint venture with Chinese media company BesTV last year, planning to introduce Xbox One into the mainland this year.

It is expected it will boost sales of PlayStation, Xbox or Wii. But it’s not that, as many outside China thought, those game consoles were not known or haven’t been available for purchase in mainland China. Chinese users could always buy from sellers on electronics markets, such as the most famous Zhongguancun electronics market in Beijing and Huaqiangbei in Shenzhen, who imported game consoles, legally or not, from overseas. More recently users whose cities don’t have such markets could buy from Taobao online stores. Those sellers, of course, charge higher prices or don’t offer after-sales services.

Yes, just like how users in mainland China bought iPhones before Apple reached deals with Chinese telcos and built its own stores here. It’s true that Apple saw a considerable increase in sales after it established official presence here. 

So how many more games consoles by Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo will be sold in the mainland will depend on the number of new customers or whether the existing users would shift to buy the legal ones in the future. Or how big a market motion gaming will create apart from the existing big-enough gaming market. Another thing those console brands are in common with iPhone buying the hardware alone is very expensive to average Chinese users.

The Chinese gaming industry had had 490 million users and saw 38% in total revenue in 2013. Client game is still the major contributor in terms of revenue that accounts for 64.5% of the total while browser game, or web game, and mobile game contributed 15% and 14%, respectively. Mobile game is expected to surpass browser game, or web game, in market share soon. Chinese game developers believe more users who previously didn’t play any games would play mobile games  given the convenience and 4G’s coming means better experience with mobile games.

Local industry people see localization or cultruralization for the consoles a business opportunity, just like how game distributors help online games from outside China become successful here. Several well-known names, including Yodo1 and iDreamsky help modify game designs, change charging points, offer more convenient payment service, and so on to better serve Chinese users. A Chinese version of a game is far from enough to stand out in the crowded China’s gaming market.

Tracey Xiang is Beijing, China-based tech writer. Reach her at

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  1. Lifting of the game console ban in China is a positive step (why were consoles banned in the first place?) but the big question now is which publishers are likely to embrace the Chinese console games market?
    Until publishers can find a secure way to distribute games for consoles in China I would be surprised if anyone is jumping up and down to enter the market. Maybe a digital download model will evolve for consoles, or maybe every console game will need some kind of online verification before it is unlocked, or maybe every game becomes free (or very cheap) and consoles games will follow the free to play model in China.
    Don’t get me wrong, I think lifting the ban is a great step, I just see there are a few more problems to solve before the console market becomes really attractive to publishers in China.

  2. Don’t get me wrong, I think lifting the ban is a great step, I just see there are a few more problems to solve before the console market becomes really attractive to publishers in China.

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