Japanese gaming giant Sony suspended services for its Chinese Playstation Store on Sunday for “system security reasons.”

Why it matters: China is stepping up regulations on foreign games. The suspension follows orders from authorities to remove listings for physical copies of a popular Nintendo game from e-commerce platform Taobao, and to close an Apple App Store “loophole” that allowed foreign game developers to bypass China’s gaming license system.

  • Users with a Chinese version of the Sony Playstation consoles can only use the Chinese store to download and update games by default. However, some users have found ways to circumvent the restrictions and log in to the Hong Kong store.
  • The Chinese Playstation Store had only 124 games listed as of Sunday because the government requires developers to obtain a gaming license before they add titles to the mainland Chinese store. By comparison, the Hong Kong store had 4,633 titles as of Monday and provides an interface in simplified Chinese characters, mainland China’s official written language.

Details: Sony said in a statement on Chinese social media platform Weibo that the suspension would start at 7 a.m. on Sunday and that it doesn’t have a timeline for resumption of service.

  • The post sparked an outcry on Weibo with many users complaining about China’s strict restrictions on gaming. 
  • A report from Chinese gaming news outlet 3DM Game implied (in Chinese) that the suspension of Playstation’s Chinese store could be the result of a spate of reports to the authorities from Chinese netizens saying that Sony Playstation “allows Chinese players to download games uncensored by Chinese culture authorities by letting them switch to the Hong Kong Playstation Store.”
  • “Some games contain content that promotes violence, pornography, and incest, which does great harm to teenage mental health. I hope the culture authorities block them completely,” (our translation) one user said in a report filed with a tip-off website (in Chinese) maintained by China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, according to 3DM Game. 
  • It is unknown whether the ministry, which regulates industries related to publications, movies, and culture, made the decision to shut down the Chinese Playstation Store. The ministry did not reply to an email sent Monday requesting a comment.

Context: Sony introduced the Playstation console to the Chinese market in 2014 after the country lifted a ban on the sale of foreign-made gaming consoles.

  • Alibaba’s online market place Taobao last month removed listings for physical copies of Japanese game maker Nintendo’s widely popular video game, “Animal Crossing.” Sales of the game were not allowed on Nintendo’s Chinese game store for regulatory reasons. 
  • A few days before the removal, Bloomberg reported that pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong have started to post anti-government messages on the island life simulation game.
  • In February, popular infection simulation game Plague Inc. was removed from Chinese app stores as the Covid-19 outbreak intensified in the country.

Wei Sheng

Writing about semiconductors and telecommunications.