Coming to us by way of Kotaku, a report in the South China Morning Post says that the Chinese government plans to lift its official ban on the sale of game consoles, which has been in effect since 2000. That sound you hear is the sound of studio executives’ mouths watering. (And since mouth-watering is usually noiseless, you can tell that their mouths are watering quite forcefully.) The enormity of China’s burgeoning middle class makes it a plum target for the console industry, but so far, they’ve been forced to sit by as black-market sales proliferate. It’s not exactly hard for a Chinese player to find a place to buy a PlayStation.
And as smartphones have become a viable platform for games, the console ban has made even less sense, not that sensibility is a prime factor in the making of the Chinese bureaucracy. The Post explains:
Nowadays young Chinese increasingly like playing games on Apple’s popular mobile devices including iPads and iPhones, which are assembled in China and sold across the country legally because they are not considered gaming products.
If the policy change goes through, there’s still a catch: Any consoles manufactured for sale in China will have to be made in a new “free-trade zone” that the government is setting up in Shanghai. (The “big three” consoles are already made in China, but not in Shanghai, which is more highly developed and thus generally more expensive than the country’s electronics-manufacturing centers.)
From our vantage point in the U.S., we often talk about Chinese policy in monolithic terms, but the country is dotted with small regions that, by decree of policymakers in Beijing, are granted exemption from certain regulations in an effort to stimulate development. So now that Chinese policymakers have set up a new economic stimulus zone in Shanghai, they wouldn’t mind having some high-profile tenants—like maybe Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft—who can get capital flowing in and help attract other corporations to the area.
This might not seem like a big deal to players elsewhere in the world, but consider recent reports that filmmakers are calibrating the content of their movies to please Chinese censors. I don’t find game studios to be more craven than Hollywood overall, but I don’t find them a whole lot less craven, either. If the console industry establishes a foothold in China, this is an issue worth keeping an eye on. China is a huge market, and given the marketing-driven structure of the big studios, it’s easy to picture a scenario where artistic visions are “reshaped” to fit the desires of China’s Communist Party gatekeepers.
(Photo of Shanghai: Warren R.M. Stuart)