China has temporarily lifted an almost 14-year-old ban on foreign games consoles, reversing a decision made in 2000 to ban gaming on mental health grounds. The government will, for a trial period, allow game consoles to be made within Shanghai’s free trade zone and sold within China, subject to standard local inspections on multimedia goods. Bloomberg has already reported that Nintendo’s shares have risen by over five percent in Tokyo trading yesterday, and you can almost hear the Sony and Microsoft bigwig’s salivating at the prospect of entering the ten billion dollar market currently dominated by online and PC gaming.
The original decision to ban the consoles was made in order to protect the mental well-being of children against the perceived “corruption” of foreign video game consoles. According to a CNN report, these concerns over the consoles’ violent content and potential for “moral decay” helped PC gaming to flourish in the region (because, of course, PC gaming is completely devoid of violent content). As a result, there are concerns that Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft will struggle to sell large volumes of their consoles because of these lingering beliefs.
In addition to this, rampant piracy in the region is considered to be a huge obstacle to the console manufacturers’ attempts to breach the lucrative marketplace. Sony previously attempted to introduce the PlayStation 2 to Chinese consumers (during a short period of exemption from the ban), and almost immediately hundreds of pirated games and even imitation consoles sprung up across the country. If any of the companies aim to achieve decent sales in China, watertight DRM and excellent copyright protection will be essential to their success.
Regardless of the obstacles to Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft’s game consoles entering the Chinese market, the nation’s decision to lift the 14-year-old ban marks an interesting turning point for the gaming industry.