China May Lift Console Ban


Chinese officials are at least considering lifting a ban on games consoles that’s been in place for more that a decade. It could be tremendous news for manufacturers and pirates alike.

The country banned consoles in 2000 over what the China Daily newspaper describes as “fears of the potential harm to the physical and mental development of the young.”

An anonymous source from China’s Ministry of Culture says it has begun a review of the policy that has involved carrying out surveys into the subject. However, even if the ministry does decide the ban should end, it could be a lengthy bureaucratic process as the ban was originally issued as a joint policy of seven different ministries. All seven would need to agree before the ban ended.

Gaming itself — both on and offline — is still very popular in China as the ban doesn’t extend to PC games. There’s also some console-related technology sold in the country. For example, Microsoft’s Kinect device is available (just without the Xbox), while a subsidiary of Lenovo has tried to sidestep the ban with what it firmly labels “a sports and entertainment machine” (pictured).

As far as the ban goes, the exact definition of a console seems a little hazy. The Nintendo DSi is on sale, as are several of the retro devices where the games are built into a controller rather than a separate box.

There’s also a very healthy market for banned consoles and games that have been smuggled across the border. That’s set up a potential problem for if and when the ban is lifted. It seems many people who are prepared to buy a console through questionable suppliers decide that if they are going to be involved in a gray legal area anyway, they may as well go the whole hog and get a console that’s been modded to allow it to run pirated games.

Still, even if only a small proportion of Chinese people could afford to buy consoles and games, and only a proportion of those would be prepared to buy legit, the sheer size of the population means that an end to the sales ban would create a very healthy income stream for the manufacturers, whose stocks have already risen on even this slight hint of a policy change.

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