Shanghai free-trade zone

Shanghai game console plan draws mixed reviews

Mainland clearance for sales by foreign makers seen as opening of market but video-game fans fear loss of functions in Shanghai-made devices

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 September, 2013, 8:03am

Mixed reactions at home and abroad greeted the mainland's plan to lift a 13-year ban on the sale of video-game consoles, with some gaming fans worrying the made-in-Shanghai devices would have some of their functions crippled.

To attract foreign investment, the South China Morning Post reported yesterday, Beijing will soon allow foreign firms such as Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft to sell their game consoles - provided the products are made in Shanghai's new free-trade zone.

The aim is to first attract them to invest in Shanghai, and then they can sell. Things like Facebook and Twitter will remain banned

Apart from that requirement, the console manufacturers may also have to make technical changes to their devices to remove integrated connections to social media networks including Facebook and Twitter.

Both platforms, which played key roles in pro-democracy movements in the Middle East, have been banned on the mainland for years.

"The aim is to first attract them to invest in Shanghai, and then they can sell," said a person close to the government who declined to be named because of the sensitive nature of the matter.

"Things like Facebook and Twitter will remain banned," he said. "Just like Apple's iPhone, you must localise it to meet local regulations."

But he insisted the lifting of the ban on game consoles should be considered a positive gesture by Beijing in opening up its market - in its cultural as well as business aspects - to the rest of the world.

Microsoft's Xbox is more than a game system as it also allows users to connect to Facebook and Twitter to send text messages in real time.

When Apple introduced its iPhone and iPad - both designed in the United States but assembled in China - the consumer electronics giant made special versions for the Chinese market that do not come with the Facebook and Twitter apps pre-installed.

A gaming fan, commenting on the official approval for the sale of video-game consoles - at present available only on the black market - posted on Sina Weibo: "I don't care about the consoles, which I already have.

"What about new games? How much time does the government need to censor and approve those new games? Perhaps I should still go to my black market friends for games."

Pirated game disks are available off the street to those in the know.

Game makers must still seek approval for specific products from "culture-related authorities", people familiar with the matter said.

The Big Three game platforms - made by Sony and Nintendo of Japan and US technology giant Microsoft - are already assembled by contract electronics firms on the mainland.

Taiwan-headquartered Hon Hai Precision Industry, for example, makes the Wii for Nintendo in its mainland factories. These products are meant only for overseas markets.

In June 2000, seven ministries, led by the Ministry of Culture, jointly issued a notice banning the production and sale of game consoles on the mainland, exempting only the assembly of imported components for export.

At that time, the government was concerned about unhealthy and in particular violent content of video games that might harm the "mental health" of the young.