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Nintendo Switch is coming to China thanks to a tie-up with Tencent

Gamers are excited by the arrival of Switch with New Super Mario Bros. U but they’re disappointed that Tencent is the distributor

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

The Nintendo Switch is finally coming to China. But far from being happy, some gamers are actually disappointed… because it’s being distributed by Tencent.

Time and time again, Nintendo said China was too tough to enter. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a new government document popped up showing that Tencent will be distributing the Nintendo Switch, bundled with New Super Mario Bros. U, in China.
The Wall Street Journal also said that the Japanese gaming company has submitted a request to the Chinese government for approval to sell the Nintendo Switch in China, with a Nintendo spokesman confirming a collaboration with Tencent.

Why does Nintendo need Tencent? Turns out, console gaming is a tricky business in China, as the country only recently legalized sales. Before that, China banned console gaming for 15 years.

Why the impact of China’s 15-year console ban still lingers today

Of course, it’s China: Consoles were always readily available as gray imports. But those are subject to retailer mark-ups and aren’t localized into Chinese. So it’s safe to say that gamers have been waiting a long time for Nintendo to officially arrive back in China, especially with a console as hot as the Switch.


But when this bombshell news dropped, many fans expressed their disappointment by Nintendo’s choice of partner: China’s biggest gaming company, Tencent.

“Nintendo has fallen from the altar,” a popular online comment wrote.
Another online comment wrote, “Oh god, I can already see an Arena of Valor special edition, featuring Li Bai and Diao Chan.”

Arena of Valor, China’s mobile League of Legends, is aiming to be the world’s go-to mobile esport

Why don’t gamers trust Tencent for the job? Many are skeptical that Tencent -- which has a huge presence in gaming as the developer of Arena of Valor and PUBG Mobile, as well as having stakes in the companies behind Fortnite and Assassin’s Creed -- doesn’t have the best interest of gamers at heart. Despite those big hits, they dislike the company’s record of pumping out knockoffs or pay-to-win games (or, sometimes, both).

And some gamers reckon they don’t need Tencent anyway because of China’s massive gray market. Sure, it’s not officially available, but it’s easy to find the Nintendo Switch on ecommerce sites like Taobao and thanks to scalpers from Hong Kong and other places.
The Nintendo Switch isn’t officially available in China… but it’s readily available on ecommerce platforms like and Taobao thanks to scalpers. (Source:
But there are also those who are willing to give Tencent benefit of the doubt. One Weibo comment says, “Personally, I think the pros outweigh the cons with this one, as long as Nintendo doesn’t place a region lock on its console.” (The Switch is currently not region locked outside of China.)

“[User experience will improve] in terms of network stability, language localization and the price of games,” he added.

Others suggest that the gray market isn’t the answer, because imported Switch consoles can’t even connect to the internet because Nintendo doesn’t (yet) have approval to officially run Switch Online services in China.
When Pokemon Let’s Go was launched last year, scalpers were caught smuggling 65 Poké Ball Plus and 51 Nintendo Switch games across the border from Hong Kong to Shenzhen. (Picture: Taobao)

Many gamers also have faith in Tencent helping Nintendo to get games past China’s censors, as the Shenzhen company has been able to land some of the biggest gaming IPs such as Fortnite and League of Legends in China.


One way or another, Chinese gamers are shocked by the sudden arrival of the Nintendo Switch. That’s especially the case considering how tight-lipped Nintendo has been about its China strategy.

In fact, as recent as this February, Nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa said the company has become more focused on making smartphone games for China, instead of the console games that are its primary focus everywhere else.
A similar argument was made last year where the company said that although the gaming market in China is massive, the “market for dedicated video game platforms is small,” thereby making their interest in cracking China less urgent.

But despite that, Nintendo has had a strange sort of foothold in China for years.

Most notably, Nintendo used to sell its devices in China through a joint venture called iQue during China’s console ban. While the ban thwarted foreign companies such as Microsoft and Sony from distributing consoles in China, the quasi-homegrown iQue managed to sell Nintendo devices by branding them as handheld or plug-and-play systems, under the name of iQue.
In recent years, a few Nintendo Wii games have also become available in China on the Nvidia Shield Android TV box -- a remarkable sight, as beyond smartphones, Nintendo hasn’t released titles on other platforms in years.

For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.