China Daily’s Shen Jingting reports rumblings within China’s Ministry of Culture about a possible end to the 13-year ban on game consoles which have made Sony and Nintendo shares jump. The bureaucratic tangle surrounding the restrictions may, however, prove immovable.
Because of fears of the potential harm to the physical and mental development of the young, seven Chinese ministries collectively banned the […] sale and import of game consoles in China in 2000.
Major game console vendors across the world, including Microsoft Corp, Nintendo Co and Sony Corp, made several attempts but failed to find a way to enter the Chinese mainland market officially.
“We are reviewing the policy and have conducted some surveys and held discussions with other ministries on the possibility of opening up the game console market,” a source from the Ministry of Culture, who asked not to be named, said.
“However, since the ban was issued by seven ministries more than a decade ago, we will need approval from all parties to lift it,” the source said.
Inertia may be the best explanation for the ban’s endurance when, despite occasional crackdowns, online games are not only tolerated by the government but heavily subsidized and used as propaganda outlets. Even the Ministry of Culture may not in fact support the change: according to Reuters, an official from the relevant department denied that an end to the ban was being considered.
Even so, China has not been a console-free zone. China Daily interviewed a veteran Gulou gray market vendor, while at Ars Technica, Kyle Orland described other cracks in the wall:
Despite the ban, many retailers and wholesalers have illegally imported legitimate consoles into China over the past decade. Console makers have found loopholes to get their products into the Chinese market as well. In 2003, Nintendo went through a local partner company to release the iQue, a controller-shaped device that plugged directly into the TV and played several downloadable Nintendo 64 games. The Nintendo DS has been available in the country as the “iQue DS” since 2005.
Sony released the PlayStation 2 in China in 2004 (after convincing the Japanese government that it wouldn’t be used for missile guidance systems) but quickly withdrew the system after widespread piracy prevented the profit-generating game sales. Last November, Sony obtained a “Compulsory Certificate” to sell the PS3 in China through 2016, another hint that the anti-console policy may be weakening. Microsoft sells the Kinect in China, but mainly for use in scientific and medical research, not as a game controller.