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China’s 13-year ban on video games and console sales set to end

In what amounts to a landmark moment for the global landscape for video games, China has officially approved a plan to end the country’s 13-year ban on the sale of video game consoles, The Hollywood Reporter confirms. The policy change is laid out in a document that sets up the rules for a free-trade zone in Shanghai. Companies will be able to peddle their products to Chinese consumers so long as they set up joint venture operations in the Shanghai Free-Trade Zone and receive approval from the country’s Ministry of Culture. 

The ban on video game consoles went into effect in 2000 as a government response to public outcry from parents, who claimed that such forms of entertainment would rot their kids’ brains. Ultimately, the move simply redirected what amounted to an intense interest in gaming among Chinese consumers to the realms of PC and mobile, as well as to the so-called “grey market,” where import hardware and software continued to be available.

The lifting of the ban means that companies like Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony will now be able to actively market their products to China’s population of 1.35 billion people. Such a large consumer base could significantly alter the types of games that we see coming to market. Why would Microsoft make a game specifically for the 316 million people in the United States when there’s a billion-plus in China with an entirely different set of tastes? It’s an impossible situation to predict, but you can fairly speculate that the opening of this massive new market is going to ripple outward into the games industry in unexpected ways.

While the console ban also introduced an unavoidable de facto ban on console games, the fact that content creators will still need approval from China’s Ministry of Culture means that certain types of games will still need to be altered or simply not sold. Bans are frequently placed on otherwise legally available PC games in China because of their content; sex, drugs, excessive amounts of blood, organized crime, and anything that defames the country or its government are simply not allowed, and that attitude doesn’t seem likely to change if the Ministry of Culture still has content oversight.

The end of China’s game console ban first came up as a possibility earlier in 2013. A source within the Ministry of Culture told local news outlet China Daily that the decade-old policy was under review, though its age coupled with the fact that the ban was issued by seven government ministries meant that a long approval process lay ahead.