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Eight years after botched PS2 launch, is Sony bringing PlayStation 3 to China?

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Strange but true: Video game consoles are illegal in China. The country of origin for a never-ending tide of bootleg video game console games—China’s ShenZhen Ninjing Technology was pumping out bootleg versions of games like Final Fantasy VII for the NES as recently as 2005—does not legally allow the sale of the consoles to actually play those games. Legally, that is. Game makers have been finding loopholes to that law, first instituted in 2000, for years. There are signs that the ban may be lifting or at least softening as Sony’s PlayStation 3 gains official certification in the country.

Posters on Chinese social network Sina Weibo (via Tech In Asia) noted that a “China Compulsory Certificate” was granted to Sony earlier this year for the PlayStation 3. The certificate is “a compulsory safety mark for many products imported, sold, or used in the Chinese market.” Sony’s certificate will be valid through 2016, the year that the PlayStation 3 will celebrate the ten-year lifespan Sony touted for the machine before it released in the US, Europe, and Japan in 2006.

Sony and its consoles have a strange history in China. The Chinese government banned the sale of game consoles back in 2000 because, it claimed, video games corrupted young minds. At the time, Sony was preparing to release the PlayStation 2, but the Japanese government was leery about the export of that console to some continental Asian countries. (The fear was that the PlayStation 2’s processor could be repurposed for use in nuclear missile guidance systems.) Sony did plan to release the PlayStation 2 in China, and gained legal approval to do so, but delayed plans in 2003 and eventually released it in 2004. The launch was a complete failure, though, with both the console and its games pirated en masse.

How did Sony get around the ban then? It’s not too difficult. Lenovo-backed Eedo skirted around the ban when it released its Kinect-like CT510 game console back in May by designating the machine an “exercise console” rather than a gaming machine.

With certification in hand, when will Sony release the PlayStation 3 in China? It might not at all, since the certification is far from a guarantee that Sony will enter the market. With PlayStation 3 sales flagging worldwide, Sony is in sore need of a new market. Given Apple’s success selling legitimate goods in China over the past few years, there may be an opportunity for Sony to make a mark on an untapped, legal market in China.