China Lifts Their Console Ban... But with Strings Attached

You've probably heard that China has a video game console ban. Over the last year, there have been rumors that the 13 year-old ban would be lifted—and last Friday evening, a sneaky online posting by the Chinese government seems to have confirmed that the ban has indeed been lifted.

This past July, the State Council of China (the Chinese cabinet) approved and announced the development of a new Shanghai Free Trade Zone (or FTZ). The purpose of this zone is supposedly to create new jobs in Shanghai and to help "open up" China to new foreign investments, as well as possibly encourage better currency exchange.

The specifics of the FTZ was released last Friday afternoon. While it doesn't outline everything about the FTZ, it does offer some insight to what will happen in the zone as well as information regarding video games and consoles.

Section three, article 7 of the government document details the FTZ's policies on video games.

China Lifts Their Console Ban... But with Strings Attached
3, Trade and Services Domain

  • 7, Video game consoles, entertainment systems sales and services (National Economic Industry Classification: F Wholesale and Retail — 5179 Other machinery and electronic product whole sale)
    Opening Steps: Video game and entertainment equipment manufacture and retail are now permitted, pending cultural department inspection and approval of video game and entertainment devices that can be sold to the domestic market.

Effectively what this means is that video game consoles are no longer banned in China. There is more to it, however.One sentence in article seven states that sales will be pending the approval of government departments, particularly ones that deal with culture. One can expect it to be the Ministry of Culture, but the way the document is worded, it's hard to tell.

Earlier last year, the General Administration of Press and Publication, one of the major players in culture-related governance in China, merged with the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television to create the General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television. Their total outreach is now bigger and more ambiguous. The other players, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Commerce, and now the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology all have a hand in the pie that is video games.

One of the major issues back in 2000, when the console ban was instated, was that too many "relevant" departments had a say in what was allowed and what wasn't. This resulted in a competition to see which department would reign supreme, which it really hard for non-Chinese companies to enter the market.


Everyone and their mother is getting excited for nothing.


This time around, if feels like the government is saying that they are allowing game console sales, but these consoles need to be approved before they can be sold. The question now is, how many hoops will foreign game makers need to jump through before they can legally produce and sell systems as well as games in China?

Now, I'm not a China apologist nor am I a China downer (I know I appear to be the latter, but I really am not), but I find the whole idea of the lifting of the console ban in Shanghai to be poorly implemented and I think everyone and their mother is getting excited for nothing. It's too early to tell right now what is going on.

If China was to really let game consoles into the Chinese market, unfettered, why did Microsoft go into business with BesTV? Why didn't this happen when they launched various special economic zones in China? China has already squashed rumors that in the Shanghai FTZ there will be open internet with connections available to Facebook and Twitter.

Even if the console ban is truly lifted, there probably won't be much of an impact anyway—we'll find out more about the FTZ and the gaming ban probably later in October, as Golden Week is this week in China (which makes the launching of the FTZ this past weekend a rather odd decision.)

Top Photo: Guang Niu / Getty Images

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Eric is a Beijing based writer and all around FAT man. You can contact him @FatAsianTechie@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @FatAsianTechie.