How censored will China's console games be?

Apr 21 2014, 10:34pm CDT | by

At this point, more or less everyone knows that China will allow video game consoles and console games created by foreign companies to be manufactured and sold in China, ending a 13-year ban on the sale of consoles and console games. But although consoles are now legal, Chinese gamers shouldn’t get too excited about the prospect of playing hot Western console games like Grand Theft Auto V.

Shanghai’s government recently released the specific details of what foreign companies will be permitted to do in the console industry. As expected, all console games will have to pass a government inspection for content before they can be released, and the list of banned content is long and open to interpretation .

Interpreted broadly, it would likely ban most games involving violence or crime, any game with any kind of in-game gambling, and even games with in-game maps that don’t mark disputed territories as being a part of China. Interpreted more narrowly, it might mean that most games can get through unmolested.

How exactly the games will be judged remains to be seen. There are some reasons for optimism. Chief among them: the games will be evaluated by a Shanghai government agency rather than China’s national Ministry of Culture. It’s not yet known how the Shanghai agency will judge the games it assesses, but there is hope that it may take a more lenient approach than the national Ministry. Additionally, the rules stipulate that rejected games will be returned with clear reasons for their rejection, meaning that in some cases companies may be able to tweak their games and re-submit them to gain approval.

In general, it sounds like the submission process has been simplified and shortened greatly; for example, all submitted games will be assessed and then accepted or rejected within twenty days. Content updates like DLC will need to get separate approval before they can be released, but the Shanghai rules make it sound like minor patches like bug fixes can be released by developers in real time. That’s all good news for foreign companies wanting to get into the console game in China.

Still though, the degree to which console games are censored could easily make or break the console industry in China. If most of the popular, desirable games (like Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, and Battlefield), Chinese console gamers are likely to stick to hacked machines and gray-market imports they’ve been using over the last decade. (China’s enforcement of the console ban was quite lax, and it’s quite easy to find both consoles and games in most Chinese cities). That would mean very low sales numbers for legitimate consoles in the Middle Kingdom, which is somethign Sony and Microsoft will be hoping to avoid.

 
 

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