Foreign Game System Sales Okay, Says Chinese Government, but You’ll Need Our Approval

Think of it as trial run, because the ban's removal is temporary and the timeframe indefinite.

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For 14 years, selling game consoles not made by Chinese companies (and sanctioned by the Chinese government) has been officially verboten, but that’s finally about to change: China’s State Council will temporarily allow the sale of foreign game consoles, reports Reuters, rescinding a ban on the likes of Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft’s consoles that’s been in place for nearly a decade and a half.

The catch: “foreign-invested enterprises” must seek and gain the approval of the Chinese government to both make consoles “within Shanghai’s free trade zone” and sell them in China. That’s all we know at this point. Reuters apparently noticed the announcement in a statement posted to China’s government website, but noted the statement “gave no further details.”

That smacking sound you’re faintly hearing could be Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo licking their lips. China is the most populous country in the world, though this temporary stand-down doesn’t addresses other serious issues, say China’s censorship of games that don’t comport with the government’s self-image. The PC version of EA’s Battlefield 4, for example, was just banned on the grounds that it contained “content that endangers national security, and is all about a cultural invasion.” I’d hate to be a game developer trying to design a game — or retool an existing one — around that sort of censorship.

The original ban enacted back in 2000 listed gaming’s effect on gamers’ mental health among its (dubious) justifications. It’s not clear how many illicit consoles are in circulation anyway — I’ve read reports of a gray market for these things for years. That the ban’s been temporarily lifted isn’t a surprise, either: rumors earlier this year suggested this was imminent. The motivation, given the scope of the international games industry, is clearly economic. And while it does sound like a lucrative opportunity for companies like Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, Games in Asia ran an interesting piece in September outlining why it believes the lift won’t generate piles of cash for foreign investors.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full