China lifts 13-year ban on foreign video games

7 Jan 2014

China lifts 13-year ban on foreign video games

For the first time, officially, gamers in China will be able to get their hands on games like GTAV and Call of Duty: Ghosts after the country lifted its 13-year ban on foreign video games.

In a move which is sure to delight millions of avid gamers in the one-party state, China’s government has been struggling to stem the sale and ownership of foreign video games.

In what has been seen as the gradual erosion of China’s strict media laws, the Shanghai government has proclaimed (will need translation software) that at a future but near date, people in China will be able to purchase and own video games that were produced outside China.

However, the government has emphasised this will be an experimental measure to gauge people’s reaction and, from their point of view, the effect it will have on what it has considered a worrying foreign cultural influence on the Chinese people. Therefore, all video games, like all media, will have to be given the green light by the Chinese authorities before it can be released.

One game that certainly won’t be hitting the shelves of Chinese electronic stores is the popular EA title Battlefield 4, which was banned in December for what the government believed portrayed a considerably unfavourable image of China as home to war-mongering people.

Thriving black-market trade

One argument for the removal or loosening of restrictions is the Chinese authorities are struggling to cope with a thriving black-market trade in video games. In many Chinese households, teenagers own a black-market console that has been ‘chipped’ to play bootlegged versions of the latest games, often costing less than US$1 per game.

The same problem exists in other media, like DVDs, where bootleggers have gone to bizarre lengths to somehow differentiate their DVDs from the official version, often with hilarious consequences.

It is yet to be seen how long the ban will be uplifted but it is expected to be a part of China’s continuing experimentation in opening up its economy gradually to a free-market globalised model.

The home-grown gaming industry is understandably huge in a nation of nearly 1.4bn tech-loving people. At the Game Developers Conference China last December, data released showed that the industry generated nearly US$10bn of revenue alone in the nation’s economy.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic