There is a recent news that China has lifted its console ban. It surprises me a lot, not because that the ban is lifted, instead it’s the fact that we had a “ban”. Here I have gathered a few stories which took place before my own eyes, that you may learn more about consoles in China and the “ban”.
The business in Gulou Street (the street of drum tower):
Every big city in China has a console business concentration street, say, Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi’an.
The tower and the stores
That street in Beijing is Gulou. In its most prosperous time, console and game related product stores line up in two streets radiating from the drum tower(the drum bits were to report hours in ancient times), more than 30 stores, big and small. Here you can buy up to time consoles, handhelds(at the price of that in US plus ￥200， postage, the store owner says.), and antique machines such as Atari system, even the short lived Nintendo Visual Boy. And virtually all the machines are illegally imported, for we have a console ban, right? And every store provides bit of extra service, for example, adding a chip to the laser lens of PS2, to enable it reading pirated discs; Or attaching a harddisk to Wii, to save you the trouble of buying discs.
Every now and then, there would be a raid made by law enforcement bureaus to the street, a few consoles are confiscated, heralding the message that those stores are after all doing illegal businesses, which should be taken care of. But in most of the time, the stores are left alone to do their business.
A few legally released consoles:
In 2003 Sony released a Chinese version PS2, with elegant silver color, and a noble price of around ￥2000 (By that time the versions of other regions cost around ￥1400). It has less than 10 officially localized games, including Devil May Cry 2, and ICO. This console was a total failure. Chiefly due to the following reasons:
1. It was much more expensive than smuggled-in PS2;
2. Too few officially localized games;
3. This Chinese machine could not be cracked. It seems too few units are sold that the cracking chip manufacturers are not interested in making chips for this system.
And in the same year, iQue, the Chinese subsidiary of Nintendo, released a Chinese version console too: the iQue Play.
The console in fact is a N64. It has the main body imbedded in the controller, playing with cassette, just like the old system. And it has less than 20 officially localized games, including Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time.
This machine is again a total failure. The Chinese gamers are outrageous:” Nintendo treats us as rubes!” For at that time, those gamers are playing games of PS2 graphic quality. Most of the system sold are purchased by foreign collectors.
The next system Nintendo presented in China was a success, the iQue DS lite. Absurdly, it has in total only 4 officially localized games. Nintendo knows it full well that the gamers would buy it to play with flash card. It releases an official version only to outsell the illegally imported ones.
The Shanzhai machines
In Chinese, Shanzhai (山寨 Made in a Village) means awkward imitations. The Shanzhai machines’ history is very long.
Look at those machines, I’m sure you can guess their originals.
Of course those counterfeit companies don’t have the same technological might of Sony and Nintendo, so very often the machines with the likeness of Playstation 3, have a very old system within the shell, for example, NES, Sega MD.
The most famous of all those is Xiaobawang, a facsimile of NES, presented in 90s. At that time, manufacturers and players alike had little notion of intellectual property. They didn’t know that the product had some theft involved. And even Jackie Chan had made some TV ads for the machine, without being aware of that he was actually selling a grey product.
So, in those years:
Could consoles be officially released in China? Yes.
Could illegally imported consoles be sold? Yes.
Could local companies make and sell Shanzhai consoles? Yes.
Was there a console ban? I don’t know.
Perhaps, the message of “lift the ban”, is only coined to attract abroad companies to enter the Chinese market. To be sure, the underplay of console games is not due to a ban. The true reason is that to most Chinese young people, a dedicated gaming machine is not affordable economically in the past and psychologically at present. PC and phones are much better choices.
More of my articles about games & art production: