For a while now, the console war has been decided on the Western battlefront, Japan no longer the deciding factor in both sales and what influences game design. American sales and taste has given rise to the most popular and successful video games of all time, but now, on the eve of the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One, a new soldier in the console war has joined the fight, and could massively boost sales, as well as instigate a sea change in game design that will forever alter the video gaming landscape. Chinese gamers historically have very different taste when it comes to games — and if they become the majority, which they probably will, this could be spell the end of the West’s obsession with shooters and the start of a new era of MMOs, MOBAs, and sandbox games.
For the past 13 years, the sale of video game consoles was banned in China. China’s State Council has now decided that video game consoles can be sold across the entire country so long as the foreign companies establish sales and production operations in Shanghai’s new free trade zone. Establishing either of those things isn’t particularly difficult, as China already has another successful free trade zone in Shenzhen. Video game consoles, however, weren’t banned due to tricky foreign production and sales policies, but becauseChina decided that video games stunt the development of its youth. Of course, this didn’t prevent the entirety of video games from existing in the country, as the country’s citizens were still able to play PC and mobile games, and the black market does what it wants. Now, though, the Chinese government has lifted the console ban — perhaps because it has finally gotten with the times and realized video games don’t inherently stunt the development of youth, but largely in order to stimulate the new free trade zone in Shanghai.
As we saw a week ago, the iPhone 5S — though barely changed from the previous iPhone 5 — absolutely demolished previous iPhone sales records by almost double. The iPhone 5 sold around five million units through the opening weekend, while the 5S and 5C sold around nine million units combined during its opening weekend, with the 5S significantly outselling the 5C. Did the addition of a new, somewhat gaudy gold color and an easily-bypassed fingerprint scanner really make four million sales worth of a difference? Perhaps, but the 5S (and 5C) was the first time Apple began selling iPhones in China on release day, rather than after a long delay. The Chinese market certainly boosts sales, and in Apple’s case, to record-breaking amounts. Surely, allowing the sale one of the most popular forms of modern-day entertainment would give the next generation of consoles a boost.
The only caveat here is that PS4 and Xbox One may not see the benefits of the new market for a few years. The new policies will roll out over the course of the following three years. It’s still a savvy move on China’s part. Console manufacturers and game developers would love to leverage China’s population of 1.4 billion people as new customers, and China would love to get its new trade zone brimming with successful, modern businesses.
The details are currently slim, but we do know that China will allow the sale of game consoles to its residents. Even if a fraction of those 1.4 billion people hopped aboard the eighth generation, that would easily change the tide of Sony’s or Microsoft’s fortunes. For instance, the PlayStation 3 has sold a little less than 80 million units worldwide. If just 5% of China’s population purchases a PS4, that’s 80 million units — the number it took the entire world to hit over the course of seven years — sold in one country alone.
If the console market can break into China, and just a tiny fraction of the country’s population is interested in and can afford to purchase the consoles, that could feasibly change the face of the entire gaming industry. Assuming Chinese console gamers eventually become the majority, it could even change the culture and taste to which the gaming industry is trying to appeal.