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China has officially approved plans to end a 13-year ban on the sale of video game consoles, according to a document released Friday outlining rules for a new free-trade zone in Shanghai. The move could open up a multi-billion-dollar market for game developers Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft.
The statement released by the State Council, the body responsible for top-level policy decisions in the country, says foreign companies will be allowed to sell video games and consoles across China, so long as they set up joint venture operations within the new Shanghai FTZ. The games and devices will first be subject to approval by the Ministry of Culture, however.
Game consoles have been banned in China since 2000 because of government concerns over the ideological content of such products and the impact that video-game violence might have on children.
Xbox, Sony PlayStation and other consoles by foreign companies have been easy to get at electronics retail outlets across China despite the ban, but gaming companies have never been able to market their products directly to Chinese consumers. In the vacuum, Chinese gamers have largely turned to PC-, cell phone-, and social media-based gaming.
Microsoft may have had a tip to the policy change. Earlier this week the company unveiled plans to invest $237 million into a joint venture with Chinese Internet TV company BesTV New Media, to be based in the Shanghai FTZ, where it will develop “family games and related services,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
The Shanghai Free Trade Zone is part of the Chinese government’s ongoing plan to develop Shanghai into a global financial hub to rival New York, London and Hong Kong. The zone will be based in an 11-square-mile area in the gleaming skyscraper district of Pudong.
The program is similar to the one introduced by former premiere Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, which opened China up to foreign investment by establishing “special economic zones” in the country’s south, where the great manufacturing boom then took place.
Much speculation has been swirling around the Shanghai FTZ. Earlier this week, Hong Kong newspaper the South China Morning Post reported that Twitter, Facebook and Western media sites deemed politically sensitive by the government, such as The New York Times, would be made accessible within the FTZ. State mouthpiece the People’s Daily ran a story the following day, however, saying no changes to China’s Internet censorship system widely known as “The Great Firewall” — would be introduced anytime soon.
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