Video game piracy vanishing in China due to open policies

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Guangdong Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism showed that Tencent will be the official distributor of Nintendo Switch game Mario Bros U in the Chines mainland, on April 18.

Following this reveal, gamers believed that the Switch would soon be coming to retail stores in the Chinese mainland.

The old limitation

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) first entered the Chinese mainland through Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan during the late 1980s. At that time, the per capita GDP of China was 1/73 of the US and the going rate for an NES was about 1,500 yuan ($222), or a year’s salary for a normal family. This high price for just the console, along with its expensive games, meant that the NES was not able to make much headway in the mainland.

However, the console was a boon for Subor Culture Development, who produced a series of cheaper consoles called Xiaobawang (Little Hegemon) that could play pirated NES games. The console was able to fly under the radar of government oversight in part because it was sold as a “study assistance device.”

In June 2000, then-China’s Ministry of CultureMinistry of Public Security and General Administrations of Customs introduced regulations forbidding the sale of gaming devices or the production of gaming devices for the mainland market due to worries about video game addiction among children. This regulation basically put an end to the rapid growth of the large-scale Chinese game market.

Game on

In late 2013, rumors began circulating in overseas media that China would soon be ending its ban on gaming consoles. According to a report from Sina News from that year, PlayStation maker Sony’s share prices rose 8.8 percent, hitting a new high since April 2012 and Nintendo shares rose 8.2 percent, hitting a new high since August 2011.

The rumors soon turned out to be true.

On January 6, 2014, the State Council officially announced that foreign-funded enterprises would be permitted to sell game devices that have been reviewed by relevant institutions, ending the 13-year ban on gaming.

On September 29, 2014, Microsoft released a Chinese version of its Xbox One in the mainland market. It was the first game console to be sold under the new regulations.

The following year, a Chinese version of Sony’s PlayStation 4 hit the mainland on March 30. Many popular games overseas were also released in the mainland in Chinese, giving Chinese gamers renewed confidence in their hobby.

Shao Ran, a master student at the Graduate School of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences shared his experience. “It was not easy to buy,” he said.

He recalled that when the PlayStation 4 was released in the mainland, he couldn’t get his hands on one. “I wanted to buy it at the official Sony store in the mall, but they told me they had already sold out the 20 that they had in stock in just one day!”

The right choice

“I have to admit that I once played pirated games when I was a kid,” Shao said. “Non-pirated games were too expensive, only a few people could afford them.”

However, Shao notes that things have changed now.

Players are going to legitimate retailers to get new games. Many of them are even buying the legal versions of the games they played as children.

“Price is a major factor, but another important thing is an increased awareness about intellectual property,” Shao said.

“Such as Plants vs. Zombies. It was very popular at that time, but no one paid for it. Everyone played pirated versions downloaded from the internet.”

“But now Plants vs. Zombies is just 12 yuan on [PC gaming platform] Steam, so why not pay for the game that made you happy?” Shao said, adding that he has bought more than 100 games on Steam he had played as a kid.

Shao also talked about the stigma around playing video games.

“Limiting video games for children is necessary because they can’t control themselves,” Shao said. “But outright banning video games is bad for both game makers and players.”