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Gaming in China: A Pandora's Box for Console Makers

A little over a week ago, news came out that China is lifting their 13-year ban on console gaming. In a nutshell, a "Free Trade Zone" has been created with the sole purpose to create jobs, maybe stir some economic reforms, as well as luring in foreign investors and business.

Who's got a killer smile and loves foreign investors? THIS GUY!

Here's a snippet of the policy as it pertains to gaming regarding the Shanghai Free Trade Zone (FTZ).

7) Video game consoles, entertainment systems sales and services (National Economic Industry Classification: F Wholesale and Retail — 5179 Other machinery and electronic product whole sale).

Opening Steps: Video game and entertainment equipment manufacture and retail are now permitted, pending cultural department inspection and approval of video game and entertainment devices that can be sold to the domestic market.

I added the emphasis to the last sentence as I feel that is a major stipulation to the entire FTZ. Even though companies will now be free to sell consoles and games in the country, they will still have to pass through the Chinese government for a cultural inspection. I think we can all agree that this is a MAJOR stipulation in a country like China, known for draconian censorship practices.

However, this may be a hoop that console makers are willing to jump through. Light the hoop on fire even and put it over a pool of man-eating sharks while you're at it, as we're talking about billions of dollars and millions of potential consumers. It may very well be worth it, if you're Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo. For gamers however, this may eventually become a raw deal. Eventually, even the console makers may find that they have opened Pandora's Box. All I can say is be careful what you wish for console makers, the grass is not always greener on the other side. (BONUS POINTS FOR THREE CLICHES IN A ROW +3)!!!

Videogames are not the only medium that has made a big push to get distribution in the east and in particular, China. The movie industry spent years trying to get access to the immense potential of Chinese audience. The fruits of their labor have been paying off lately as International box office receipts have been growing steadily over the years, being led by a Chinese market looking for western themed movies that is enjoying growth of around 30 percent per year. We're not talking chump change here.

There has been an interesting side affect to breaking into the Chinese market, and that is poorer results at home for movies. Even though tickets sales are doing extremely well in China, they have been dropping domestically.  The Chinese sales more than make up the difference, but one only needs to look at how poorly reviewed and received the summer "Blockbuster" movie season has been this year for proof that Hollywood is under performing at home.

6-time Oscar winning Irish film director Jim Sheridan, known for his films such as My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father was pretty frank about this topic at a press conference at the Busan International Film Festival. Sheridan states that "...Hollywood is making movies for China and India and Brazil and Russia. So they don't want dialogue movies. They don't want dramas. They've migrated the drama to TV." You can read more about it here.

So movies are "being watered" down, if you will, for an international audience. Hollywood is going for a one-size-fits-all approach. Sheridan goes on to say "...the only movies that are working are the high-rise movies. Huge investments with no dialogue, no drama."

International film director and leather jacket model Jim Sheridan

It's perfectly logical to believe that if console gaming breaks into China, there is no reason not to believe that gaming will see the same type of decline in quality in terms of story.  We're already seeing it now with games and series like Call of Duty and Battlefield, where the story is pretty much nonexistent and laughable, in place only as a primer for online multiplayer.

There's also parallels between the shift from the cinema to TV for dramas and gaming's Indie and DLC scene. Look at successful television dramas like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, Dexter, Homeland, Downton Abbey etc... these may have made fine movies. Instead, they have become highly successful TV dramas. In today's market, I reckon if these were made into movies, they would not not be as successful as television dramas.

Games like Journey, Limbo, FEZ, Sam & Max, Unfinished Swan, The Walking Dead, I can go on and on. These are games that if they had a full retail release, would most likely have done poorly. Yet, as downloadable games on either PSN or XBL,  these games are successful.  

In the end, there really is nothing to stop the industry from breaking into the Chinese market and truly going global to all "emerging" markets. They have been trying to do it for years, by circumventing the system and partnering up media companies in order to bypass the the console ban (See Nintendo iQue). Now, they have been given clear access with the FTZ.

Console? What console? Hey, what's that over there? RUN!

Videogames are big business and the goal for any business is to grow and expand your audience. All I'll say is as the industry becomes more global, the story lines and genres will need to become more universal and fans should be prepared for this inevitability of more big budget blockbuster games on disk (for now) and more niche titles on DLC. As it is, we're pretty much already on that trajectory, I expect it to become even more pronounced.

Love to hear what the community thinks of this. Let me know in the comments.
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About SpielerDadone of us since 5:24 PM on 02.08.2013

I'm just a dad writing about games, technology, movies, and geeky stuff that tickles my fancy.

A little background:
- I'm the youngest of two children with one older sister.

- I'm first generation American as my parents were born in Italy.

- Married to a wonderful wife and have two amazing daughters who makes me laugh, smile, cry, and scream every day.

- Hobbies include exercise, reading, writing, sci-fi, film, and of course, video games.