Sony have finally struck a deal with Chinese technology authorities, now making way for the company’s flagship PlayStation 5 to be sold in mainland China. The system opened for online and retail pre-orders April 29 and the system will launch on May 15.
Yeah, sure, Sony and China finally reached an agreement, but anyone who knows anything about the Chinese gaming scene would realize that a mainland China PlayStation 5 is basically a brick compared to a system from Taiwan, Hong Kong or Japan. Chinese gamers have imported their systems for as long as gaming has existed, and having an official Chinese launch for the PlayStation 5 won’t do much to stop the importing market since the upcoming system will certainly host huge amounts of censorship.
Let me put it this way: there’s a reason every game that comes out in the vague “Asia” region comes with simplified Mandarin Chinese as a language choice. The mainland Chinese government has been notoriously litigious about banning, or modifying television, movies and video games before they enter the country and that trend isn’t going anywhere with the PlayStation 5.
The Chinese PlayStation 5 will run with a modified version of the PlayStation Network online service and a highly restricted version of the digital storefront. Anyone who actually wants to use their PlayStation 5 already imported it from Japan, Taiwan, or Hong Kong back in November.
Think about Nintendo: China and Nintendo reached an agreement allowing the Switch to be sold legally in the mainland, but every Switch for the mainland is licenced and manufactured by Tencent. Now, think of Nintendo’s most popular Switch games: Animal Crossing New Horizons, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild; those are some good ones. Well, they’re both flat-out banned in China. So even if you own a Chinese Switch, you can’t download the games on the Nintendo digital store and you can’t buy the game domestically.
Until 2014 video game consoles were wholly banned in China, leading to a massive amount of PC gamers in the region. That domination still hasn’t been undone, but since the PC market already almost solely uses VPNs and plays foreign games, the same attitude flows into the console market.
China’s arbitrary ban on console video games was a long-standing pillar of a culture war the mainland fought against its own people. Chinese officials, however, found the monetary benefit of video games too sweet to ignore, leading to their new faux-consoles.
Sure, someone in Shanghai can now buy a PlayStation 5 from an official retailer. But what’s the point in buying a console that unambiguously tracks your activity and plays a minuscule portion of games compared to neighboring regions when you can just get one shipped to you on Taobao from Japan, Taiwan or Hong Kong? The Hong Kong loophole seems to be quickly closing however due to the mainland’s speedy annexation of the once-democratic region.