Sony Corp. is launching PlayStation 4 in China on Friday, more than a year after the government lifted a 14-year ban on gaming consoles.
The Chinese consoles, while physically identical to those that Sony sells worldwide, have no access to music, TV shows and movies and offer a library of only six games approved by local authorities, Bloomberg News reported.
That won’t include Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto, the two top-selling games last year.
In entering the world’s biggest gaming market, Sony must convince a generation of gamers who got used to free-to-play titles to buy consoles that cost more than the average Chinese worker’s monthly disposable income, the news agency said.
The PS4 also has to contend with China’s “Great Firewall” of internet controls, as well as restrictions on violent, sexual and political content.
“The traditional game business model has no upside when it comes to China because most gamers are on PCs and not used to paying US$60 per title,” Atul Goyal, a Singapore-based analyst with Jefferies Group LLC, was quoted as saying.
“Digital is the only future for China. Even if Sony sells a million units, we would have to look at the uptake of its paid PlayStation Plus.”
The cloud-based service, which allows PS4 users to play online, will be available with some limitations in China, said Takehito Soeda, who oversees PlayStation’s strategy in the country.
“PlayStation is first a gaming device, and that’s what we are focusing on for the launch,” Soeda told Bloomberg. “We are also considering opportunities when it comes to social networks popular with Chinese users. Video services require a bit more study because that’s a tightly controlled area.”
The PS4 is key to chief executive Kazuo Hirai’s plan to raise profits to the highest level since 1998 by emphasizing games, entertainment and image sensors over consumer electronics.
The console sold 20.2 million units sold as of March 1, making it the top seller among the current generation of players. That’s compared with 11.6 million for Microsoft’s Xbox One and 9.3 million for the Nintendo Co.’s Wii U, according to VGChartz.com.
“I’d be surprised if Xbox One and PS4 together sold over one million units in mainland China in 2015,” said Lewis Ward, research director for gaming at IDC. “If they get China right, the potential to make billions of dollars five years from now is there.”
The PS4 will sell for 2,899 yuan (US$468) and the handheld PlayStation Vita will cost 1,299 yuan, Sony said. That compares with about 2,400 yuan per capita disposable income for an average urban resident, according to government data.
Microsoft became the first foreign console vendor to enter China in September. It hasn’t released local sales numbers for the Xbox One.
Chinese vendors ZTE Corp. and TCL Multimedia Technology Holdings Ltd. have announced plans for rival products.
The government banned game consoles in 2000 in a bid to protect young people from a perceived corrupting influence. The Chinese market will be worth US$22 billion by 2017, according to a forecast by International Data Corp.
Sony is working with 26 Chinese companies to develop games for the market.
“A lot rides on how rich of a software portfolio you can offer to users, so we intend to find the right blend of overseas titles and games developed in China,” Soeda said. “We are creating a console market from scratch here.”
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