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China removes ban on sales of game consoles manufactured in FTZ

SHANGHAI -- China has formally authorized the domestic sale of game consoles made in Shanghai's new free trade zone (FTZ), potentially opening its lucrative market to the likes of Sony's PlayStation and Microsoft's Xbox.

The move effectively lifts a ban lasting more than a decade on domestic console sales — even though imports remain officially blocked, while illicit machines are already widely available.

Foreign firms will be allowed to make machines in the free-trade zone and sell the equipment into the domestic market after passing inspection by cultural authorities, the State Council, or cabinet, said in a document dated December 21 but publicly released this week.

But commentators point out that consumers are unlikely to want to pay high prices for consoles and authorized software, especially if it is slow coming to the market.

On China's largest online marketplace Taobao, some grey-market vendors were offering Microsoft's new Xbox One for around US$656 and Sony's PS4 for about US$566 on Wednesday.

By comparison, the Xbox One debuted at US$500 in the United States in late November while the PS4 was priced at US$400.

But the machines already available in China — which enter the market through unofficial channels — can play pirated games that cost very little.

“It's impossible that game consoles will become big sellers, as they are relatively niche products in China. Authentic game consoles are usually expensive and nobody will purchase them except a few fanatical players,” Yang Jiaxiang, an independent game design consultant, told AFP.

“They (companies) need government approval to issue game software in China, so they won't be able to keep updates up to speed unless China reforms its approval mechanism,” he added.

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