China’s long-standing ban on video game consoles has been temporarily lifted, its government has confirmed.
The restriction was introduced in 2000 amid concerns the consoles were adversely affecting youngsters’ mental health.
The move will pave the way for Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo to enter one of the world’s most lucrative markets.
The absence of consoles has left PC games with almost two-thirds of the market, according to data released at the annual China games industry conference in December.
The suspension of the ban permits “foreign-invested enterprises” to make game consoles within Shanghai’s free trade zone and sell them in China after inspection by cultural departments, the government’s top decision-making authority, the State Council, said in a statement.
The statement did not give more details and officials were not available to clarify the ruling, or say how long the suspension would last.
China saw video game revenues grow by more than a third in 2012 to nearly $14 billion last year, but console makers are likely to face an uphill battle for market share in a country where a whole generation has grown up without a PlayStation, Xbox or Wii and where free PC and mobile games dominate.
Nintendo, which makes the Wii consoles, told Reuters the ruling changed little from when China’s government said in September last year that it planned to lift the ban.
“We are still not sure exactly what we will be able to do in Shanghai, and thereafter in Greater China,” said Yasuhiro Minagawa, Nintendo’s Japan-based public relations manager.
“Both with hardware and software, there are many things we have to look into and so we can’t say anything concrete.”
Sony also sounded a note of caution.
“We do recognise that China is a promising market, and we will continue to study the possibility,” said Satoshi Nakajima, a spokesman for Sony Computer Entertainment, the unit of Sony responsible for the PlayStation console business.