December 11, 2014 / 11:11 AM / 5 years ago

Censors loom large over Sony's PlayStation prospects in China

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Sony Corp should fear China’s censors almost as much as rival Microsoft Corp when it launches its PlayStation 4 gaming console in the world’s third-largest gaming market next month.

Visitors look at Sony Corp's PlayStation 4 game consoles and control pads displayed at a booth during the Tokyo Game Show 2014 in Makuhari, east of Tokyo in this September 18, 2014 file picture. REUTERS/Yuya Shino/Files

Sony said on Thursday that PlayStation 4 will go on sale in China from January 11. Its announcement in Shanghai follows Microsoft’s launch of its Xbox console in China as the two firms rush to capitalize on the end to a 14-year ban on foreign gaming consoles.

Sony plans to sell PlayStation 4 in China for 2,899 yuan ($468), slightly higher than in the United States where it sells for around $400.

Consumer technology analysts said its biggest obstacle wasn’t pricing but something beyond the company’s control: Beijing’s notoriously tough censors.

“The Chinese censor will be Sony’s biggest challenge,” said Roger Sheng, research director at tech research firm Gartner.

China’s censorship regime is expected to limit the number of gaming titles available, at least initially, as all software needs official approval before it can be sold, analysts say. These approvals can take time.

Sony tried to address such concerns on Thursday, promising to bring numerous titles to China.

“Cooperating with the government, we’ll provide a broad range of content for our users in China,” Hiroyuki Oda, head of Asia business at Sony Computer Entertainment, told reporters.

A company spokesman said it had already applied for licenses for 30 gaming titles and several had already been approved.

Some of the best-selling PlayStation games, such as “Grand Theft Auto” which features gruesome killings and scantily clad women, are unlikely to be approved.

The Xbox, which sells for 3,699 yuan ($598), currently has 10 titles on sale in China, mainly censor-friendly sporting games such as “Forza Motorsport 5”. Microsoft has not released Xbox sales figures for China.

The PlayStation 4, first launched in the United States and Europe in November last year, had sold over 13 million units globally as of September, making it the fastest selling PlayStation model since the console’s launch in 1994.

Sony said it would sell the portable PlayStation Vita for 1,299 yuan.

Loss-making Sony is counting on its gaming business to partially offset weakness in its mobile division, after a poor showing by its Xperia smartphones weighed heavily on recent earnings.

The Japanese electronics maker is targeting as much as 1.6 trillion yen ($13.47 billion) in global revenue from its gaming and related network businesses in the fiscal year to March 2018, from 1.3 trillion yen expected for the current year.

China, however, may not be the right place to look for a major sales boost.

Because gaming consoles were banned until January, PC and mobile games dominate the Chinese market, where gaming revenues grew by more than a third from 2012 to nearly $14 billion last year.

Sony will sell its consoles in China through a joint venture with Shanghai Oriental Pearl Group Co Ltd.

Editing by Stephen Coates and Jason Neely

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