Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to the first ever Gamer in Asia column. Gamer in Asia is a new column, written by yours truly, written to help gamers in Asia answer some of those trickier questions. If you have questions, or ideas for future columns please feel free to stick them in the comments section and I will answer as quickly as I can.
The China console quandary
It’s tough to be a gamer in China, it’s especially tough if you are not Chinese, or don’t have a decent grasp of the language. China is different from other countries: there’s no Gamestop, and there’s no (enforceable) guarantees on consoles. So picking your console is much more complicated here than it is outside. Fortunately, there is one simple decision Before we even begin to make those decisions, you need to make a simple decision.
To pirate or not to pirate?
If you are buying one of the older generations of consoles, then you have a choice: do you want a modded or an unmodded console?
The lure of cheap (or free) games is mighty compelling for some, but is it worth the loss of online features and moral crisis? It all depends on you, your needs and your own moral stance. China’s infrastructure is better served to pirates than it is to non-pirates because $50 for a game is too expensive. However, with the rise of China’s middle-class and the popularity of online games like Call of Duty and Halo 4 it is possible to be legit in China.
Current generation (Xbox One and Playstation 4)
If you feel the need to be on the cutting edge of console technology, then my friends you came to the wrong place. The modding community has not managed to hack either of this generation’s consoles. As a result most Chinese gamers have little interest in acquiring either.
It is possible to pick them up at your local technology market, but be prepared to wait a few days for delivery unless you live in a top tier city such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
The fatal flaw with the latest and greatest consoles is their reliance on internet connectivity. Unless you are in one of China’s remarkably few fibre-optic areas, you are going to struggle to get the most out of any of their features. Take this from a guy who has been waiting two days to download a three gigabyte arcade title.
Fortunately, if you live in Shanghai or Beijing, you can head to any technology market and pick up real games. In second, third or fourth tier cities, access to games for the Xbox One and Playstation 4 is going to be limited.
The Wii U has been hacked and I have seen a modded console capable of playing both copied disk files and emulating certain ROMs. However the hack was in its early days and seemed pretty unstable, so I wouldn’t recommend it. This basically means the Wii U is in the same situation as the Xbox One and Playstation 4. But worse.
It’s worse because the Wii U is as popular in China as it is everywhere else, meaning not at all. Nobody buys it, so there are even fewer games available to buy over the counter. When I asked my local console guy how much a Wii U would cost, he shrugged and told me he couldn’t remember because he hadn’t sold one in months.
Unless you have a specific reason for wanting a Wii U, I would recommend sticking with its younger sibling.
The Wii is definitely on its last legs now, but you can still find it for sale in most tech markets. The Wii is the best value console in China because it was hacked wide open by modders, and it has the most versatile mods of any console available to boot. I have seen Nintendo 64, SNES, NES, and Genesis emulators running on Wiis, and most tech guys can can help you add these as you see fit.
As well as being used for emulation, the Wii has been hacked to run games from an external hard disk. Most sellers will push you buy a cheap external hard drive filled with gigabytes of gaming fun. So if you’re on a budget, this may be the best console for you.
However if you’re going down the legitimate route and avoiding piracy like all good boys and girls should, then this is not the console for you. Because hacking the Wii is so easy, few people actually stock legit Wii games. You can find them online via Taobao but they are not as cheap as you would expect, because demand is low. A second hand copy of Super Smash Bros Brawl will set you back around $35, which is crazy expensive for a 6 year old game.
The Xbox 360 is probably the most versatile of the consoles and whether you want to pirate or not, you have plenty of options. Like the Wii U, the Xbox has been cracked wide open by hackers, and you have a whole load of options for different hacks and mods. Like the Wii, the Xbox 360 can run a whole range of emulation software. I personally have never seen post-Genesis emulators working on the system, but I have been assured that they do exist.
The modded Xbox 360 can also run games from an external hard drive. You can download iSO files and run them from within the mod program. Alternatively, you can play copied disks as you would a normal game. If you do take this option, I suggest you install to the hard drive, because cheap DVDs will wreck the Xbox 360’s optical drive.
Unlike the Wii, enough people want access to Xbox Live, so much so that they are willing to pay full price for legitimate games. If you want to go the legit route, you aren’t going to have big problem finding the games you want to play.
The Playstation 3 is great if you want to be legit, because the Playstation 3 is the least hacked console of the previous generation. Whilst that doesn’t mean there are no hacks for it, there isn’t a universal standard. In my four years in China, I have never seen a copied Playstation 3 disk, because they just don’t exist.
Hacking a Playstation 3 is not something I would recommend unless you know what you are doing and want an ongoing project. If you want to just pick up a console and play cheap games, the Xbox 360 is a better option.
In my experience the Playstation 3 is better left unmodded because you can gain access to Sony’s Playstation Plus. Playstation Plus gives you free games every month for the low price of $40 a year. Whilst Xbox Live does the same, there is a noticeable difference in the quality of the games offered.
Also my Playstation Network connection is much more stable than my Xbox Live connection. This is something to take into account if you are going to be doing a lot of online gaming or downloading.
So that’s it.
Well that’s all I have to say about that, but if you have anything to add, a tip I missed or a question, please stick it in the comments. If you ask, I will answer!
See you guys in next week’s Gamer in Asia!