Sony announced the PlayStation 4 a couple weeks ago, and it looks pretty sweet. Aside from the inevitable graphics upgrade, the console’s biggest change appears to be a strategic shift towards more online interaction. It will feature live-streaming game video and remote play so that your friends can watch as you play games, and you can even pass the controller around. All the games will be available as direct digital downloads (though discs will be available too). All in all, it sounds pretty cool.
Unless, that is, you’re a console gamer in China. That’s a small group, of course, but they do exist, and they are beginning to realize that next-gen consoles like the PS4 may offer them less than ever. Of course, they can still enjoy the HD games, but the increasing focus on online service is mostly wasted in China, for a couple of reasons.
First, because of China’s console ban, most gaming companies don’t bother to operate servers in mainland China. Consoles are still widely available in China, but playing online can be a laggy mess because Chinese players are forced to connect to servers overseas. And while digital downloads may seem like a big convenience, they’re likely to be unusable for Chinese gamers. Even if the PS4’s online store isn’t region-locked, it isn’t likely to take Chinese bank cards or Alipay. And if Chinese gamers do manage to buy something, they can look forward to an extra-long download as next-gen games are likely to be very large.
The other problem is that in general, internet speeds in China aren’t great. Even without the console ban, Chinese gamers lag (literally) behind their Asian counterparts when it comes to online gaming. Even China-based video streaming sites don’t stream video content in HD*, and it seems unlikely that current connection speeds would be able to support features like 1080p live screen sharing, no matter how well-optimized it is.
Of course, the upside of Sony’s new console is that, with its departure from the Cell architecture of its predecessor and the return to more PC-like hardware, it’s likely going to be much easier to hack. So, once again, Chinese gamers are likely to be stuck with gray market consoles and pirated games. The graphics of the next-gen consoles will be nicer, of course, but pixel-peeping gamers are already playing on PCs.
It’s a shame that gaming companies don’t do more to try to accomodate Chinese console gamers, but of course, with the country’s console ban, there isn’t much they can do. That’s a law the government should really be rethinking. There really isn’t a lot of interest in console gaming in China, but I still feel for the nation’s small but stalwart bunch of console fans.
*Many Chinese video sites do claim to have HD content, but most of what’s labeled HD is still lower-resolution than what would be considered HD in the West. I’m not aware of any streaming sites that support 1080p content, and even 720p seems to be quite rare.