​Game on: China lifts ban on video game consoles

China is lifting its ban on sales of video game consoles that has, for the last few years, limited manufacturing and sales by foreign companies to a retricted zone in Shanghai.

Consoles produced in the Shanghai Free-Trade Zone will automatically be approved for sale in the rest of China, according to a Ministry of Culture notice dated Friday.

The announcement eases a sales ban imposed in 2000 due to concern Chinese children would waste time playing video games.

Communist leaders are promoting entertainment and technology development as part of a marathon effort to shift the world's second-largest economy to more sustainable growth supported by domestic consumption and cleaner industries.

China's gaming market is estimated to be worth $22.2 billion this year, up 23 percent year-over-year, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing gaming research firm Newzoo BV. There is already robust adoption of PC and mobile games.

The Shanghai trade zone was created in 2013 and gives foreign companies wider access to a range of industries, allowing bigger ownership stakes and activities that are prohibited elsewhere in China.

"That was a test case," explained CNET's Dan Ackerman. "Now it will expand everywhere."

Sony Corp. and Microsoft Corp. both have announced plans to manufacture game consoles in the Shanghai zone with Chinese partners.

"We welcome the move," said a Sony spokesman, Sousuke Kamei, in an email. "We remain committed to deliver fun and exciting console gaming experiences to as many Chinese users as possible."

Nintendo Co., another video game maker, declined comment.

The latest rules are intended to promote technology development and a "healthy and progressive" entertainment environment, the ministry notice said.

Content of games will be subject to censorship, it said.

"They are probably going to look very carefully at what games are released," said Ackerman. He added, however, that the gaming experience goes far beyond just playing the games themselves, censored or not.

"I'm more concerned about the fact that these game consoles are much more multimedia and social sharing platforms than even game machines," he said. "I suspect that a lot of the free-wheeling live streaming and chat that goes on there would be more limited in that market."