China to finally get Xbox LIVE on Windows Phone?
China is not the most gamer-friendly place on this planet. Once upon a time, all was well and merry. But right upon entering the 21st century, some looney in the Chinese government suddenly decided video games are somehow harmful to the country, and made a law which banned the sales of all gaming consoles.
Sony took the blow right in the crown jewels. The game giant (ruler of the entire console gaming industry back then) prepared a whole batch of “specifically for China” Playstation 2 consoles, and opened up for pre-orders. The new law went live immediately after the Chinese Playstation 2 launch, sinking Sony’s new ship in one elegant hit.
According to urban legends and mythologies, some units were shipped to lucky Chinese gamers. But alas, I have to personally witness a genuine Chinese Playstation 2 yet.
Simplified Chinese now on the Xbox LIVE site
The law is still effective today, keeping Sony and Microsoft at bay. Nintendo was smart enough to sneak the DS portable console into China by finding a local partner, rebranding the product “iQue DS/DSL/DSi”, and officially positioning it as “portable multimedia entertainment system”. But that didn’t solve the entire problem. Thanks to China’s gaming ban and media/entertainment censorship, few DS games could be legally released, even under the iQue brand.
For the few that have successfully survived the system, the profit was all stolen by the widespread piracy problem in the country. Probably for this reason, iQue has not released its homegrown version of 3DS yet. And Wii never got a Chinese version either. I guess “this is a multimedia home entertainment system” doesn’t sound convincing enough for something that can’t play DVD movies and has a motion sensing controller for no very obvious purpose.
For Microsoft, China’s ban on console gaming is a bigger than average problem, because its Xbox Live service can’t manifest in China either. Unlike Sony’s PSN, Xbox Live is something more than a system for consoles. It’s one of the major attractions for Windows Phone. The lack of that will surely damage the potential popularity of the mobile OS in China.
So far, all Chinese Windows Phones (not counting the large number of smuggled ones) do not have an Xbox Live tile on the Start screen. In its place is a rather uninteresting tile just called “Game”. Some Xbox Live titles have been released to the Chinese Marketplace, with the Live features entirely removed. In a sense, Chinese Windows Phone users are clearly getting one heck of a watered-down deal.
But the situation might be changing. As the guys at WPDang caught, Microsoft’s Xbox official website just got a new UI language: Simplified Chinese (the variation of Chinese used in China, as opposed to in Hong Kong and Taiwan). The site isn’t quite completed yet, since the “support” tab in the navigation bar is left in English, and holding a series of Traditional Chinese items. But that matter’s not. The real big deal is this page now going live with JOIN XBOX LIVE.
New Xbox LIVE site with Simplified Chinese
Neither Microsoft nor Microsoft China has made any announcement relating to this finding. Presumably they are trying to keep it partially secret until all legal pitfalls are addressed. It’s certainly good to see Chinese Windows Phone users being able to enjoy more Microsoft services in the future.
But the legalization of Xbox Live in China might also signal the loosening of Chinese law, and Xbox’s much anticipated entry into the Chinese market. Despite the lack of official figures, each year there should safely be hundreds of thousands of Xbox 360 smuggled into China from Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, United States, and a legion of European countries.
If made legal, conquering the new frontier would be a mighty boost to Microsoft’s existing business.