2020 is the year of consoles battling for supremacy, and China is another arena for the big three–Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo–to duke it out. The country, however, is a complicated place for gaming corporations to distribute their products officially due to its strict and opaque media regulations. Consoles were banned in the country until 2013, though they were available through unofficial channels even before then.
But with the aid of native multimedia giant Tencent, Nintendo Switch gained a sales edge in China. Market tracker Niko Partners estimated that over 1.3 million Switch units sold this year through both formal and informal channels (via Bloomberg), a number bigger than the combined sales of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in the same timeframe. In lifetime sales, Niko Partners reported that the Switch has sold almost 4 million units in China since the end of 2019, more than either of Xbox One’s and PS4’s lifetime sales in the country. The PS4 and Xbox One both launched in China in 2014.
Bloomberg cited the popularity of certain Switch IP’s and incorporation of widely-used apps in China as reasons for the console’s current popularity. Tencent integrated Wechat functionality into the Switch, making payment systems and social functions familiar and easier-to-use. Two Switch titles also became immensely popular this year: Ring Fit Adventure and Animal Crossing.
Tencent’s partnership with Nintendo extends to creating games together as well. The two companies are collaborating on a new Pokemon game that will run on both smartphones and the Switch. This MOBA title will let players choose a Pokemon they want to battle as and compete in 5v5 rounds.
While Niko Partners’ research shows that the Nintendo Switch edges out PS4 and Xbox One sales in China, it’s unclear if the Switch will be more popular than the PS5 or Xbox Series X / Series S in the long-run. Both next-gen consoles are not officially released in China yet, with no release date announced. Unofficially, however, PS5 and Xbox Series X/S are both circulating in China due to the powers of the enormous Chinese shop Taobao. It’s not easy to track these transactions, since most of them are imports from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other countries. We’ll have to see if any market researcher can put some numbers to these unofficial sales in the future.
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