HONG KONG (Reuters) – Sony has suspended its PlayStation Store in mainland China saying it wanted to improve the online store’s security, in a move that will temporarily prevent it from selling games in the world’s largest video game market.
PlayStation China announced the closure in a statement on its Weibo account on Sunday, saying it was for a “system security upgrade” without providing further details.
It also did not specify a reopening date.
The closure, however, comes on the heels of reports on social media that mainland PlayStation users were able to switch to overseas services via a backdoor and circumvent China’s restrictions to download unlicensed games.
Sony declined to comment on whether the reports had played a role in the closure and said the target of the temporary shutdown was to enhance the safety of the store’s services.
National Press and Publication Administration, the content regulator, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this month, a social media user on Weibo named “senliyingsi” said he had reported the backdoor to authorities in a post that was later heavily criticised and shared by thousands of Chinese game enthusiasts.
A Reuters search found some vendors were offering to crack the restrictions on PlayStation Store in China for a fee of less than $5 on e-commerce platforms.
Companies, both foreign and domestic, need to obtain a license from the content regulator before launching any game in the country. China has for years frowned on console games due to concerns that violent games could have a detrimental effect on the mental health of young people.
To comply, major console game makers Nintendo and Sony set up mainland China online stores for approved games since they entered the market in 2015 and 2019 respectively.
But the number of games in these stores remain limited.
Last year, only 13 new games were added to the PlayStation Store in China. Nintendo Switch has only been allowed to offer three games in its China store in partnership with Tencent since it started selling consoles in China in December.
Given the tough regulations, Chinese fans are finding ways to skirt limits to access popular but unlicensed games such as Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons game.
To play the game, users in China are paying a premium for unlocked Switch consoles sold abroad and brought in by middlemen and ditching their Tencent-stamped ones that contain a server lock.
Reporting by Pei Li; Editing by Brenda Goh and Himani Sarkar