For well over a decade, China banned the sale of all outside video games and consoles in the region, but this policy was finally repealed in 2015. Since then, Microsoft and Sony have each launched their respective consoles in China, but sales have been abysmally low. PC gaming, mobile gaming, and third-party consoles left little room for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 to attempt to establish themselves after the lengthy ban.
Nintendo never gave Wii U an official release in China, and they haven’t announced any plans to bring Switch to the region, but they may be poised to enter the market another way. While Microsoft and Sony learned the hard way that moving new hardware in China is quite a tall task, Nintendo could instead focus on its biggest strength: software.
While outside video games are no longer universally banned, the Chinese government still requires that games be submitted for approval, and Nintendo recently submitted (and received approval for) New Super Mario Bros., the hit DS game from 2006. Why is Nintendo seeking permission to release a popular game from a console that isn’t available in China?
Daniel Ahmad (an analyst at Niko Partners who specializes in covering the digital market in China and Southeast Asia) shed some light on the situation and offered his take recently via Twitter. According to a Chinese news site, Nintendo is planning to release some of its popular games (including New Super Mario Bros.) in China via the Nvidia Shield. Rather than attempting to market Wii or Wii U in China, they would port their titles to Nvidia products like the Shield that already have an established audience in China.
The situation gets even more interesting when you consider that Nintendo and Nvidia have partnered up to create and launch Nintendo Switch. The upcoming hybrid console runs on a modified version of the Tegra hardware that powers Nvidia’s existing products, so porting Switch games to the Shield for a Chinese market release should be quite manageable in theory.
While all of this seems quite plausible (and Ahmad personally believes the Chinese news site report), I’d like to stress that the only confirmed information is that Nintendo has sought and received permission to release New Super Mario Bros. in China. If Nvidia Shield is later revealed as its target platform, we can likely expect Shield to serve as a Nintendo hub and potentially a pseudo-Switch for the Chinese market.