Xbox One, PS4 sales in China could be disappointing

Niko Partners expects sales of the consoles to be less than 550,000 units in 2015

After China lifted its ban on video game consoles, both Microsoft and Sony moved fast to launch their products in the country. But at least for this year, the sales will be lackluster, according to a research firm.

On Wednesday, Niko Partners, which studies gaming markets in Asia, released a report that estimated official sales of the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 in China would reach fewer than 550,000 units in 2015.

That's not a great turnout, given that the country is one of the world's largest markets for electronics. Microsoft brought its console here last September, and Sony delivered its product in March. And outside of China, the consoles have been shipping in the millions.

Analysts have expected that the video game consoles may get a poor reception in China. Both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are too expensive for many Chinese consumers, and the initial gaming titles offered have so far been weak.

The Xbox One, for instance, was originally priced at 3699 yuan (US$607) or about $200 more than the U.S. version. This caused some Chinese gamers to complain, although Microsoft has dropped the starting price to 2999 yuan, to better compete with the similarly priced PlayStation 4.

Chinese consumers also have fewer games to choose from. Titles such as Grand Theft Auto V, the Call of Duty series, and other bestsellers have yet to officially arrive, probably due to Chinese regulations that would prefer to weed out games with too much violent content.

The sales outlook could change in the future, if Microsoft and Sony can bring their best games to the country, and drop prices down even further, according to Niko Partners.

China itself has heavy censorship, but games have still managed to thrive on PCs and smartphones. Many of these titles are free to play, but contain virtual goods, such as character upgrades, that can be bought with real money.

That doesn't mean video game systems don't have a place in the country. Prior to China lifting the console ban in 2013, the Microsoft and Sony products were sold illegally through the local "gray market" vendors at electronics malls across the country. These vendors are still selling their goods, and Niko Partners' estimate only took into account official Xbox One and PS4 sales.

Microsoft and Sony did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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