2020 is the year consoles are vying for supremacy, and China is another area for Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo to make it public. However, the country is a complex place for game companies to officially distribute their products due to their strict and opaque media regulations. The console was banned domestically until 2013, but even before that it was available through informal channels.
However, with the help of native multimedia giant Tencent, Nintendo Switch has gained a sales advantage in China. Market tracker Nico Partners estimated that more than 1.3 million switch units were sold (via Bloomberg) on both official and informal channels this year. That’s more than the total sales of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One over the same period. In lifetime sales, Niko Partners reported that Switch has sold about 4 million units in China since the end of 2019. That’s more than the lifetime sales of Xbox One and PS4 in China. Both PS4 and Xbox One were launched in China in 2014.
Bloomberg cites the popularity of certain Switch IPs and the inclusion of widely used apps in China as reasons for the current popularity of consoles. Tencent has integrated Wechat functionality into the switch, making payment systems and social features familiar and easy to use. This year, two switch titles, Ring Fit Adventure and Animal Crossing, were also hugely popular.
The partnership between Tencent and Nintendo extends to creating games together. The two companies are working together on a new Pokemon game that runs on both smartphones and Switch. This MOBA title allows players to choose the Pokemon they want to fight and compete in 5v5 rounds.
According to a survey by Niko Partners, Nintendo Switch outperforms PS4 and Xbox One sales in China, but in the long run it’s unclear if the switch will be more popular than the PS5 or Xbox Series X / Series S. Both next-generation consoles have not yet been officially released in China, and no release date has been announced. But unofficially, both the PS5 and the Xbox Series X / S are distributed in China, thanks to the power of the huge Chinese shop Taobao. Most of these transactions are imported from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other countries, so tracking these transactions is not easy. In the future, we need to see if market researchers can put some numbers into these informal sales.