Daniel Ahmad, an analyst in the video game industry, has uncovered some interesting details about the Chinese Switch launch. Or more specifically, it turns out Nintendo and Tencent had to region-lock Nintendo Switch cartridges to the country. In other words, Nintendo Switch cartridges sold in China will only work in Chinese Switch consoles. And yes, the Nintendo eShop is also region-locked inside the country.
Ahmad explained in this tweet, “Game cartridges released for the Tencent Nintendo Switch will not work on global Nintendo Switch consoles. For example, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe will be published on Jan 15th by Tencent in China. This cartridge will ONLY work on the Tencent Nintendo Switch.”
The launch of the Switch in China was very popular. The console sold more than 50,000 units in one day on launch. This is despite the fact that the Chinese launch of the Nintendo product was lacking many games. This lockdown does mean that those traveling outside of China with a Chinese console will still be able to play the games they bought domestically, but will still be unable to use online features which will only work when back in the nation itself.
Region locking is a common practice in the wider entertainment industry. Films, games and more are often locked to one region or another for different purposes. For example, NTSC and PAL region games are locked due to differences in broadcast framerates and devices meaning people in these areas have different requirements. China however, is a different beast.
The Asian country has a longstanding history of censorship and control, allegedly to control foreign interference, but often used as a justification for suppression and exploitation. Chinese laws require companies wanting to do business in the country to partner with a Chinese company, explaining why Nintendo and Tencent got together on this. Fiercely tough censorship and other controls also mean content must often be heavily tailored for China, leading to unique releases of games, music, films and more in the country.