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Sony says China's censorship laws are stifling PS4 sales

The Japanese electronics giant launched the PS4 in China in March, but the strict censorship laws in the People's Republic are proving to be difficult to navigate, a company exec admits.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Following dipping sales, Sony this week announced a price drop for the PS4 in Japan. But the company's home turf isn't the only Asian country giving it grief, with China presenting a unique set of challenges.

"We are still challenged somewhat with a censorship regime that we have to work with," Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Andrew House told Reuters at the Tokyo Game Show on Thursday. "This can be time-consuming."

The PS4 launched in China back in March, a little over a year after the country's government revoked a ban on gaming consoles that had been in place for 14 years. However, China's censorship minefield has proven difficult for Sony to traverse: Only six launch titles accompanied the PS4 upon its release.

"I don't think it has been a kind of rocket launch start," House admitted, but added that he thinks there's "tremendous potential for gaming as an entertainment medium in China." The numbers certainly agree -- last year China's gaming population exceeded the entire population of the USA.

Titles released alongside the console, which retails for 2,899 yuan ($455), include Rayman Legends, Knack, and Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition. Noticeably absent are mega-popular western titles like Grand Theft Auto 5 or Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.

The slim gaming portfolio officially available to Chinese gamers is not surprising given the country's censorship regulations. Any game deemed to promote drug use, violence, gambling or obscenity is immediately withdrawn from consideration of distribution.

Sony isn't the only one struggling though -- Microsoft last year launched the Xbox One in the country along with around 10 titles. However, though the Xbox has a few more games available, it's region locked, while the PS4 is not. This means that Chinese players can import and play games from around the world for Sony's console (at the risk of a fine) but not Microsoft's.

In July, research institute Niko Partners estimated that the combined number of Xbox Ones and PS4s sold in 2015 would be under 550,000, though this doesn't take into account sales of gaming hardware and software sold in China's widely used grey market.