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Sony downplays PS2 launch in China

After a delayed launch, the electronics giant finally releases its gaming console in the country--but cuts down its distribution to two cities from the original five.

After a delayed launch, Sony finally released its PlayStation 2 gaming console in China--but the electronics giant cut down its distribution to two cities from the original five.

In a brief statement posted on the company's Chinese Web site, Sony said it started selling the PS2 in Shanghai and Guangzhou.

The console was originally slated to make its China debut last month in five cities including Beijing, Shenzhen and Chengdu. The company subsequently shelved plans for its December launch but failed to provide a full explanation for the change.

While Sony remains tight-lipped about the delay, most industry watchers pointed to China's rampant piracy as the probable culprit.

According to figures released by the Business Software Alliance, China has the second highest piracy rate globally. The industry watchdog said more than 92 percent of software used in China is unlicensed, resulting in more than $2.4 billion in lost revenue for major software vendors in 2002.

Console rival Nintendo however, may have sidestepped this issue by launching a customized gaming device for the Chinese market. Launched last month, the company's controller-shaped iQue gadget requires players to download games, which are available only from authorized stores, directly to a 64MB flash memory card.

"Each flash card will only work with one specific iQue Player," Nintendo spokesman Minagawa said in an Interfax newswire report.

"Customers will not be able to purchase additional flash cards," he added. "Every time a customer buys a new game, an old game will have to be erased from the flash card. However, if once a customer pays to download a game, any future download of that same game will be free. This is one of our security measures."

Winston Chai of CNETAsia reported from Singapore.