Like many people reading this, I grew up playing video games. In the U.S., video game cultured was being assimilated into the mainstream throughout the 1990’s as Notorious B.I.G. sang in the first single of his debut album: “Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, when I was dead broke, man I couldn’t picture this”. Since then, the video game industry has grown to take an ever-larger place in the overall entertainment industry. Along with virtually every other luxury industry, it’s currently in the midst of explosive growth in China. And with many video game shops fiercely competing for your yuan, prices and profit margins are lower than vendors would like. Bad for them, good for you.
So, after a year of faithful service, I’ve sold my Xbox 360 (in the Chengdu forum) and picked up a Playstation 3. Here’s all the information you’ll need to be gaming on the cheap in Chengdu, in high definition.
If you weren’t aware, the Playstation 3 is the successor to the Playstation 2, the highest selling game console ever made. In addition to playing games like Final Fantasy and God of War, it also plays Blu-Ray movies in high definition.
Since I authored a post on Buying Video Games in China for $1 over a year ago, there’s been a major change to the industry. The Playstation 3, which previously could only play legitimate discs (which are actually imported illegally, along with consoles themselves), has been cracked wide open and will now run games installed directly to its internal hard drive. Prices and information on where to buy are at the end of the post, but expect to pay about 2,500 yuan (U.S. $300+) for a Playstation 3 which comes with as many games as you can fit on the included hard drive (120-320gb) and will play any Blu-Ray movies.
Firmware Hacks & Installing Games
The modification that allows the Playstation to run games installed to the hard drive is a firmware hack. That means that unlike the Playstation 2 hack, this is software-only and completely reversible. When you buy the console, it comes with the modified firmware installed, for no additional fee, and as many games as you can fit on the included hard drive. I got the 320gb model and was able to fit 17 games on the hard drive, including Final Fantasy XIII and God of War III which together alone are over 80gb (Blu-Ray games are enormous and jam-packed with super high-resolution video).
To install other games in the future, you have two options:
- Take your PS3 to Digital Square to have new games installed, for a fee of 20 yuan for as many as you want, or
- Take the removable hard drive out of your console and take that with you to Digital Square
While this is a hassle compared to the Xbox 360 which allows you to just buy discs for 5 yuan and run them like legit games, you have some advantages with the PS3 like Blu-Ray movie playback. When you have everything set up, this is what the game selection menu looks like:
Getting on the Playstation Network
If you’ve modified your PS3 to play games from the hard drive, you can still play games online, but you’re running the risk of getting the console permanently banned from the Playstation Network. No one’s certain how Sony will handle this, but a popular theory is that Sony is collecting information on consoles that login to the network with modified firmware. Once they’ve reached a certain time or number of consoles, they permanently ban them all from the network forever. This is exactly how the Xbox 360 works with “ban waves” occurring once each year. Whether or not you choose to take the risk is up to you, but I’ve chosen to keep my PS3 offline for now.
Buy and Watch Blu-Ray Movies
If you buy DVD’s regularly, you’ll notice that Blu-Ray movies are starting to pop up everywhere that DVD’s are sold. Now, instead of just shouting “DVD!” at Digital Square, you’ll also get “Blu-Ray!” (??) shouted in your face by vendors who equate foreigners to yuan signs. There are thousands of movies available on Blu-Ray so the selection is extensive, and the going rate is 15 yuan per disc, including box. For this price, these are obviously not studio-approved Blu-Ray discs, which aren’t for sale in Mainland China legally anyway, but they are bit-for-bit identical counterparts. I recently noticed a “Real!” sticker on Salt, which I picked up recently. I remain unconvinced, but it’s amusing.
One other thing to add is that China is starting to crack down on popular bit-torrent sites which host foreign films. Verycd.com, which is essentially China’s Pirate Bay, has recently stopped hosting foreign films and music. Around the world, Netflix streams movies on-demand for a monthly subscription fee to users in the US and Canada, but of course these don’t work here with our paltry broadband connections and regional blocks. In light of these facts, and the general hassle associated with downloading high resolution movies, Blu-Ray starts to look very attractive.
The Legality of Hacking Your PS3
As of this writing, console modification is legal. Sony is about to put this to the test though, by throwing an army of lawyers at the first guy to crack the Playstation’s complex encryption protocols: Geohot, who’s also the young genius who first jailbroke the iPhone. As of several days ago, Geohot is requesting financial support to save himself from getting sued into oblivion by one of the world’s largest media conglomerates. And more importantly, prevent Sony from setting a legal precedent which prevents you from the right to modify hardware which you own. You can read more about that here.
Where to Buy
Digital Square, at the intersection of First Ring Road and Renmin Nan Lu in the South of Chengdu. The fourth floor of both adjacent buildings are devoted to video games and various and sundry PC accessories.
Have you bought a PS3 or are you thinking about getting one? Leave a message in the comments below.