Lenovo-backed firm sidesteps hardcore gamers, with Chinese video game system

Chinese company Eedoo has launched its CT510 multimedia entertainment system, which features controller-free games

The Lenovo-backed company behind China's newest homegrown video game system is aiming for product sales to reach hundreds of thousands of units over the next fiscal year ending in March, as it tries to build consumer interest in a country where the world's hottest gaming consoles are banned from sale.

"Our product is not positioned for hardcore gamers," said Jack Luo, CEO of Beijing Eedoo Technology, which Chinese PC vendor Lenovo has invested in. "Our product is for families, for households. It's made so that the grandfather and grandmother can play, and so that young children can play it with their parents."

The product, translated in English as the "Eedoo Machine," but also known as the CT510, is meant to be a multimedia entertainment system that features motion-sensing technology, allowing for controller-free games similar to Microsoft's Kinect device for the Xbox 360. This past weekend, Eedoo finally launched the CT510 in China, after delays with its development.

Eedoo is shunning the term "game console" when describing the CT510, partly because the Chinese government does not allow the official sale of such devices, according to Luo, who gave an interview on Thursday. Government agencies have created regulations to limit the influence of video games on children. "We don't want to worry about the government sending us a notice that we can't sell it," he said.

But the CT510 is also meant to be different from traditional video game consoles, such as the Xbox 360 or Sony's PlayStation 3, Luo said. Eedoo's device features games that emphasize physical exercise, and can be played with a camera reading the player's movements. The CT510 itself is a digital media receiver that can also connect online to stream videos, and download and run apps that emphasize more casual entertainment, including karaoke or educational programs.

"I think parents would oppose the product if we called it a gaming console," Luo added, noting that the CT510 had been localized for Chinese users and will include cultural exercises like Taichi.

The company, however, expects there to be challenges in making their product a success. Despite China's official sales ban on foreign video games consoles, the devices are still readily available in the country's gray market, where local vendors buy product from overseas only to sell to consumers. For gaming consoles, Chinese gray market vendors will often reconfigure the systems so that they can play bootleg games, which can cost about US$1.

"That's difficult to compete against," said Victor Wang, Eedoo's executive director. The company is pricing the CT510 at 3799 yuan (US$603), about double the price of an Xbox 360 with Kinect in the U.S. Eedoo's CT510, however, includes eight games pre-installed in the system, along with 10 apps.

Eedoo realizes it can't satisfy hardcore gamers, who are used to playing consoles from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, Wang added. "Eedoo has only been around for two years, the technology we have is not enough," he said. "We have to build up our technology and influence before we embark on something like that."

But for now, the company is focusing on meeting the demands of Chinese families. Eedoo has started selling its CT510 in 11 cities in China, and plans to establish 1,000 retail points for the device by year's end, as the company develops more games and apps.

"When Nintendo's Wii came out, hardcore gamers complained it was not true gaming. But the Wii met the demands of its users and succeeded," Wang said. "We may still be behind in some technologies, but we have localized this product for Chinese users. This is our advantage."

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