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xboxone2121Microsoft’s Xbox One will be the first international game console to launch in China since the country relaxed restrictions on foreign gaming machines, giving the Redmond company a head start over its rivals in the world’s most populous nation.

The company will roll out the game console starting in September, partnering with BesTV New Media Co., a subsidiary of China’s Shanghai Media Group.

Microsoft is expected to officially announce the news tonight, noting that nearly 500 million people play games in the country on computers and devices — a third of China’s population and more than the entire population of North America.

“Launching Xbox One in China is a significant milestone for us and for the industry, and it’s a step forward in our vision to deliver the best games and entertainment experiences to more fans around the world,” said Xbox executive Yusuf Mehdi in a statement.

The company declined to disclose its projected Xbox One sales in the country, or the financial terms of the joint venture.

China banned foreign game consoles outright for 14 years, citing the impact of video games on youth in the country, but an expansion of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone last year relaxed the rules. Games are still expected to be subject to censorship rules in the country.

The relaxation of the ban has been seen as a potential economic boon to Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. Sony’s PlayStation group this month formed a group to explore bring the Sony console to China.

As part of the Xbox One launch in China, Microsoft says it “is investing to establish an innovation program that will enable creators and developers to build, publish, and sell their games on Xbox One in China and in other markets where Xbox is available.”

Microsoft’s Enwei Xie will lead Xbox China as general manager.

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