China is well-positioned to embrace game streaming, a sort of Netflix for games which streams the titles instantly to you. Imagine playing a demanding game like Red Dead Redemption 2 on a low-end smartphone -- that’s the sort of thing possible with game streaming.

And it’s a good fit for China, a country with 459 million mobile gamers, a huge ambition for 5G and a generation of gamers deprived of console games due to the country’s console ban.

So Chinese gamers paid close attention when Google said that it would soon launch its game-streaming service, Stadia -- which allows gamers to play triple-A titles on Chrome, Android devices and TVs seemingly with extreme ease.

But there is just one problem: They’re probably not going to get Stadia.

Why? Well, Google isn’t available in China. The search engine was blocked in the country before it later decided to exit China entirely, maintaining only a limited presence.

Google showed off its huge datacenter infrastructure around the world when it introduced Stadia. But do you see any of them in mainland China? (Picture: Google)

Knowing that the Great Firewall will likely stop them from using Google’s latest creation, Chinese gamers are frustrated. A popular comment from a Chinese gaming forum wrote, “5G is here. Game streaming is here. Yet the Wall is thicker.”

That’s not to say Chinese gamers won’t use game streaming at all. There is a home-grown solution: Shortly after Google revealed Stadia, Chinese internet giant Tencent launched a website accepting pre-registration for users who want to test the company’s own game streaming service.

Tencent only just recently teased the service, which it’s developing in partnership with Intel. The Shenzhen-based company said that it would reveal more at the Game Developers Conference, taking place right now -- so we’ll likely hear more very soon.

Tencent launched a website to let gamers test its game streaming service just as Google revealed Stadia. (Picture: Tencent)

But gamers also have their worries about Tencent’s service. And the most pronounced one is the potential censorship it is likely to face. Tencent’s PC game service WeGame, for instance, is shunned by most Chinese gamers in favor of the global version of Steam, because Tencent’s service only hosts the comparatively few games officially approved for sale in China. One user asks on Weibo, “Is there censorship for cloud gaming?”

Aware that they aren’t likely to get Google Stadia, and skeptical about Tencent’s ability to stand firm against censors, some Chinese gamers are actually hoping that another Western company can potentially offer the best of both worlds: Microsoft.

Why Microsoft? Because they’re also working on a game streaming service called xCloud. But most importantly, the Seattle company actually has a full-fledged operation in China, with datacenters in the country. What’s more, Microsoft is also looking to conduct more gaming business in China now that the country’s console ban is no longer in effect.

One fan wrote, “I support [Microsoft]... I can also get to enjoy the benefits of Xbox membership. As long as they don’t differentiate their service in China compared with that in the rest of the world.”

But Microsoft also has its own doubters. A Chinese netizen wrote, “Microsoft is no match for Sony in making consoles. Now it’s losing to Google in game streaming. It is doomed.”

While it remains to be seen which company can win the game streaming race in China, one thing is for sure: The size of this market is going to be huge. One indicator of that is a rising phenomenon in China known as the emergence of “cloud gamers” (yes, with the quotation marks).

But wait: How come there are already “cloud gamers” without a game streaming service? Turns out, “cloud gamers” -- yup, with the quotation marks again -- actually refer to tens of thousands of people who spend a lot of time watching console games but lack the hardware to actually play them.

So there’s a clear appetite for game streaming in China. It is just a question of which company can come up on top.