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WoW Archivist: WoW in China, an uncensored history

Official Chinese WoW site
WoW Archivist explores the secrets of World of Warcraft's past. What did the game look like years ago? Who is etched into WoW's history? What secrets does the game still hold?

A few weeks ago, we learned that ten men had been sentenced to two years' imprisonment in China for hacking WoW accounts and selling the stolen gold. It was not the first time that hackers have been punished by the state in China.

The relationship between WoW and China has often been contentious, going back to the early years of the game. While most players there have simply tried to enjoy the game they love, censorship, politics, and illicit activities have all had an impact on their experience.

As we wrap up the Mists of Pandaria expansion, let's not forget that so much of the culture, history, and geography of the expansion was inspired by the real legends and landscapes of China. Today, let's look at the history of WoW in China -- a history as rife with conflict as Pandaria's own.

Pop stars and cola fuel WoW's launch

From the earliest stages, Blizzard had little reason to doubt that WoW would be a hit in China. When the beta signups became available in April 2005, approximately 100,000 people signed up in the first hour. The beta achieved 500,000 concurrent players.

For the Chinese version of WoW, Blizzard partnered with Shanghai-based company The9, who could better handle localization, support, and customer service. The9 launched the classic version of the game on June 7, 2005.

Coca-Cola partnered with The9 to promote the game. For their ads, Coke brought in pop stars such as Taiwanese band S.H.E. (already covered by WoW Archivist), Super Voice Girl winner Li Yuchun, and Olympic gold medalist Liu Xiang. Although -- or perhaps because -- the TV ads broke China's rules against showing game content on TV, the cross-promotion was a huge success.

(As a side note, Pepsi later struck back with a partnership with Guild Wars the following year. Reportedly, Guild Wars' closed beta was delayed a week in China after Coca-Cola complained about The9's deal with their biggest competitor.)

Within the first month, The9 reported 1.5 million active WoW players in China. Although many Chinese citizens had already been playing on Western realms, this was still a huge achievement at the time for a Western MMO in China.

Unlike the West, most gamers in China play in Internet cafes, and MMO subscriptions are almost always handled on an hourly basis. At launch, WoW authorization keys cost 30 yuan and gametime cards were 0.45 yuan per hour. That converts to about $4 for game access and 6 cents per hour.

Like their Western counterparts, China's realms had their share of launch problems. Long queues and lag plagued realms in the East, too. By early 2006, players had grown increasingly dissatisfied with The9 and threatened a boycott. The9 claimed that difficulty with communicating with Blizzard was behind poor realm performance.

Soon enough, poor realm performance would be the least of players' concerns.

Read more →

Filed under: WoW Archivist

NetEase loses WoW director, Li Riqiang



World of Warcraft
in China continues to walk a rocky path. NetEase, the company currently licensed to operate WoW's The Burning Crusade expansion in China, lost Li Riqiang, a senior director for the WoW business unit on the 24th of February, 2010. There is no word on why he left, and the company is keeping mum on details about the departure and his replacement.

This comes on the heels of a 62% jump in revenue in the fourth quarter of 2009 generated since NetEase was able to light up the TBC servers after resolving their disputes with the government, which had prevented them from launching the service in China until September 2009. That revenue increase was accompanied by lower profit margins, however, as NetEase must pay hefty licensing fees to Activision Blizzard.

The fact that there are still Chinese players who are willing to play an obsolete and no longer maintained version of the game is a little strange to me-- many Chinese players simply started over on Taiwanese servers. Judging by the amount of red tape that's being wrapped around anything to do with Blizzard, I suspect we'll see Cataclysm released before Chinese players can play Wrath of the Lich King without connecting to a server in Taiwan.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, News items, The Burning Crusade

Burning Crusade approved in China

NetEase is finally approved to release the Burning Crusade in China, which probably means that they are accepting new accounts again. This is months after being caught in the crossfire between the quarreling GAPP (General Administration of Press and Publications) and MoC (Ministry of Culture) over NetEase's rights to operate WoW at all.

Now that they are only one expansion behind and with Cataclysm set for the latter half of this year, this gives NetEase time to get Wrath of the Lich King approved before they fall behind yet another expansion. In the meantime, many Chinese players have turned to Taiwanese servers to get their Northrend fix.

Filed under: Blizzard, News items

No new WoW accounts in China

Reuters reports that Netease, the company that operates WoW in China, has stopped accepting new accounts and has reapplied to GAPP (General Administration of Press and Publication) for permission to release The Burning Crusade. The article does not mention if this was voluntary, or if this was part of the ruling that was scheduled to be handed down in January.

For those unfamiliar with this story, Netease was told to cease WoW operations last year by GAPP and the Chinese Ministry of Culture stepped in and contradicted the ruling. Netease has continued taking new accounts until now, while waiting for the decision of these governmental bodies. Assuming Netease can finally get approval to release The Burning Crusade, they will still need to apply for permission to release Wrath of the Lich King. At this rate, the rest of the world will get Cataclysm before mainland China sees Northrend.

The timing of this is unfortunate, considering that Lunar Festival begins next week. Lunar Festival is based on Chinese New Year.

We'll keep you posted as this seemingly never-ending drama continues.

[via Joystiq]

Filed under: News items

Punishment for NetEase coming this month in China

JLM Pacific Epoch reported last week that an agreement has been reached regarding NetEase and that punishment will be announced this month. The two government agencies fighting over whether or not NetEase engaged in illegal activities have agreed that by charging fees before full approval, NetEase is guilty of acting against regulations. The disagreement began when the General Administration of Press and Publications halted their review of the game in November 2009, but were opposed by the Ministry of Culture in their decision.

This announcement raises so many questions for WoW in China. Will NetEase be allowed to resume operations of WoW? If not, will Blizzard be able to find yet another replacement? Or will China continue to block all attempts for playing World of Warcraft, continuing their efforts to not be influenced by western culture?

Many Chinese players are still hanging out in Azeroth via Taiwanese servers, of course. This includes the famous Chinese guild Stars, which was also WoW.com's August Guild of the Month winner. If commercial operations of WoW return to China, Wrath of the Lich King has yet to be released there. So many players who have defected to Taiwanese servers are not likely to return until after the Chinese servers catch up with the rest of the world. We'll keep you up to date on the situation as it unfolds.

[Via GamePolitics.com]

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, News items

NYT: GAPP and Ministry of Culture clashing over Chinese WoW regulation

The New York Times has brought its journalistic bear to the story earlier this week about China deciding not to approve WoW's release over there under new service provider Netease, and it seems what we thought was confusion between two agencies has turned into a war. On one side, you have the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), who earlier this week said that Netease (WoW's local provider of Blizzard's game in China) could not legally be collecting subscriptions on a game that GAPP hadn't yet approved. But on the other side is the Ministry of Culture, who did approve WoW's content when it was run by The9, and are now saying that GAPP "overstepped its authority" by thinking it could "penalize online gaming" at all.

Which means that the silly game of World of Warcraft has fallen smack dab in between two government agencies lobbying for power. In the past, says the NYT, GAPP has approved games pre-release, and the Ministry of Culture has overseen games once they've started running online. But WoW is a weird exception (it has been online for a few years already, and only went offline when Blizzard switched providers), and it looks like both agencies are grabbing for power and the sizable fees that come along with regulation. If they continue to clash, it'll be up to the State Council, China's cabinet, to determine who's in charge. And the NYT says if that happens, the Ministry of Culture has the edge, with lots of friends in the cabinet already.

Meanwhile, Netease hasn't taken the game offline yet, apparently -- they still haven't been given official notice to do so. There's no word on how long this will take to shake out, but even China's players are tired of the fighting; they just want to get back into Azeroth and play.

Thanks to everyone who sent this in!

Filed under: Realm Status, News items, Economy

China's GAPP halts WoW review, calls collecting subscriptions "illegal behavior"

Just when NetEase was finally getting back to business in China (they were even planning for a Wrath release next month), they hit a huge snag: China's General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP) office has apparently halted their review of the game and told the company to stop collecting subscriptions and signing up new subscribers. They've also passed on the company's application to go into business, and have called the new subscription signups "illegal behavior," threatening even suspension of the company's Internet service.

We're not sure what happens from here -- an official from the country's Ministry of Culture has also said that the suspension of the review is "not appropriate," especially since the content under review had already been approved while the game was being run by The9, which may mean that it will be overturned just as quickly as it went down (and the game will be back in business before long). On the other hand, Netease may have jumped the gun -- they've been collecting subscriptions for a while, which they apparently weren't supposed to do without official GAPP approval (and we've heard before that GAPP might just want to delay the release of foreign games as long as possible). We'll keep an eye on the issue -- most analysts are saying that despite the threats, this is just another roadbump for NetEase, and they should still be back to collecting payments for the game soon.

Update: Stranger and stranger -- NetEase has released a statement saying they've gotten no official word from GAPP outside of the official press release. When you consider that along with the Ministry of Culture's comments, it seems that the government isn't quite sure whether they're approving the content or not.

Filed under: Realm News, Patches, News items, Expansions, The Burning Crusade

Is China's WoW delay politically motivated?


I don't presume to know much about trade policy or international relations, so I'll just pass you this link to a story over on VentureBeat and let you decide for yourself. You probably have already heard that Blizzard has had plenty of trouble trying to bring World of Warcraft back online in China -- they've been waiting on approval from the Chinese government's General Administration of Press and Publication, which has already mandated a few changes to the game. Dean Takahashi at VB suggests that rather than being a technical issue, the delay may actually be political and/or economically motivated: the US and China have been bumping gently lately over exports and imports, and Takahashi suggests that Blizzard's game may have gotten caught in the middle. The GAPP, he says, may be holding the game back, concerned that such a popular foreign game might be released again on their soil.

Fortunately, even Takahashi says it's unsubstantiated -- WoW is likely to go back online in China in a matter of days, and the delays could just as easily have been administrative errors. But I do agree with Takahashi that it's worth watching -- China is cautious about allowing foreign manufacturers to sell to their citizens, and video games are no exception.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, News items, Economy, Wrath of the Lich King

WoW currently free to play in China, fate still being decided by government

The trials and tribulations continue for Chinese MMO players, WoW, and its new Chinese provider NetEase. IncGamers is reporting that the beta of the game is continuing - effectively making the game free to play for those lucky enough to be taking part - while the Chinese government decides if enough changes have been made, such as the removal of corpses, gore and other unpleasant parts of the MMO experience, for the game to get a Chinese relaunch.

Since handing over the baton from from The9, things have not gone very well. After an extended hiatus which saw the game's servers offline while the data was transferred over, the game is still awaiting the final go-ahead from GAPP (the General Administration of Press and Publication). The beta was originally supposed to last around a week but because of the delay has been going on for nearly a month. However IncGamers is also reporting that according to NetEase, all the internal testing has been completed and once the GAPP are done, the game should launch pretty quickly.

Filed under: Odds and ends, Blizzard, News items

Chinese WoW provider The9 faces bankruptcy in wake of Wrath woes


We told you a few days back that Wrath of the Lich King has had a tough time getting approved in China due to the government's strict censorship laws, but now there's even more bad news for Chinese WoW players. As Sister site Massively reports, The9 has told JLM Pacific Epoch that they will face bankruptcy if the expansion is not green-lighted soon. The Government agency responsible for the decision says that they must balance the needs of the9 with the need to root out "unhealthy" content from the game.

The9 has actually already paid for the game itself, having secured the Chinese licensing rights for a hefty fee back in April 2008. Add to that the upkeep cost of many of the most powerful supercomputers in China, and rumors that many Chinese WoW players have either quit or moved on to Taiwanese accounts for their Wrath fix, and it's easy to see why they're is getting a bit cash starved. If the9 goes under, it's difficult to say whether Wrath can be salvaged in China, but we'll keep you posted whatever happens.

Filed under: News items, Expansions, Wrath of the Lich King

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