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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.

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Filed under: WoW Archivist

Blizzard and The9 fined $212,000 for copyright infringement in China

From Worlds in Motion we've learned that Blizzard has suffered yet another setback in China.

As reported by JLM Pacific Epoch, the Beijing Municipal Higher People's Court has found that The9, Blizzard's onetime partner in China violated the copyrights of five Chinese fonts owned by Founder Technology Group. The9, Blizzard, and two other parties have been ordered to pay a fine of RMB 1.45 million, or approximately US$ 212,000. The9 has appealed the order to the People's Supreme Court. (Lovely place by the way. Just watch the steps.)

To recap, Blizzard had licensed World of Warcraft to The9 to distribute the game in China. Apparently, in localizing the game for China, The9 used five fonts for the Chinese text in game. However, these fonts are owned by Founder Technology Group, who sued The9 and Blizzard for copyright infringement in 2007, requesting damages of RMB 100M, or about US$ 13M. In September 2007, when The Burning Crusade was released in China, all of the Founder Technology Group fonts were replaced with fonts that Blizzard had permission to use "as a gesture of goodwill to the gaming community" "without any admission of liability."

Given the rocky relationship between The9 and Blizzard, it is likely that this fine will be yet another bone of contention between the companies and that responsibility for this fine may end up being decided in yet another court battle. Stay tuned!

Filed under: News items, The Lawbringer

WoW.com's top ten stories of 2009

What a year it's been for the World of Warcraft. We've had three big content patches, a BlizzCon, an expansion announcement, and perhaps out of all of the five years this game has been running, this was the year with the most surprises. A few things players thought would never happen (including faction changes) finally did, and we saw quite a few new tricks from Blizzard, both in terms of game features and in the way they run the game at large. 2009 was also a year of expectation: we thrilled to leaks and rumors about Cataclysm, and all year long, we looked forward to the villian that has been set up for us ever since 2008's Wrath release: the Lich King himself.

As we've done for the past couple of years, let's take a look back at the most popular stories of 2009 here on WoW.com. We'll start first with number 10, which also came as a surprise to many players, right after the break.

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Filed under: Patches, Fan stuff, Blizzard, Instances, Leveling, BlizzCon, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm

The 9 revenues drop by 94% after losing WoW

Former World of Warcraft distributor in China The9 recently reported on their third quarter revenues which showed a massive 94% drop Year Over Year. Their revenues were posted at $3.7 million, a significant drop from their second quarter revenue which was pegged at $42.2 million (while they still held the license). Last year, The9 reported revenues of $59.8 million.

Although The 9 downplays the loss, pointing to notable growth in their other licenses, such as FIFA Online 2 and Granado Espada, the impact of losing the publishing rights to Blizzard's phenomenal MMOG was more than apparent. World of Warcraft has a tumultuous history in China, with The9 losing the rights to rival Netease back in June, with rumors swirling about the change as early as April of this year.

World of Warcraft is currently in the middle of a power struggle between two Chinese government agencies, resulting in the suspension of the game. Players in mainland China have reportedly not had access to the game in months and there were numerous delays to the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, putting the future of World of Warcraft in the country, as well as its potential millions of dollars in profits, in question.

[via Massively]

Filed under: Blizzard, 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

WoW back online in China


The long wait is finally over -- World of Warcraft's servers are finally back online in China after they went offline all the way back at the beginning of June, due to a switch between former host The9 and current host NetEase. It took a while for the government to approve the move (and some have even suggested that the delay wasn't completely legit), but things are finally back to business as usual, according to a few sources out of China.

A few more interesting facts have arisen with this news as well: apparently NetEase has spent over a million yuan (about $146,000) per day to keep up and maintain the game and its servers during the past month of closed beta and free play. Of course, that includes customer support and all the other costs.

Even with that price, however, the company is still expected to grow. We haven't heard any population numbers worldwide for WoW since this whole deal began, but you have to think that they lost at least a few players due to all of the problems. Of course, the release of Wrath over there may bring back some players, but even though they were planning to have it out before all of this happened, the switchover has delayed it even further. All they need is more government approval, but as the outage proved, that can sometimes be hard to get.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Realm Status, News items, Wrath of the Lich King, Hardware

Chinese WoW wraps up closed beta, to start charging soon


It looks like the long saga of World of Warcraft's transfer of operatorship in China is almost finally over -- NetEase has announced that the closed beta period is done with, and that they're just about ready to open up normal registration and bring the game back to for-pay status. They're still pending government approval there, so they're not quite online and running yet, but they have closed off registration to new players, and will only bring it back online when they're ready to start charging yet again. Of course, their pay scheme there is different from here in the US and EU -- they often charge per hour to play rather than a constant monthly subscription. But however they decide to charge, NetEase seems sure that by the end of the month, things will finally be back to normal in China's version of Azeroth.

Meanwhile, the former operator of the game, The9, has announced that they are extending by a month the option for former players to get refunds for their prepaid game cards. That option was originally planned to end on September 7th, but players of the game who have unused cards will have another 30 days to redeem them back for cash. All of this back-and-forth originally started back in April of this year, but it seems like, five months later, the game might finally be getting back to normal.

Filed under: Patches, Realm Status, Blizzard, Hardware

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

China's Ministry of Culture approves WoW content

Blizzard has been having all kinds of issues trying to bring World of Warcraft back online in China, but here's one piece of good news for them: China's Ministry of Culture has gone through the game and approved all of the content in it. They apparently were concerned about some violent content (we know they've already made changes in the past to the Undead models), but that's now been cleared, and the only thing left is final approval by the General Administration of Press and Publication. There's no date on when that might happen, but it seems that will be soon (not soon(tm), just soon).

Blizzard should be extremely happy to see these content checks cleared, as it means that they're not only that much closer to bringing the servers back online, but that they can also finally bring out Wrath of the Lich King there. The whole issue with Netease and The9 backed things up, and then these content checks were a problem, but hopefully most of the obstacles have been cleared by now, and Chinese players can soon start making their way back into the game and up to the snowy shores of Northrend.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, Expansions, Raiding, Wrath of the Lich King

The Queue: Wherein Alex renames himself Nostradamus


Welcome back to The Queue, WoW.com's daily Q&A column where the WoW Insider team answers your questions about the World of Warcraft. Alex Ziebart will be your host today.

After a year of writing this thing, I've run out of quirky ways to introduce this thing that don't reek of veiled desperation. So screw the veil. Along with your question in today's edition of The Queue, I want you to write an introduction for the next edition of this column that I write, which will be the day after tomorrow. I will pick the best of the bunch to use. Keep it clean!

crusherkid asked...


"I've read reports that because of the servers going down in China that World of Warcraft has dropped down to only 5 million subscribers. Is that correct?"

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Humor, The Queue

Battle.net registration now online in China

World of Warcraft has, as you have probably heard, been offline in China for a while now. Even though The9 originally said they'd transfer over their servers to NetEase, they later decided to fight it out, leaving WoW offline for a matter of weeks. And it isn't quite up yet, but they're getting there -- this (very roughly) translated article says that Battle.net servers are now up and running, so Chinese players can now at least sign in to Battle.net, if not into the game itself. We already went through the same thing here in the US and the EU, so Azeroth should be back online in China any day now.

Meanwhile, the poor folks at The9 have not been doing so well -- they were on top of the world last year, but when World of Warcraft up and flew the griffon out of there, they lost the majority of their business. A new AP article has them revising their expected earnings down by an "estimated 55 to 75 percent." Ouch.

Let that be a lesson, NetEase. Keep your instances running and your downtime low, because if Blizzard pulls the plug on a game you're running, they'll be taking a ton of money with them.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Odds and ends, Blizzard, Economy, Hardware

With the game offline in China, others aim to step in

As you may or may not have heard, the World of Warcraft is currently offline in China, thanks to a fight between the game's former licensee, The9, and its current licensee, Netease. Yes, if you think a day or so of downtime is bad here in the US and the EU, that's nothing compared to this: the game has been down since June 7th, and neither Blizzard nor Netease have given an estimate of when the game might be back online. An analyst from China does say that they expect most players to return to the servers once they return, but in the meantime, many players have spread over into Taiwan's WoW server. We don't believe that Blizzard allowed transfers during this time, so they've likely started and leveling brand new characters over there.

And don't think that other games haven't noticed this unique window of opportunity: there are currently millions of MMO players looking for something to do in China, and there are at least three big other games looking to give them something to do. Aion, which is currently in beta here in the US but is apparently up and running in Asia already, is making as much of a play as they can, and there are two local Chinese games, Zhuxian Online and Chibi Online, both developed by a company called Perfect World, that are also aiming to steal some of China's WoW players.

Very interesting situation over there -- imagine how much the MMO world would be thrown off here if WoW just completely disappeared for multiple weeks, if not longer. Blizzard is likely scrambling to get things moving over there as fast as possible.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Fan stuff, Realm Status, Odds and ends, Blizzard, Expansions

WoW China transition begins this month, will be down for weeks

JLM Pacific Epoch, the source that revealed this whole WoW China debacle to us in the first place, has continued their ongoing coverage of the World of Warcraft situation in China. As reported previously, The9 is no longer in charge of WoW China. The whole thing has been handed over to NetEase, who is already running some of Blizzard's other overseas properties. The9's operations of World of Warcraft will cease on June 7th, and NetEase will bring operations back up late that same month. Yes, that's a few weeks without WoW in China whatsoever. Luckily, it's intended that character information will carry over from one provider to the next.

No matter how much or how little you play the game, you have to admit that WoW being taken away for weeks sucks pretty hard. Of course, the fact that this might make it easier for them to get Wrath of the Lich King may ease the hurt a little. We here in North America (or even the EU or Oceania) may complain about downtime and lag and server instability, but we should consider ourselves lucky that gaming is a relatively painless experience in comparison to what our Chinese playmates need to put up with. Here's hoping that WoW in China remains strong after all of this, and not utterly barren due to people fleeing to Taiwan's realms.

[via Massively]

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard

World of Fighter is Street Fighter rip off


World of Fighter (yes there's been a name change), the newest game from The9, the former publisher of WoW in China, is not going to be a WoW clone, or a Warhammer ripoff. Rather it seems to embody most of the characters from Capcom's flagship title Street Fighter and a few of their other IPs.

The teaser website for the game has been updated with a flash movie showing artwork of Chun-Li, Ryu and other characters moving across the screen and announcing the game's new name. It seems like Simon Belmont from Castlevania is also among the ranks along with some generic Asian-style characters. However what it actually is in terms of game play or genre remains unknown. Could it be a Street Fighter MMO?

We'll keep you updated but given the announcement that The9 are suing Blizzard, it's really no surprise that this new title has taken such a drastic change. How Capcom feel about this, however, remains to be seen.

Filed under: Odds and ends, Blizzard, News items

The9 sues Blizzard

In an interesting twist to the dramatic saga of World of Warcraft in China, The9, the former distributor of the game until they lost the license last April, is suing Blizzard in two cases involving property loss compensation and commercial defamation. A company representative confirmed the news to sources at the same time stating that The9 will no longer comment on the matter. The Shanghai Pudong District People's Court will hear the assets damage case and the Shanghai No.1 Intermediate People's Court will hear the commercial defamation case on June 18 and July 8, respectively, according to 178.com.

This news comes after the announcement that The9 was deep in the development of a game conspicuously similar to World of Warcraft called World of Fight. Numerous delays in the release of Wrath of the Lich King in China fueled rumors leading up the non-renewal of The9's contract. The situation became so dire that a large portion of mainland players migrated (re-rolled) en masse to WoW servers in Taiwan, where Wrath was available. In fact, some had made incredible progress in such a short time, such as killing Mimiron in hard mode despite having re-rolled. Blizzard had planned to award the contract to The9 competitor NetEase once their contract with The9 expires in June.

Filed under: Blizzard, News items

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