Westerners (Americans and Europeans, to be exact) get a blog-like format, featuring columns and an expansive vertical menu going down the left side. Western WoW pages of various countries tend to be more or less the same, just in different languages.
Easterners (namely Chinese, Taiwanese and Koreans), get quite a different experience. One of the first things you notice on the front page is that lots of information on the WoW sites is presented interactively, with images taking up the main space, and words and news items being pushed into the background. Words are kept to a minimum, and are presented in square-like sections, rather than columns, with a friendly flash menu stretching across the top of the page. Their pages all seem tailor-designed for each of the three Asian regions, and no two are exactly alike.
Are westerners getting shafted with lower-quality websites for their World of Warcraft needs? Or are the Easterners' glitzy sites making up for something Westerners may take for granted? Continue reading for a closer look, with a gallery of illustrative screenshots.
One advantage that the Western sites have over the Eastern ones is that we can just go to the front page and read the news items there right away. Easterners have to click on small news headlines in order to get more information. I remember during the period when Burning Crusade preview info was coming out last year, I used to check every day in hopes of finding more about what my class would be able to do at 70, or what the new alliance race was going to be, and that was all very exciting. Ease of access to the latest info is definitely a point in the Western sites' favor.
On the other hand, the Western sites don't emphasize images and visual appeal in the same way that the Eastern ones do. There's definitely something to be said for the immediate "wow" feeling you get when you first visit one of the Asian sites and get their beautiful pages with more pics and flash and less text. In addition, the graphics are presented to you prominently at the top of the page, not off to the left side where you might not even see them if your browser window isn't opened all the way. I would definitely like to see the Western sites with a bit more visual flair front and center, not hidden where we may not notice (as it is in the Armory also -- I had to widen my browser beyond the width of my screen in order to appreciate the art there). The flash applet just above the text on the Western sites helps a lot, but having the other good art pushed out of sight all the time doesn't make sense to me.
On the Western sites, if I want to do anything other than check the latest news on the site, I have to carefully navigate my way through the maze of menus and links on the left side. I'm boggled, personally, that Westerners put up with this convoluted menu system. I know for myself I've gotten lost in that menu lots of times, in addition to often clicking on the wrong item or having to start all over in hovering over the right words in order to open up the menu I want. There is a search feature of course, but really I'd rather just click and click and be where I want to be rather than typing in various terms and hoping I find what I want.
It seems like they should be able to do something much more interactive with navigation. The Eastern sites' pleasant horizontal bars at the top of the pages seem to do nicely where the Western complex menu fails. On the Korean site, the menu can even drop down and present more information over the existing graphic space! Not only does this give you a better sense of where you're going and provide bigger buttons to help you get there, it also adds to the visual appeal of the whole site. The only problem with this is that a flash navigation system wouldn't be backwards-compatible with older computers in the same way that the Westerners' menu system is currently. Still, if some way existed to overcome that problem, I'd take the Koreans' solution in a heartbeat.
Depth beyond the front page
Going beyond the front page, the Eastern sites present you with a lot of content that just isn't there in the West. I'll give you some examples of the flashy fun stuff that Easterners get that we don't:
(1) They have an interactive flash presentation (in Chinese and Korean) introducing you to everything about the game, from why you should buy it to videos about how to click on monsters and fight them! I'd really appreciate something like that in English, so that I could use it as a link to send to my friends or family who might want to know something about the game or even try it out.
(2) Mainland Chinese have some kind of "Outland Discovery Channel," which presents all kinds of neat information about The Burning Crusade in a really shiny and interactive way. I don't know if it actually has anything to do with the real Discovery Channel, but I do know that it's fun to look at, even if you don't understand a word of it. It covers all the new features of the expansion, such as blood elf and draeinei lore.
Now, it's true that our poor mainland Chinese are still waiting for a lot of administrative things to go through before the expansion can be released in China, so it makes sense that there would be a lot of extra information about it on the internet to tide them over. But still, I think that some creative attention of this sort given to the Western sites would do some good.
(3) Mainland Chinese players are apparently able to write comics and articles and post them to a special "communication" section of the website. Koreans have an equivalent, too. This may be something they have in lieu of our comics contests. Of course it's hard for us to understand, but it's interesting to go and look at the nice comic art!
(4) Taiwanese players have the beginnings of a quest library, and while the quests there are admittedly not even a tiny percent of those actually available in the game, something like this integrated into the Armory with search features added would be a real godsend for players everywhere.
Now here's an example of what we have that they don't [edit: or... is it?]:
(1) The Armory is the 800 pound gorilla of really cool World of Warcraft web features, and the Easterners, so far, don't have it have it too! The more I write, the more I realize how undeniably awesome this database of players and items is, both practically and visually. While it's still in beta now, it'll very likely eventually be given to the Asians too. It's cool now, though, and we have it now. It trumps everything else the Asians currently have, hands down, but who knows what web changes are in store for them or us in the future? [Edit: Thanks to our readers for letting us know about the Taiwanese and Korean Armory sites! They look and function basically the same as the Western sites do. I didn't see any links to them while I was doing my research for this article, but apparently they were just opened up earlier this month, and Easterners are having similar privacy concerns that Westerners had. Hopefully mainland Chinese players won't be too far behind getting one of their own, assuming they want it of course!]
But why? Why?!
Regardless of which site is actually prettier, easier to navigate, or more interesting and useful to read, one obvious question remains: Why do Eastern regions, China, Taiwan, and Korea, each get their own personalized WoW websites with flashy images and extra flashy content inside, while those of us who speak European languages all get basically the same format (plus the extra perk of being the first to play with the Amory beta)? The first and biggest reason behind the differences is very likely because there are likely many more administrative differences between Asian countries than between Western ones. In mainland China, representatives of The9, Blizzard's Chinese operator, answer fans questions on the forums, not Blizzard itself. I can't make out who's running things in Korea and Taiwan, however -- Asian branches of Blizzard could be at the helm in some way, but even so it's hard to know how connected they are to the Blizzard headquarters in the US.
Also, some may argue that Easterners are used to a fundamentally different form of presentation on the web, partially because of different web habits, and partially because of the way their languages have entirely different writing systems. Chinese and Korean languages certainly don't take up web page space in the same way that English and French do. In my personal experience of Chinese websites, especially popular web portals, I have found many of them to be mind-bogglingly jumbled messes of crazy information here and there, and it's hard to imagine Chinese make much sense of them. I admit this may have a lot to do with my Chinese proficiency being well below that of a native speaker, but still, Chinese pages seem to have more interactive images and overlaying popups, as well as more compacted, box-shaped text-layouts. We can see these same trends in the Eastern WoW sites as opposed to the Western ones.
Would Westerners be open to a more image and interactive WoW front page? Or are we basically committed to the blog structure with that evilly annoying popup-menu down the left side, and images hid away even farther to the left? Clearly there are some aspects of the Asian designs that wouldn't work well for us at all, just because of the different languages we use. But still, there is a lot of inspiration that the Western WoW web designers could get from their Eastern colleagues, both in terms of style and content.