In its first few years, WoW proved just as popular overseas as it had been in the U.S. With fears of WoW addiction on the rise, the Chinese government announced a "gaming timer mechanism." The mechanism reduced your character's capabilities in half after playing an online game for more than three hours in a single session, and to the lowest possible level after five hours. The timer reset after logging off for five hours. The government claimed it would prevent addiction. They made it mandatory to install in every online game.
Seven of China's largest online gaming companies agreed to help with the new system, including The9. The system was rolled out in 2006. Many players got around the restriction by setting up multiple accounts and switching back and forth as the timer required. Determined to save China's youth, the government pledged to increase enforcement on the ban of minors from Internet cafes.
The timer did nothing to slow the growth of the game. WoW reached 4 million active accounts in China by 2009.
The9's first estimate of The Burning Crusade's debut in China was early 2007. Fearing disapproval from China's Ministry of Culture, The9 made major changes to the Forsaken models, hiding exposed bones with flesh, as seen below.
Also, when a player died, they left behind a tombstone rather than a skeleton.
In the West, many assumed that Chinese culture has a taboo against skeletons or bones, but that is not the case as far as I can tell. Rather, it seems that the government agencies who police online games seek to tone down violence and death. Visible skeletons and player corpses are considered part of that undesirable content.
The changes delayed the expansion until September, nine months after the expansion went live in the West. Following its release, The9 announced that WoW
achieved the milestone of 1 million concurrent
players in China.
Wrath of The9
As you might have guessed, The9 was making a killing on WoW
in 2007 and 2008. Everyone's favorite gaming company
Electronic Arts even took notice. They purchased 15%
of The9 in 2007, shortly after denying the rumors
The move paid off for EA, at least in the short term. The9 posted a huge quarter
at the end of 2007 and broke records
However, Blizzard merged with Activision in the meantime -- a direct competitor with EA. The9 also faced delays from a "policy review
" over the release of Wrath of the Lich King
. The game's success had put it in the spotlight for the powers that be. Initially, the delay was expected to be just a few months. It would turn out to be much, much longer.
The General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP) rejected two applications
. They cited skeletal characters and an attack on a player city -- the Battle for the Undercity quest -- as problematic. The9 even tried to get approval by removing the new death knight class from the game, but they still received a red light on the expansion. A few days after that announcement, The9 admitted that they could go bankrupt
if the expansion didn't receive approval soon.
Caught between a frustrated Blizzard, an intransigent censorship board, and angry players, The9 was rumored to lose
contract. The rumors proved true: Shanghai-based NetEase took over
the operation of WoW
in China in June 2009.
The9 went down swinging. They sued Blizzard
over the loss of business and "commercial defamation." They were also rumored to be working on a WoW clone
called World of Fight
. Oddly, it turned out to have copied content, but not from WoW
. The game used elements from the Street Fighter and Castlevania series
instead. In the wake of losing WoW
and a few other high-profile games such as Guild Wars
and Ragnarok Online
, The9 faced a massive 94% revenue drop
compared to the previous year.
Six months later, one last bizarre affair served as a capstone to Blizzard's relationship with The9. The Beijing Municipal Higher People's Court fined Blizzard and The9
over $200,000 for use of proprietary fonts in the Chinese version of the game. The fonts were owned by Founder Technology Group, and The9 had used them without permission.
WoW goes offline
NetEase bought new servers
to run the game. In order to transition to the new hardware, however, they had to take WoW
offline. It was expected to be down for most of June
. It's hard to imagine that in the West, where people get grumpy over a few hours of scheduled maintenance.
Facing a month without WoW
, some players jumped to Taiwanese realms -- where Wrath
was already live. The raiding guild Stars did so and promptly scored a world-second kill
of Mimiron's hard mode. Other games, such as Aion
, made a push to lure WoW's player base
The game was still offline in July, but NetEase received some good news: the Ministry of Culture approved
all game content. NetEase received permission for a "partial relaunch" at the end of July, after a one-week beta for Wrath
. All they needed now was GAPP's approval.
When the beta went live, the extreme nature of the Ministry's censorship became apparent
. NetEase had to remove all icons
that looked like skulls or severed heads. As you can see in the screenshot below, they replaced all such icons with bags.
Icons for other body parts and/or fluids also had to be replaced. Piles of bones were changed to sand bags. Blood effects became black rather than red.
Meanwhile, the beta extended from one week to months
as GAPP reviewed the game. Some suggested that the long delay had political motivations
. At the time, China and the U.S. were involved in a trade dispute
that saw the U.S. place a heavy tax on tires from China, while China launched investigations into car and chicken exports from the U.S. Yep, it's all just as boring as The Phantom Menance
made such things out to be, and the results just as unpleasant.
NetEase had to operate the beta without any payment from players. To the company's massive relief, servers were allowed to go back online
on September 21 after almost three months of downtime. NetEase could finally charge for game time and start turning a profit on the game.
, however, was not yet approved for release. NetEase announced
that they expected to bring the expansion to live realms in November.
Then things took a strange turn . . .
Mind the GAPP
On Nov. 2, 2009, GAPP suspended their review of the game. They ordered NetEase
to stop collecting payment from players and cease creating new accounts. GAPP claimed that NetEase had acted illegally when it began turning a profit on the game before their approval process had been completed. GAPP rejected the company's application to become the operator of WoW
NetEase had assumed they could take the realms live and charge for game time based on the Ministry of Culture's OK. An MoC official called the GAPP's suspension of review "not appropriate" because the game and its first expansion had already been reviewed and approved under The9's stewardship. GAPP had "overstepped its authority."
GAPP shot back with threats to suspend the company's Internet service altogether.
NetEase claimed that no one from GAPP had contacted them.
An MoC official called GAPP's actions "surly interference in domestic online game enterprises."
It was a tangle of regulations that evolved into a bureaucratic brawl. Even the New York Times reported on the warring agencies
. According to the Times
, the State Council had previously defined the two agencies' authority: GAPP was in charge of games in development, and MoC had oversight of live games. GAPP's stance, then, represented a reach for authority outside of their traditional role.
Two months later, the agencies agreed that NetEase had broken the law
by charging customers prior to GAPP's signoff. NetEase stopped accepting new accounts and reapplied to GAPP
The future of WoW
in China was murky. The game had been unstable for most of 2009, and Chinese players were now far behind the West in terms of content releases. More players fled Chinese realms for those in Taiwan. No one was sure just when WoW
would be up and running again on the mainland.
Resurrecting the game
In February 2010, GAPP, MoC, and NetEase settled their differences. NetEase received permission to (re-)release The Burning Crusade
in China and accept new accounts.
The focus now turned to Wrath
, which had yet to arrive on China's shores. The first estimate
's release had been February 2009. A full twelve months had come and gone since. Players in the West had been fighting the Lich King's armies for a year and a half already.
didn't debut in China until August of that year, eighteen months after its initial estimated release date. The administrative battle over WoW
was over -- for now. China had caught up to the rest of the world.
When players logged in to China's version of Northrend, the reason for the additional six-month delay became apparent. Censorship had once again run rampant
. Undead dragons became blue drakes. Zombies went from shambling, rotting corpses to bodies with smooth gray skin. Skulls, even decorative stone and metal skulls on items and buildings, were removed. The death knight's skeletal flying mount became a spectral griffin. Blood once again changed colors, this time to green. Weirdest of all, abominations became straw men (as shown).
The changes may have been drastic, but China's long-suffering WoW
fans could explore the icy heights of Northrend at long last.
That's all I have room for this week! Part two
will cover the later expansions, gold farmers and hackers, raiding in China, and WoW
's influence on Chinese pop culture.
After months of surveying, WoW Archivist has been dug back up! Discover lore and artifacts of
WoW's past, including the Corrupted Blood plague, the Scepter of the Shifting Sands, and the mysterious Emerald Dream.