China has always been a market that businesses have stumbled over each other to secure. Students of history might remember how Coca-Cola was one of the first companies to recognize the fact that a country with a billion people is a country with a billion potential customers, and was literally right on the heels of President Carter when negotiations relaxed the restriction of foreign goods in 1979. So too are MMO makers starting to realize the enormous potential of an increasingly connected Chinese mainland. Sure, World of Warcraft's 10 million subscribers seems good now, but what happens when a game comes along that captures the attention of the Chinese market, estimated to grow to 59 million in 2008?
Unfortunately for developers in the U.S., Korea, and elsewhere looking to cash in on this burgeoning market, recent regulations imposed by the Chinese government will allow domestic Chinese gaming companies to effectively postpone the release of foreign-developed games indefinitely by submitting a complaint to GAPP, China's censorship agency. Curious that they'd run a protectionist racket on an industry that they recently likened to "spiritual opium," but the Communist government didn't take power in order to be a bedrock of consistency.
The political science major in me is actually excited by this prospect, because it means that MMOs are likely about to enter into the field of political discourse. Just as they do with farm goods and automobiles, it might not be too much of a stretch to imagine U.S. politicians publicly wrangling with Chinese officials to allow American MMOs unrestricted access to the Chinese population. In the next few years, it's possible your Congressman will talk, at length about World of Warcraft or Warhammer Online in front of one of the chambers of Congress. And this time they'll actually be speaking in favor of the game industry. What a thought!