Green light for WoW may prove to be too little too late

08:51, August 06, 2010      

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The Chinese government's recent approval of the second version of the online game World of Warcraft (WoW) was met with little fanfare as Chinese gamers say it is too little too late.

That fact may cloud the future development of the game for its operator NetEase.com Inc in the world's biggest online game market.

World of Warcraft, also referred to as WoW, is a popular multiplayer online role-playing game from Blizzard Entertainment. The second version is entitled Wrath of the Lich King, and was released in November 2008.

Some Chinese online gamers have apparently lost interest in World of Warcraft as regulators introduced the latest version of the game to the mainland too late. Other users have linked into the game via Taiwan servers or overseas servers, which has been upgraded to the third expansion.

"It (the Wrath of the Lich King) is no longer appealing to me anymore," said Zhu Yinhao, an employee with a securities company in Beijing.

"I am already heading to the next version on a Taiwan server. I don't want to go back and start all over again," said Zhu.

World of Warcraft has already drawn in 12 million worldwide subscribers. In China, subscriber numbers have hit 5 million and peak concurrent users previously surpassed 1 million.

But the game's popularity was hurt last year by bureaucratic wrangling, mostly between the Ministry of Culture and the General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP).

World of Warcraft was caught in a turf war between the two government organizations over which one had the authority to approve an earlier version, The Burning Crusade. That dispute led to suspension of the game's registration and upgrades for operator NetEase in April last year.

Consequently, many users have sought alternative sites or subscribed to similar services in Taiwan province where the game is also in Chinese.

According to a recent survey by Sina.com of some 16,000 World of Warcraft game players, only 44.2 percent said they would return to NetEase's site. About 25 percent said they would continue playing the game on Taiwan servers and about 30 percent said they will give up playing the game altogether.

"The success of World of Warcraft really depends on whether NetEase can keep pace with other countries by introducing the latest series, which is more important than just launching the Wrath of the Lich King," said Zhao Xufeng, an analyst with the research company iResearch.

World of Warcraft made up about one-third of NetEase's total online gaming revenue - some 1.1 billion yuan ($162.4 million) - last quarter, according to the company.

A recent report released by Citibank expected World of Warcraft to contribute $272 million to NetEase's revenues this year, and the launch of Wrath of the Lich King was expected to increase the game's concurrent users by 20 percent, on average.

However, Yu Yi, an analyst from domestic research firm Analysys International, warned that some of the game's features - ordered to be altered by authorities - may reduce the game's popularity.

Game makers were forced to add patches to the current version of World of Warcraft to obscure "unhealthy" portions of the game, like bones being converted into tombs and skulls into boxes.

These adjustments, Yu said, will affect the player experience if there are too many.

China's online gaming industry revenue fell 0.5 percent quarter-on-quarter to 7.78 billion yuan during the second quarter, according to Analysys International.

Source:China Daily

(Editor:黄蓓蓓)

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