Why China Really Shut Down World of Warcraft
After years of killing Tibetan monks and occasionally rolling over the odd protester in tanks, China went too far and shut down World of Warcraft. Why? Ostensibly because the Lich King expansion, which launched in China September 19, was not given approval by the Orwellian sounding Ministry of Culture. If you want to do business in China, you must first assure the government that you will not be inciting rebellion or a rise in antisocial behavior.
What kind of effect does this have on Blizzard and World of Warcraft? Pundits have estimated that China's shutdown of Warcraft will slash World of Warcraft player numbers by 20%. That's a big cut out of anyone's anticipated monthly takings. However it really sounds a lot worse than it actually is, and the news probably does not come as a surprise to Blizzard.
World of Warcraft has spent much of 2009 offline in China due to quibbling over various regulations. Things looked to be on the up and up when company NetEase, the company which gained the localization contract in April went ahead with the launch in September. Unfortunately, Chinese officials have declared that NetEase has grossly violated Chinese law (possibly by picking their noses and not eating it, thus spreading a message of decadent wastefulness,) and shut the whole thing down again.
What's this really about? Two things, money and control. On the one hand, China probably doesn't like millions of its citizens sending their money to Blizzard, and on the other, very large iron hand, China definitely does not like the fact that Warcraft players are able to communicate with people across the world. It is hard to maintain control over a communist regime when your citizens can throw off the shackles of your propaganda by communicating with people off shore and realizing that they don't all eat their babies.
China controls its media strictly, and Warcraft represents a threat to that control. Of course, if anybody from the Chinese Ministry of Culture actually spent a few hours on World of Warcraft they would quickly realize that Warcraft poses no threat to Chinese propaganda at all. The bulk of public chat is taken up with screaming morons, spammers, and insults spread far and wide. I've never seen anything remotely resembling an enlightened political discussion taking place on Warcraft's servers, and its possible that were such a thing to occur, they would all shut down from intelligence overload. Blizzard can barely handle Dalaran, let alone Nietzsche.
The Chinese government needs to understand that Warcraft shares the same goals as it does, turning creative, thinking human beings into barely sentient button clickers entirely wrapped up in their next achievement, blind to anything else going on in the world. I don't mean to insult all Warcraft players by saying that, but in between yelling at people to get out of the yellow patches and telling them not to clump in front of the boss, there's not a lot of time left over for cerebral interfacing, and when you're celebrating getting a pixel helmet which will give you approximately .5% more performance than you had before, you're not worrying about whether or not your government is performing vivisection on political detainees.
If China had any sense at all, they'd make World of Warcraft mandatory.