The future of Blizzard's megaton MMOG may be in jeopardy (in China) as the game finds itself caught between two warring factions in the Chinese government.
It's not as though we didn't see this one coming: After two months of downtime in China pending approval for Wrath of the Lich King, World of Warcraft finally relaunched this past summer in the world's most populous country, albeit with some modifications. However, restrictions imposed last month by China's General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) barring foreign investment in online gaming in China made many wonder about whether or not the government entity would be targeting WoW in particular.
Yes it is, according to Reuters. The GAPP, citing "gross violations" of regulations, has returned the license for Blizzard's Chinese partner NetEase to operate The Burning Crusade - curiously, not Wrath of the Lich King. In a statement on the organization's website, the GAPP demanded that NetEase stop collecting subscription fees and suspend new account creation, though NetEase said it had not yet received official notice.
This move is seen by many as part of a power struggle between the GAPP and the Chinese Ministry of Culture, which had been given the power to regulate online games that had previously belonged to the GAPP. The MoC was the regulatory body that gave the A-OK to WoW: Wrath of the Lich King this past summer once the necessary edits had been made, which may be why the GAPP has targeted Burning Crusade instead.
Even in the worst-case scenario - in which WoW is banned in China permanently - Blizzard is unlikely to be severely affected. During the two-month blackout this summer, many Chinese players simply opted to log onto Taiwanese servers and play via that network instead. While the Chinese playerbase is estimated to make up anywhere from 40% to 50% of the total WoW population, currency imbalances, revenue-splitting and different payment plans means that the Chinese market produces only about 5-6% of WoW's total income. Which is still multiple millions of dollars, but not as severe a loss as it might have been.