WoW is slowly losing its sheen in China

With bureaucratic wrangles grounding the popular online game World of Warcraft (WoW) and its future expansion plans in China, it is only a matter of time before players switch to other games, said industry experts.

According to a recent report from BOCOM International, online gamers are not so enthused by the frequent spats over WoW in China. So much so that many of them have expressed doubts whether NetEase, the game operator, would be able to launch "The Wrath of the Lich King", the next installment of WoW in the country.

"Our studies have revealed that WoW is slowly losing its sheen. The number of players looking for the game has also been decreasing," said Ma Yuan, an analyst at BOCOM International.

The research agency said if NetEase failed to launch the second series of WoW soon, it would see a huge number of gamers shifting to other popular online games like Kingsoft's JX3 Online and Shanda's Aion.

World of Warcraft is the world's most popular multiplayer online role-playing game and has about 12 million subscribers worldwide. In China, its subscribers reached 5 million and the peak concurrent users surpassed 1 million, according to figures from The9, the previous operator of WoW in China.

But the popularity of the game has been hit with the government delaying approval for further expansion. The expansion would extend the life circle of the game and add new game areas, weapons and plots.

"Most of the Chinese players are tired of the current version of WoW and have been waiting for the Wrath of the Lich King for a long time," said Liu Bin, an analyst from research firm BDA China.

Last Monday, the General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP) decided to suspend its approval for WoW and threaten to impose a fine on NetEase.com for launching the game without its permission.

However, the Ministry of Culture (MOC) countered the GAPP move with a statement that the regulator's decision to pull the plug on the popular online game was "an act out of bounds".

Industry insiders said the two agencies have been at loggerheads as both want to control the lucrative online gaming industry in the country. The State Commission Office for Public Sector Reform had in September issued an explanation of the relevant provisions of the government reform plan, under which most of GAPP's powers over the online gaming industry were shifted to the MOC.

A recent online survey conducted by news portal Sina.com revealed that nearly 40 percent of the 84,000 respondents would ditch WoW for other games if the impasse drags on. Only 34.4 percent said they would still wait for the game. Over 25 percent of the respondents said they would shift to the WoW servers in other regions such as Taiwan.


Although most of the major online game operators declined to comment on the impact of the battle between GAPP and MOC, an industry source said its impact affects everyone.


The source said many of the gaming companies have postponed their plans to introduce new foreign games and are waiting to see how the WoW war would play out. "Under the current dispensation, I think GAPP may have to cede control to MOC," the source said.

Experts feel that China's online gaming industry, comprising of 217 million gamers by June, is one of the most promising sectors in the country. The online gaming industry reported revenue of around 2.7 billion yuan last year, according to official statistics.

Mainfirst Securities, a Hong Kong-based research firm, said companies like Shanda Entertainment, Perfect Word and Kingsoft are set to benefit if the WoW dispute continues.




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