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World of Warcraft Seeks Reapproval in China Gov't Tangle

The China operator of World of Warcraft, one of the world's biggest online games, said Sunday it will seek new government approval for the game, dragging it further into a turf war between two Chinese regulatory agencies.

NetEase.com will apply to China's publishing regulator to release The Burning Crusade, an expansion pack for World of Warcraft, it said on the game's official Web site -- even though its players can already play the expansion. NetEase has been operating World of Warcraft with approval from China's culture ministry, but the ministry is locked in a dispute with the country's publishing regulator over who is entitled to regulate online games. The publishing agency has regulated online games in the past and ordered games it did not approve of to shut down.

NetEase also said it would suspend new player registration on the game for one week starting Monday, though the game and its expansion are still running. The reason NetEase gave was that it will use the week to reward old players with free play time.

A previous application by NetEase to run the game and its expansion pack was returned late last year by China's publishing regulator, the General Administration of Press and Publication. The agency also ordered NetEase to stop allowing new player registration and collecting game fees from players, but the company did neither.

NetEase became the China operator for World of Warcraft last year, when the game's maker Blizzard Entertainment switched local partners. NetEase was required to apply for new permission to operate the game even though it had been offered in China by Blizzard's previous partner. China's regulators screen online games for erotic, violent or other objectionable content and can order developers to make changes. World of Warcraft, for instance, has been modified in China to make skeletons in the game appear instead as normal human bodies.

World of Warcraft was offline in China for weeks last year when NetEase took over the game and had not yet been approved to operate it.

NetEase did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

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