World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, probably the most ‘mature’ game the Chinese censors would approve.
The internet is bubbling over in excitement over the prospect that China may lift its 12 year ban on the importation and sale of game consoles, news which has given a significant boost to Sony and Nintendo share prices.
Undoubtedly the opening of the Chinese market would be fantastic news for the two Japanese companies (and Microsoft which, despite strong showings in the US and Europe, has failed to gain a significant foothold in Japan), but would it actually effect gamers that much in a country where consoles are freely available on Taobao and in every electronics store?
The ban as it currently stands doesn’t stop gamers buying consoles and the games to go with them, lifting it may actually hurt gamers more than it helps them. While consoles might not be freely available, video games certainly are, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft is huge in China and a perfect example of why remaining in the black market might be the best thing for console gamers.
Censorship is a fact of life in China, and is something everyone that lives here or does business here has to come to terms with. But while some forms of censorship, distasteful though they may be for westerners, are at least logical, the nanny state meddling and micromanagement WoW has been subject to beggars belief.
On 31 August 2010, the WoW expansion Wrath of the Lich King was released by Netease (which licenses WoW in China), almost two years after it was released in the US. The reason? Skeletons. Or, to be specific, “objectionable content”, but considering Lich King‘s focus on the undead and previous modifications to the game which removed visible bones and transformed dead players’ corpses into neat little graves, it’s not hard to see a pattern.
Games licensed for release in China must “promote a healthy and harmonious” environment, which basically translates to, well, anything the censor decides he or she doesn’t like. Be that skeletons, dirty language, scantily clad heroines, or embarrassing Chinese panda stereotypes doing kung fu (oh wait, they let that one through).
If such a kid friendly game as World of Warcraft can’t escape the censors unscathed (and remember, this isn’t just about slightly different content, these changes can delay release for years) what would the precious flowers in the propaganda department think about Call of Duty? You might be (understandably) be saying to yourself “Who cares, I’ll just carry on buying games on the black market”, and while the black market will never go away (see: anything for sale in China) it will get significantly smaller as mainstream consumers who either don’t know or don’t care about the modifications made to Chinese versions go elsewhere. Equally, when famously litigious Sony is licensed to sell Playstation products in China, believe me when I say they’ll be pushing for more stringent policing of their copyrights.
Further opening the Chinese market, particularly when the country desperately needs to increase consumption, is definitely a positive step for the stock markets and the Chinese economy. But when it comes to gamers, well they might prefer a closed market compared to one governed by Leninist meddlers who freak out at the sight of skeletons.