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The China Angle:  World Of Warcraft  Downtime, ChinaJoy Ahoy

The China Angle: World Of Warcraft Downtime, ChinaJoy Ahoy Exclusive

July 20, 2009 | By Frank Yu

July 20, 2009 | By Frank Yu
More: Console/PC, Columns, Exclusive

[In his latest 'China Angle' column written for Gamasutra, Beijing developer Frank Yu looks at how China is handling the transitional World Of Warcraft downtime and the impact of social gaming's rise in the region -- just ahead of its E3 equivalent, ChinaJoy.]

It’s a hot summer for many gamers in China as they see another month of no World of Warcraft in sight.

World Of Warcraft Woes

The handover from The9 to Netease seems to be a little bumpy. With no word of when service may be resumed, Chinese players flock to the Taiwan server or to other games like Aion for a try.

Rumors that Blizzard is under investigation for running a non-permissible joint venture with Netease are circulating -- but then again, almost every game company in China has been under investigation or had their license reviewed one way or another.

More likely, it could be the government trying to squeeze out more bargaining points before letting the matter drop. The transition from servers and customer service may be a more serious and relevant reason for the delay.

Hopefully, the launch of StarCraft 2 in 2010 will go smoother for Netease in China. There are rumors of a big protest by WoW gamers at ChinaJoy, China’s and perhaps the world’s largest game convention, taking place later this week.

Ramping Up For ChinaJoy

As ChinaJoy revs up in Shanghai for a weeklong bacchanalia of loud music, dancing girls and crappy swag (think old-school E3 and see photos here) expect to see more announcements of game launches and products in the next few weeks.

ChinaJoy marks the deal highpoint for the China gaming industry -- as everyone and anyone attends this hot, uncomfortable and necessary gathering.

The hot news in China gaming is, of course web/app games and the changes they're breeding in China's gaming industry. Social games have started to make an impact in terms of user numbers and revenues as a whole new segment of mainstream gamers come online with the gateway drug of gaming " social network games.

We are now on the third wave of Chinese online games (browser based and apps), and the games and new business models emerging in China may turn up in the U.S. as virtual transactions and free to play models as they become a major global template for future games.

Although MMORPGS are not going away, web-based or app-based games continue to see strong growth and revenue. To see a short 20 minute video of me explaining the 'Three Waves of the Chinese Online Gaming Industry', click here. You can find the slides to this talk here.

The main point is that the game industry in China is still evolving quickly without hardware consoles, which makes the browsers and social networks an exciting soft console that developers can build on.

CDC's Game Spinoff

The other interesting news is that major Chinese tech firm CDC has announced its intentions to spin off its game business and do an initial public offering.

Unfortunately, the games in their portfolio, though not bad, are not that interesting, either. The company may have the rights to launch Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online in China, but that may do as well as Turbine’s Dungeon and Dragons Online -- which was not so well received in China.

CDC is one of those first-wave companies which may not have the chops to be a second or even third-wave player in the China market (disclosure: I used to work for one of their subsidiaries eight years ago and think my colleagues were great " but we didn’t make games then).

[Frank Yu is the CSO and COO for Shouji, a Beijing based mobile game developer. Prior to his current position, Frank started and led the first China game team for Microsoft and served as the first Xbox Regional Business Manager for Asia. He can be reached by email at [email protected]]

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