Millions of gamers in China lose access to World of Warcraft

Blizzard entertainment's servers were shut down this week after two decades.
Ameya Paleja
World Of Warcraft players at Gamescom
World Of Warcraft players at Gamescom

Sascha Steinbach/Getty 

Millions of gamers who grew up with stories of achievements in the medieval digital world of Azeroth were in tears after Tuesday night after their access to the World of Warcraft (WoW) game servers was removed in China, CNN reported. This marks a horrible beginning for the New Year for gamers in China, who have been facing much opposition from the state government and media.

Like most countries, computer and console gaming is popular among children in China and has attracted the government's ire for most of the new millennium. Games are perceived as a tool of Western influence by the Communist Party in China and have often been considered "ideological poison".

The opposition to gaming took a more formal route after teenage boys set fire to an internet cafe in 2002 after they were thrown out. The incident claimed 25 lives and injured 17 others, South China Morning Post (SCMP) said in its previous report. China has also attempted to ban devices like gaming consoles but with only partial success.

Limitations on gaming

An area where the government managed to be very effective is the games' censorship. Video games in China do not display blood, skeletons, ghosts, or too much skin or cleavage. The popular game PUBG Mobile was rebranded as Peacekeeper Elite, where gamers became part of a military exercise and disappeared when defeated on the battlefield.

The rising popularity of games as a means of entertainment and escapism during the strict lockdowns during COVID-19 brought limitations on who could play the games and for how long. As per rules brought into effect in August 2021, children below the age of 18 could no longer play games for over three hours a week.

In addition, limits were imposed on how much a child or gamer under 18 spends on a game every month.

Companies disagree

Even as the joy of gaming was limited, gamers may have still been content with the time they got with their favorite games. However, Tuesday drew the curtains on one of the most popular games ever, the World of Warcraft (WoW).

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Interestingly, the shutdown of servers was not a result of a new government policy or regulation. As per existing rules, foreign publishers must tie up with a local partner to offer games in China, and Activision Blizzard (ATVI), the makers of WoW, had done so with local company NetEase for the good part of 14 years. Last November, though, the two companies could not agree to extend this partnership, which has left gamers in tears.

ATVI has allowed gamers in China to back up their playing history before shutting their servers down, giving hope that the services could resume one day. Before its association with NetEase, ATVI operated servers in China for six years with another partner and is looking for a new ally to continue its journey.

ATVI plans to remain active in the Chinese market and reaffirmed its partnership with Tencent Games, now one of the biggest gaming companies in the world by revenue, to offer 'Call of Duty: Mobile' in the country.

WoW, gamers will have to wait and see what happens to their gaming future.

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