China's online gaming community is on pins and needles, waiting to see whether a major upgrade to one of the most popular online games ever, World of Warcraft (WoW), will make it past an army of censors.
The upgrade, known as Wrath of the Lich King, moved one step closer to a China release after it received approval from the government agency responsible for regulating Internet publications, a source at the agency said. But the blockbuster add-on will still need to gain approval from the Ministry of Culture before Chinese gamers can get their hands on it.
The General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) approved Wrath last Friday, according to a source at the administration. NetEase, one of China's largest online games provider and the company that owns the rights to WoW in the country, has yet to announce the approval or give a release date.
NetEase began offering Activision Blizzard's WoW in September after taking over for the previous licensee, The9. In the game, players take on the role of an orc, troll, dwarf, or human and explore a fantasy world.
Wrath is the second expansion set for WoW and is a major hit outside China, where gamers at tens of thousands of Internet cafes spend hours wandering its medieval landscape. Government censors inside the communist state, however, object to parts of the game, such as skeletons and city raids. Insiders have said that the version of Wrath submitted to the government has been changed in parts to give it a better chance of gaining approval. Parts of WoW were also changed to curry favor with Chinese censors, such as making undead characters appear much less "undead."
The Shanghai Copyright Bureau started reviewing the Wrath expansion set in February, and approval work was underway at the GAPP by the end of April. Starting from last month, NetEase began to place promotional ads for WoW on Web sites such as Tencent and Xunlei, a usually rare occurrence. It also was offering free trials for gamers. At the time, analysts said that NetEase was preparing for a Wrath release.
Approval to sell the expansion pack would be a boon for NetEase's gaming division, as WoW is one of the most popular massively multiplayer online role-playing games in China.