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 World Of Warcraft 's Chinese Relaunch Sees Government-Mandated Content Changes
World Of Warcraft's Chinese Relaunch Sees Government-Mandated Content Changes
August 6, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander

August 6, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander
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    33 comments
More: Console/PC



World of Warcraft in China has seen some six weeks of downtime as government regulators process their approval of the transition to operator NetEase. It's in the midst of a partial return in the form of a free to play closed beta.

But an online game-focused consumer site, MMOSite.com, has captured some screenshots that show that WoW in China may not be quite the same as it ever was.

An official content review from Chinese Government entity the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) that concluded on July 22nd resulted in a number of changes to Blizzard's popular MMO to allow it to restart.

According to the MMOSite report, the lack of specific age ratings for games in China make issues like showing bones or the undead a gray area -- especially in light of a Chinese media controversy that occurred over a World Of Warcraft subway advertisement that included 'undead' characters.

Not only have piles of bones in the NetEase-run Chinese version of World Of Warcraft been newly replaced with sandbags, but the color of blood from some monsters and opponents has been changed from red to black, leading to community jokes about petroleum running through characters' veins.

In addition, several of World Of Warcraft's in-game talent tree icons that included skulls, severed heads, and blood have been changed to become boxes. (A previous change -- that undead in-game characters have had visible skeletal bone structures 'touched up' to remove them -- also endures in the NetEase-run version of the game.)

Gamasutra has contacted Blizzard for comment on the changes, and will update if any official statement is released.

[UPDATE: Added information on previous, less extensive July 2007 changes to World Of Warcraft in China.]


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Comments


steve roger
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This is fascinating.

Ernest Adams
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There's irony for you. The regime that killed 30 million people in coming to power, and wrought the Cultural Revolution on its own people and culture, can't handle red blood and skeletons.

Simon Fraser
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Magic the Gathering (and others, I'm sure) have been dealing with this for a long time. MTG card art can't contain skeletons, or bones. Probably not blood either. So a lot of their cards get edited art, or older art.



I don't know why the Chinese are so sensitive about anatomy.

Bob Stevens
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To be fair, the regime now is quite a bit different than the one that wreaked so much havoc on its own people with the Cultural Revolution, Great Leap Forward, civil war, etc.

Morgan Ramsay
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Ernest Adams: "can't handle red blood"



Or perhaps the issue isn't so much that blood is red but that black is a strong funerary color (whereas red is a celebratory color) to Chinese audiences?

Bryan OHara
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Just another reminder about how different cultures (and governments in this case) react to things that we perceive as harmless for the most part in our society. WoW is a game that I never really considered "violent".

Joshua Sterns
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All cultures have taboos about anatomy. The United States often sees an uproar whenever nudity is present. Especially if children are near by.



I wonder if the gamers of China will make mods or hacks to uncensor WoW.

Dan VanBogelen
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not exactly a censor, just a workaround. Morgan is right about cultural symbolism, Chinese people don't see thing exactly the same. I have been running a blog on a Chinese site for a few years and had great discussions about American vs Chinese culture. I really don't know what the bone thing is, but they seem to be there "child protection" policies.

Dan VanBogelen
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sorry edited too much on that last post. China is increasing there "child protection" policies.

Dave Smith
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its disturbing to me that so many corporations willingly aid nations in censorship, especially american corporations.

Alexander Bruce
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Well, I don't know the circumstances, but I'm pretty sure that if it was a case of "censor your game or you can't sell it here", it's hardly "willingly aiding nations in censorship" for the sake of it.

Christopher Wragg
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sheesh, this makes my die a little on the inside, what happened to the child hood fairy tales of gremlins that would eat little children and use their bones to clean their teeth (sure sure, that's highly western). I'm sorry though, but imo if it's the country who lacks solid ratings, it should NOT be the onus of the game dev to change their game. Fair enough if they say, we aren't going to let you sell this game to minors because it falls outside of that rating. But to say, no you must change your content for all people, no matter their age, because we don't have a rating system to determine who should and shouldn't play this game....well that's just wrong.



I mean, that's not going to stop them complying, because, well, they want to make money, but that doesn't stop it from being quite a disgusting set of policies, and quite poor form to encourage that sort of behaviour from a government.



@Dan

It most certainly is a form of censorship, any situation where someone else determines your viewing or consumption is a form of censorship. As for the entire colours thing, sure as bland symbolism they might have different connotations...but come on...red blood???...EVERYONE knows human blood is red, it's NOT symbolism, it's realism.



As for the zomg censor anatomy crap that is indeed inherent in many cultures. Most of it is bull, for instance the only reason it's given any consideration is because it's regulated or controlled. For Christ's sake, ANKLES used to be erotic because they were covered up all the time. A persons naked body is nothing special unless we make it into something special (my god how would tribes of natives survive if nudity was a big thing, they'd all be running about in a constant state of arousal, that wouldn't be good for the ole ticker.)



I mean does anyone remember how it used to be? Parents didn't bother with bathers for their bubs, down on the beach they all went commando and it was NORMAL. Nowadays every second man on the beach must be a pervert thus we must dress them like it's a winter gathering when they're on the freaking beach. Rebellion used to be listening to rock and roll, not drinking and sleeping around. Society destroys itself, always has, always will, regulation becomes protection which becomes control which is totalitarian, the very thing democracy is supposed to prevent. We create problems and fears where none existed , and then we control the causes (human nature). People then rebel, we have revolution, governments are torn down, and born anew and the process repeats itself.



Funnily enough we are almost at the same level of promiscuity that the Romans were at, the only thing we lack is their acceptance of the strange and unusual. Having a thing for young children was tacitly accepted if not openly encouraged, homosexuality was openly embraced, fetishes were something to be gossiped about. All these things we consider, most of the time, heinous, were things they accepted as day to day life. yet their world didn't end, people grew up into decent human beings (at least by their standards), and they flourished, as an economic and military power. I bet they allowed their children to look at blood and skeletons.



--also just for a funny--

COMING SOON: Now packets of band-aids come with a complementary blindfold, protect you children's precious innocence by preventing them from seeing your own disgusting hideous blood, or their own, by using this handy blindfold to protect their darling eyes.

John Mawhorter
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This isn't censorship, because censorship brings to mind totalitarian governments with outright control or deletion of facts/news/art with no acceptance on the part of the artist/writer/populace. In this case they are making demands which Blizzard is complying with in order to sell their product. If you can't see how the consent makes a world of difference (and censorship does imply the first thing more than the second), then you need to look up censorship in a dictionary.



"Censorship is the suppression of speech or deletion of communicative material which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the government or media organizations as determined by a censor."



Of course you can make an argument for supression, but I would still say the layman thinks of big black censor bars and secret police. To cover these sorts of cases we should use some other term, since the same thing happens so often. Maybe call it profit censorship, or profit blackmail or something.

John Mawhorter
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What I meant was this probably is technically censorship, but calling it that distorts (I feel) what specifically is going on here, not that "this isn't censorship".

JJ Lehmann
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I'm surprised nobody's thrown in the famous Franklin quote that seems to be propagated so often in these discussions.

Christopher Wragg
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I don't see how this can be viewed as anything other than censorship. It's a case of, we don't want kids seeing bones and blood, thus we're making you remove it from your game or you can't sell it here. It's EXACTLY the same as saying, we don't want people seeing naked video game characters, clothe them or you can't sell it here. Or an Australian case, we won't let you call the drug morphine, rename it or you can't sell it here. Also, I'd respond, perchance you should find a dictionary yourself (try to avoid quoting wikipedia), censorship is not mitigated by one party agreeing to censor their own work, it's still censorship, calling it by another name is being ignorant of the issue at hand.



You know those little movie ratings, that's censorship. Content that is removed OR omitted from news or radio is censorship, preventing minor from buying a porn mag, is censorship. Your "layman's idea of censorship" I would criticise as also being a fallacy, your thinking of political censorship, but I'm pretty damn certain the layman knows it's censorship when they remove Blaise-Moi from Australian cinema, because it's considered to be rated beyond R.



This is undoubtedly censorship, and of the worst kind, completely without regard to freedom of thought, or the ability to choose ones own viewing...but that's the Chinese Government for you.

Jason Manley
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The issue of showing dead has to do with their sensitivity after the earthquake, I would think. I was there during that quake and our whole tower waved like it was blowing in the wind. The impact that tragedy had on china was deep. Such things are touchy nowadays.

Joshua Sterns
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@JJ



Any society that gives up a little liberty for a little security will receive neither and deserve none.



Is that the one? Just paraphrasing, but I think I am pretty dam close.

Dave Smith
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@ jason



they should be sensitive to situations like that, but should not be mandated by the government to.

Aaron Casillas
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This is usually about money, you become large enough a govt will notice you and want a piece of the action (and it could be about corruption).

Ken Nakai
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What are you going to do? It's pretty standard fare to have to deal with localization issues beyond translation of text strings. To me, the bigger issue is the approach. The game was up and running for a while already before the government shut it down...right after service was transferred over to a new company. To me, that smacks entirely of government bribery and corruption more than cultural issues. It means either the person handling the company in the government changed or the new company, Netease, wasn't greasing enough palms given the "earning" potential for bureaucrats in China.



That's the part that sucks the most. That it's all about managing corruption more than presenting a game that doesn't step on the toes of local culture.

Lo Pan
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What China wants regardless of right/wrong or world opinion...it gets. Must be nice to have no censure or world oversight.

Andrew Heywood
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> The regime that killed 30 million people in coming to power,

> and wrought the Cultural Revolution on its

> own people and culture, can't handle red blood and skeletons.



I think you'll find it's because they don't want to _remind_ their own people of the red blood and skeletons...

Anton Maslennikov
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I feel that many are missing the point here: "According to the MMOSite report, the lack of specific age ratings for games in China make issues like showing bones or the undead a gray area." Even our own ESRB censors blood from games with an E rating.



It just seems to me that everyone is jumping onto the standard "lets rally against censorship in the huge evil PRC. Democracy or death!" bandwagon. Yes, censorship is something we strive to fight against. Yes, the Chinese government has a bad track record that it needs to improve. But, after factoring in the cultural differences and their lack of a rating system, I just don't see it as "censorship... of the worst kind."

Joshua Sterns
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@Anton



I got that bandwagon feeling too. Do people get this upset about German censorship?

Zaid Crouch
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Wow at all the China hate.



The whole situation is a little dubious in that this _is_ a game that has been up and running for a decent while in China. For whatever reasons, that the Chinese government previously chose to let these issues slide, but has now changed their minds. Those reasons will probably never be entirely clear perhaps it's because of government corruption, perhaps because of recent events, who knows.



On the other hand, as Ken pointed out, localization extends far beyond text translation, such as addressing different cultural sensitivities and so forth (that's why we don't just call it translation, right?). Some of these changes will be for self-imposed reasons, and other for government-imposed ones, but it's part of the cost of doing international trade.



There is definitely room here for a discussion of censorship. Honestly, though, what I find far more worrying is how quick people are dismiss cultural differences as trivial (if not outright ridiculous) where they have either limited understanding or the culture or background of it, or a particular dislike of that culture or its institutions.

Jerome Russ
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@Zaid,



I don't think you can consider the cultural difference here. How many players does that game have in China? ...and who did the "censorship" come from?



If it was cultural, it wouldn't be a government backed 'update'. It would be a negative press update (which has happened in the U.S. many times).



That is the big distinction as to why you are seeing all of the 'China hate'.

John Mawhorter
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I'm merely maintaining that these sorts of situations are different from what the common person thinks of when they think of censorship. And many of your examples I would still call censorship in all but name. I just think there should be a different term since things are done differently these days.

John Mawhorter
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Obviously the issues are roughly the same, but the actions being taken are different. There is, however, a whole continuum from ratings systems (most people won't take their kids to see a PG-13 or R-rated movie, so content seen by kids is effectively controlled by a ratings board) to outright destruction of the art/artist. This falls somewhere in the middle in my mind...

John Mawhorter
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What I said/meant earlier was that censorship implies the "outright destruction of the art/artist" part to me more than the "rating boards will rate your movie X if you don't take out the graphic sex" side of the scale, and that this seems to fall in the middle, which means it needs a new term to cover it. I find all of these attempts offensive and reprehensible, but I can still see how they are different.

Zaid Crouch
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@Jerome:

Perhaps I kinda mixed my thoughts together when writing before - it was first thing in the morning for me. I'm not trying to defend the government's actions here - there is definitely censorship going on here. Maybe as an Australian I'm getting somewhat accustomed to it. As I initially said, the most dubious aspect of this particular case is the timing.



Regarding the "China hate" (my words, but quotes anyways), that was more in response to certain comments, rather than the comments as a whole. As Anton and Joshua pointed out, there has been a bandwagon going on here, and people seem a lot more incensed that I've seen in discussions about this kind of censorship in Australia or Germany (I'm sure there are other countries I'm not as aware of too).



There _are_ cultural differences regarding the dead, which in my experience are much stronger (and, from a western point of view, peculiar) than western ones. Whether they're strong enough as to warrant these changes is one thing, and one I can't speak to; however, I think it's a little extreme to turn that into an argument for the evils of the Chinese government.

Alexander Bruce
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Quick side note... Australia has cultural talk about their pride in evolving from convicts? Seriously? I'd be more under the impression that Australians in general, given their nonchalant attitude to everything, couldn't give a damn about the people who first landed on the continent. :)



Though I may have just read your post the wrong way. There are still issues with culture, yes, however I don't think they're the norm for the country at all. Just what the media portrays.

Christopher Wragg
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@ Anton Maslennikov

Actually it is censorship of the worst kind, it's censorship (that while it may have a cultural reason for occurring), doesn't have a set of standards or guidelines to dictate how, or who should view it and why. Not having some sort of system should prevent any and all censorship until such a system is in place, otherwise there is no effective system for review or update, worse there's no public avenue for objection (And that IS typical of the Chinese government). Additionally this is a blanket ban, which is the most objectionable method of censorship, so there is nothing "right" or "just" about what's happening here.



Additionally the motives for the content change are also questionable, as others have pointed out the timing is quite suspect.


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