World of Warcraft languishes offline in China

By Owen Fletcher, IDG News Service |  Personal Tech, World of Warcraft

A weeks-long World of Warcraft server outage in China has driven masses of players there to the Taiwanese server or to other games while a new operator takes the reins of the Blizzard Entertainment blockbuster in China.

A Blizzard representative Wednesday declined to estimate when World of Warcraft would come back online in China.

World of Warcraft's Chinese servers have been offline since just after midnight on June 7, when the operating license ended for Blizzard's former Chinese partner, The9.

Blizzard had already chosen Chinese portal and online game company NetEase.com to take over the game in China, but NetEase was not ready by the hand-off date. The game has since remained down while NetEase and Blizzard engineers work "around the clock" to bring it back up, according to the official transition Web site.

NetEase and Blizzard are testing their snapshot of the former operator's game data and have completed installation of the entirely new hardware bought to run the game, a statement on the official Web site for the transition said Wednesday.

China has about 50 million frequent online game players, said Zhao Xufeng, an iResearch analyst. World of Warcraft is not the biggest or the most profitable game in China, but it is one of the best known, she said.

World of Warcraft had 11.5 million subscribers worldwide at the end of last year, according to Blizzard. The company does not break that number down by region.

The game is likely to lose more players the longer it is down, and other Chinese game companies have raised their advertising budgets in a scramble to win over idle World of Warcraft players, said Zhao. Many have taken up other games during the outage, she said.

Still, most players are likely to return when the outage ends, she said.

Many World of Warcraft players in mainland China have also migrated to the Taiwan server during the transition, even though that means a slower connection and having to start a new account, the Blizzard representative said.

The flood of players has caused waits up to several hours to log into the Taiwan server during peak evening hours, local media said.

The transition Web site earlier said the servers NetEase uses to run World of Warcraft would have twice the computing power of "past servers," an apparent reference to those owned by The9. At least two blade servers owned by The9 made a list of China's top 100 supercomputers last year, highlighting the massive computing resources needed to operate online games.

Revenue in China's online game industry was 208 billion yuan (US$3 billion) last year and could rise to $10 billion by 2012, according to iResearch.

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