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World of Warcraft (sort of) returns to China

Officials send game back to 'beta testing'

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China's millions of World of Warcraft players may soon have a chance to return to the massively popular online game after nearly two months of government-enforced downtime.

Chinese officials will allow WoW to relaunch starting July 30, but only for previously registered players while Blizzard Entertainment makes changes to unspecified content found to be objectionable. Blizzard has previously been required to make alterations to the game such as covering skeletal characters with skin to suit the country's censors.

Blizzard is obviously willing to play ball with China because of the country's enormous population of players. Local media put the number of Chinese WoW players at 5 million while Blizzard estimates its worldwide player base is about 11.5 million total.

World of Warcraft went offline after Blizzard dumped its long-time local operator The9 in favor of its rival, NetEase. China requires all new operators of foreign online games to apply for a license and to submit the game's content for screening.

China's cultural ministry, which performs part of the review, has given the game a green light, according to the agency's website. However, the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) in charge of regulating print and online publications has found content it finds objectionable that must be removed or changed before it can be released to the general public. Blizzard will be required to make the changes and resubmit the game for further screening.

But GAPP has decided to let WoW open for "beta testing" before the changes are in place, according to China's government-run Xinhua news agency. Those already with accounts can play, but new users must wait until the game gets final clearance.

The news agency reports during the "beta" period, NetEase won't be allowed to collect fees on the game. It's unclear whether the company plans to take the offer in hopes of bringing back players who may have abandoned WoW during the downtime or wait until the game has the full blessing of China's regulators. ®

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