Friday, July 13, 2007

'Warcraft' in China replaces skeletons with healthy humans

HONG KONG — The operators of "World of Warcraft" in China have replaced skeletons with healthy human bodies in the local version of the popular monster-killing online game, a spokesman said Friday, amid a recent government campaign to clean up Internet content.

The official Xinhua News Agency said the changes had sparked a backlash among Chinese players, and that 500 players signed a petition saying they would boycott the game.

James Zhao, spokesman at the Shanghai-based online gaming company The9 Ltd., which is licensed to run "World of Warcraft" in China, said the changes were made to match designs due to be unveiled in an updated version of the game called "The Burning Crusade."

"These are just small operational changes," Zhao said in a phone interview, denying that they were motivated by government policy.

Asked why the skeletons will be replaced by human bodies in the updated version of the game, Zhao said he wouldn't comment on details of the update.

New York-listed The9 launched the new designs amid stricter government scrutiny of Internet content.

President Hu Jintao ordered regulators in January to promote a "healthy online culture" to protect the government's stability, according to state media. In April, Hu was quoted in state media as urging Communist Party leaders to "curb the spread of decadent and backward ideological and cultural material online."

Though China's communist government supports Internet use, it has also set up an extensive surveillance and filtering system to prevent Chinese from accessing material it considers obscene or politically subversive.

The government has banned local authorities from approving new Internet cafes this year.

Xinhua also reported earlier this week that the Chinese update to "World of Warcraft," "The Burning Crusade," is still awaiting government approval. Zhao declined comment.

The report identified a second change to the current game — bones symbolizing dead characters in the game were replaced by graves. Spokesman Zhao said he wasn't aware of any changes other than the bodies for skeletons swap.

Launched by Irvine, Calif.-based Blizzard Entertainment Inc., "World of Warcraft" is the world's most popular online game. In China, it has more than 3.5 million subscribers. Blizzard is a unit of French media company Vivendi SA.


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