SWTOR Blackout in China Driven By RMT Fears?

By Frank Lewis,
A Chinese resident offers proof that BioWare, the developer of Star Wars: the Old Republic, has intentionally kept its sci-fi MMO from being accessed in China due to the country's notorious reputation for harboring gold sellers and even encouraging unauthorized real-money trading (RMT).

The disappointed poster also dismissed the perception that the game's unavailability in China is due to government censure, noting how similar games like Rift, Aion and Guild Wars 2 are all otherwise accessible.

"Since SWTOR's release in 2011, Chinese gamers have been unable to access SWTOR's website and patch server. Local gamers in my city of Hangzhou speculate BioWare is trying to curb gold farmers/phishers," said forum user iggie on the MMO-Champion boards.

As of 2008, there was thought to be 100,000 full-time gold farmers in China, the often underpaid backbone of an estimated $2 billion dollar RMT industry for virtual currency. Wealthier Western players are driving most of this demand, who would gladly fork over cash to avoid grinding Warcraft price, SWTOR Credits or any other virtual currency.

Based on his own experience, iggie notes that BioWare has put in place stringent measures to prevent mainland Chinese from purchasing and running the game. "After ordering on my Canadian credit card via VPN (virtual private network), they revoked my purchase as I tried logging into the website with my Chinese IP (internet protocol address). From that, my card is now blacklisted on Origin and SWTOR.com."

iggie further offers a list of supporting evidence that China has been blocked completely from playing Star Wars the Old Republic.

He claims to have attempted to pay for the game via credit card and PayPal payment methods, but both were not accepted. Also, "there was no Chinese retailer at launch. Accounts logged in from China had preorders cancelled (happened to two others that I met on SWTOR.com)." Chinese players who somehow get a hold of the client are further prohibited after launching the game with the error message: "You are logged in from a region we do not allow people to play from."

In reply, several posters argued that it could be the Chinese government preventing the game due to licensing red tape or objections over content, but iggie thinks the facts do not add up.

"SWTOR is not on Wikipedia's mega list of high-profile blocked websites," nor any online game for that matter. Most of the websites blocked in the said list fall under the search, social media or adult categories. Even the king of MMOs, World of Warcraft, did not block its website from being accessed in China, iggie argues.

"What most people do not know is that during this, a large portion of the players migrated to Taiwanese servers, which remained unaffected. No websites were blocked; all China did was force the local Chinese company to cease operations by order," referring to the time when Blizzard got into a protracted tussle with the Chinese government over the release of World of Warcraft's Wrath of the Lich King expansion.

Now that SWTOR is on the decline and in desperate need of subscribers, other posters believe BioWare could consider finally releasing the MMO in China. But others fear the status quo will remain, if and when its upcoming free-to-play model succeeds in drawing back players.

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