On Monday, May 28, Taobao Marketplace announced that the unlicensed sale of computer games and items found in games that have not yet been approved by China's Ministry of Culture would be banned. Diablo 3, Activision Blizzard's fastest selling computer game of all time, was specifically mentioned. The dungeon-crawler role playing game was released in the United States on May 15, more than a decade after its predecessor, Diablo 2 was launched.
This restriction cuts off a key source from which Chinese gamers would be able to purchase unlicensed versions of Diablo 3 from Taiwan, Reuters reported. Any video game sold in China must be approved by the Ministry of Culture and the General Administration of Press and Publication before it can be officially released.
Diablo 3 is currently under review by Chinese authorities, and the action adventure game's release date depends on when approval is granted, Activision Blizzard's partner in China NetEase Inc. said to Reuters.
Vendors on the Taobao marketplace are looking to evade these bans by using keywords and phrases like big pineapple, which sound like Diablo in the Mandarin language. In Chinese, big pineapple is pronounced as Da-Bo-Luo, reported PCWorld, and some sellers have even attached images of pineapples to their listings.
Prior to creating this nickname, Taobao has been selling Diablo 3 CD keys which allow access to the Taiwanese version of the game. These keys have sold for between $80-90, but they quickly caught the attention of Chinese authorities. The e-commerce vendor issued a notice last week warning that it will be tightening its online gaming regulations. This was after being prompted by the Ministry of Culture, leading Taobao to state that it would prohibit the sales of unlicensed games such as Diablo 3. However, vendors are continuing to sell the game under the pseudonym Big Pineapple 3, according to the PC news source.
It can take months for video games to be approved for sale, such as was the case with another popular Blizzard title, Starcraft 2. This wasn't cleared by the Ministry of Culture until six months after its initial release date in July 2010, PCWorld also reported. A World of Warcraft expansion pack also endured a delayed launch due to government reviews, and it wasn't sold until nearly two years after its intended release.
As a result, Chinese gamers have flocked to Asian servers in other regions after illegally acquiring the game, angering Korean players. According to gaming news website Kotaku, the influx of traffic has caused servers to lock up and display the notorious prompt Error 37. This is the same message players were greeted with upon the game's launch, causing Blizzard to temporarily shut down its servers to address the problem.
Korean players, in turn, are placing the blame on Chinese gamers for their connection issues. Some Diablo 3 fans in Korea are even calling for Chinese players to be banned from the servers, as Kotaku has reported.
A representative from Blizzard Korea has said that the case is complicated, and that Blizzard would be attempting to find a solution that will satisfy gamers in all countries, TechInAsia reported.