Chinese online games have been able to get away with imitations for a long time because there was no other option. Poor intellectual property rights and stringent barriers to entry have long kept popular international titles at bay, but now it seems the grace period for poor Chinese imitations may be gone and it starts with Call of Duty and Monster Hunter.
Call of Duty: Online, Activision's answer to bypassing the Chinese console ban started early registration in July and play testing in late December. As of now, it's in
Beta. In partnership with Chinese internet gaming giant Tencent, Activision's COD:OL is basically just a free to play Modern Warfare on PC with a Chinese client and UI.
UPDATE: This story originally stated that the Chinese Call of Duty went into "beta." Activision actually considers the game to be in an alpha-testing phase. The difference is that the game is not being monetized by it (users can't pay for stuff in the game). The game is not available for just anyone in the public to play yet, according to the company. Activision wouldn't consider the game "launched" as we originally said in the headline. So, yes, people are play-testing it, but the full, real, now-you-can-play-it-and-pay-money-in-it status hasn't kicked in yet. We'll let you know when the game reaches that stage and when it's officially out in China. Apologies for any confusion.
Though it's just the same game that can be found on console, COD:OL poses a real threat to similar Chinese FPSes. NetEase gaming web editor Yin Jun says that the arrival of COD:OL shows a marked change in China's internet gaming sphere and that this might be a good change.
"Tencent's offering of COD:OL may cannibalize Tencent's own lineup, as Tencent is the nation's largest provider of first person shooters," Yin told Kotaku. "In the long run COD:OL might affect how FPS games are made in China."
Yin says that currently the most popular of modern FPS in China is Tencent's own CrossFire. To Yin CF is a shooter for the masses, it requires basic computing hardware and isn't too resource-heavy, whereas something like COD is geared towards the "hardcore" crowd.
Yin predicts that COD:OL's real effect will be very similar to what happened when Korean game companies started to partner with Chinese companies. Games such as Dungeon Fighter Online overtook their clones by being clearly better games.
On top of COD:OL, Monster Hunter: Frontier is also getting a Chinese release. Yin says that there is no fear that the games will be affected by being so late to the Chinese market.
"These triple A titles have a sphere of influence and it doesn't matter when they show up," said Yin. "Their popularity really only depends on what the games offer for Chinese players, if they are able to cater to Chinese players they will be popular."
Another editor at NetEase who asked to only be referred to by his surname, Yang, says that the end result benefits the players.
"There are some issues that the industry as a whole will have to deal with," said Yang. "Players will undoubtedly benefit from the increase of international titles whether it be with better games or the promise of better games."