I was thrilled to come across a most glorious article on Chinese MMORPGs (specifically, the wildly popular Zhengtu Online), translated to English from the original that appeared in the Southern Weekly. As Steve at PlayNoEvil sums it up, "While wimpy Americans can whine about "cheating" in online games, quibble about Real Money Transactions (RMT), complain about gold farming, gripe about power-leveling, and otherwise aspire to a mythical "purity" of game play, the most popular game in China, ZT Online, from Giant Interactive has embraced all of these things.. and online gambling to boot."
The main Southern Weekly article on ZT Online follows a gamer as she first becomes interested in the game, through her rise to power, and her eventual disillusionment with the money-sink it had become.
Woven into the narrative are descriptions of the often shockingly brazen tactics ZT Online uses to soak the "RMB gamers" who would rather spend money than grind out levels. The picture resolves into that of an online casino dressed in the trappings of an adventure game, and Shi Yuzhu [the brain behind ZT]ends up looking a lot like a shady used-car salesman.
It's a really, really great (if somewhat lengthy) article from a number of perspectives - it's one of the better mainstream media articles I've read on gaming, though not without its flaws. But as the PNE commentary points out, the fascinating thing is how it turns a lot of ideas about 'good' MMORPGs upside down ... and is reaping major rewards. From the sounds of it, I doubt we'll be seeing it Stateside, but one never knows.