Blizzard Entertainment's upcoming digital trading card game, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, is eagerly awaited by fans all around the world. In China, the game is currently in a semi-open beta. Things aren't all sunshine and rainbows for Blizzard, however, as there are issues abound and competitors to squash.
Late last week, Hearthstone's Chinese card store was temporarily taken offline. The outage, as TechinAsia's Charlie Custer posted on Friday, was caused by Chinese internet giant NetEase working on optimising the game. NetEase is the Chinese operator for World of Warcraft as well as a partner for Blizzard in the country. This outage, Custer reports, sparked rumours that the store may have been taken down due to fears of relations to gambling.
These rumours got to a point where Zhang Dong, NetEase's vice-president, who's also in charge of collaborations with Blizzard, had to come out and address them. Zhang revealed the reason of the outage, and he also pointed out that there are already approved trading card games in China. Zhang also went on to speculate that the rumours might have been started by developers of competing card games.
Malicious rumours being started by competitors in China isn't new. In the country, there are public relations companies called "Black PR firms" which use any means necessary to make their client look good, including defaming competitors.
Regardless of the rumours' origin, Hearthstone does have some strong competition in China. Right now there are three major competing TCG games: the domestically produced Call Me MT (叫我MT) and Three Kingdoms Killers (三国杀), and the Japanese Square-Enix-made Million Arthur.
Call Me MT may be a spoof on WoW and prove that the source material is still popular in China, but as a card game, it is widely popular on all platforms. The game is currently one of the top mobile games on the Chinese iOS App Store, and there's even a web series that follows it.
Three Kingdoms Killers, another Chinese-made game, covers both physical and digital cards. While WoW is hugely popular in China, Chinese fans still seem to flock to games related to the country's history, particularly the Three Kingdoms era. It's not uncommon to visit a board game cafe and see one table playing Three Kingdom Killers while the shopkeeper plays a digital version online.
And while Million Arthur isn't a Chinese game, it's currently doing very well for Chinese publisher Shanda, which operates the game in China. Since its launch, Million Arthur has been one of the top games on the Chinese iOS App store. During this year's China Joy, posters of Million Arthur could be seen in Shanghai subways.
On top of these three games, there are also a myriad of smaller Chinese TCGs out there saturating the market. Any damage to Hearthstone's image might just mean more potential players for any of the other TCG's available in China.