Dystopia Online

Missed this the first time it went around, so those of you who religiously read Raph Koster’s site (you should!) already saw this. (I noticed it when a link popped up on Quarter to Three.)

MMOs are pretty popular in China these days. And Chinese players already have a bit of a reputation. As this  blog for expatriates in China put it:

“Chinese gamers are an unwelcome species on European and American servers,” said a game manager who once worked on World of Warcraft. Chinese players always have ways of quickly ascending levels that leave European and American gamers in the dust, and on group missions they do not like to respect the tacit rules of profit division. For those “pedantic” European and American gamers, Chinese players are like fearsome pagans. “European and American games do not encourage unlimited superiority of power; they put more of an emphasis on balance and cooperative support.” The former WOW manager said, “Perhaps this is because of the influence of traditional culture and the current environment; truth be told, Chinese gamers are better suited to jungle-style gaming.”

I couldn’t make any of this up.

An online game manager recalled that he once received at the company a gamer who had money but no patience. This gamer came with an inquiry: could he simply pay to purchase high-level equipment? Everyone at the company had a good chuckle at that. Now, the manager sighs regretfully: they did not realize that the gamer represented an immense business opportunity. ZT Online, on the other hand, saw it and achieved success.

Nope. I couldn’t make this up at all.

The game is the brainchild of Shi Yuzhu (史玉柱), an entrepreneur who struck it rich marketing a vitamin tonic called Naobaijin.

No, really, I am totally not this creative at all. For every Western MMO pundit who’s complained about how MMOs use variable level reinforcement or play on the gambling impulse to keep players literally addicted… no. They don’t do that. Because these guys do. And now you can see the difference.

“Gambling” means “opening the treasure chest.” Gamers can buy keys and chests from the system for cheap: one yuan per set. When the key is applied to the chest, the screen will display a glittering chest opening. All kinds of materials and equipment spin inside the chest like the drums on a slot machine as the wheel of light spins. Where it stops indicates what you’ve won. Chests will frequently contain the high-class equipment that gamers desire, but the spinning light wheel always passes over them.

This system was the most diligent gaming system Lu Yang had encountered: it kept people’s hands full with its frequent updates. “You spend money for a sense of security, or you save money and get bullied,” said Lu Yang. “Take one day offline, and you feel like you’ve been left behind. It’s really tiring.” She felt that she was a donkey being led onward by a carrot; there was always some strong “power” before her beckoning her onward, but there was no end to the long journey. And she gradually came to abhor the animosity that permeated the game. RMB gamers who held a grudge wanted to fight to the finish over every little thing. They constantly fought over control of NPCs, assaulted each other’s faction heads, and ceaselessly attacked their opponents’ caravans. In the PK arena they delighted in slaying their enemies. They even saw the top position in the chest rankings as a goal to be taken.


If a gamer can open 5,000 chests, another can definitely open 5,001. They called this crazy style of play, “Spending to buy your anger.”

The system continued to update and new ruling techniques emerged without end. Even on the traditional monster-slaying missions, the system moved to allow clans to seize the power to kill a boss from each other. As the ruler of a kingdom, Lu Yang had to lead her troops; if she faltered, some infuriated subordinate was sure to complain.


This is the second most popular MMO in China. World of Warcraft is #3.

Imagine if World of Warcraft did this. Imagine if World of Warcraft had the money from doing this.

Imagine if someone wrote a news story about it.

Imagine if Blizzard decided to shut it down.

Don’t imagine.

One of the aphorisms I like to toss around when doing stand-up pontificating (it’s like stand-up comedy, but usually less funny) is that in MMOs, Asia is about five years ahead of the West.

I’m hoping I’m wrong.