In the latest saga over online gaming addiction in China, the parents of a 13-year-old Tianjin boy are suing the makers of World of Warcraft, blaming the game for the death of their son, according to the Chinese news agency Xinhua.
The parents filed a suit against Blizzard Entertainment on Wednesday, saying their son jumped to his death while reenacting a scene from the game, the report said. The parents are backed by the anti-Internet addiction advocate Zhang Chunliang.
Mr. Chunliang has spoken to 63 parents whose children have allegedly suffered from online gaming addiction and plans to file a class-action suit, according to the report.
Blizzard executives weren’t available to comment to RedHerring.com about the lawsuit.
The high-profile backlash to China’s booming online game market reflects the growing size of the industry. World of Warcraft alone has 1.5 million paying players.
China’s online game market brought in $580 million this year, and is the fastest-growing market in the world, according to research firm DFC Intelligence. That market is set to nearly triple in size to an estimated $1.7 billion by 2010.
Blizzard Entertainment developed the game and works with The9 in China as the local distributor. The9 already posted second-quarter revenue of $6.7 million, up from first-quarter revenue of $1.5 million.
Some analysts estimate the game is raking in more than $30 million per month in basic subscription fees.
Vivendi Universal Games, the parent company of Blizzard, recently said that through the first half of 2005, World of Warcraft brought the company’s revenue up 61 percent from the year before to €238 million ($290 million) (see World of Warcraft Storms Asia).
But the company, which now counts 4.5 million World of Warcraft players worldwide, must contend with the backlash of parents concerned with addictive behavior.
Many Chinese parents contend that their children spend hours gaming in Internet cafes at the risk of their health, work, and school (see Wang-ba Crusade).
China Clocks Gamers
The Chinese government is looking into how to respond to its own citizen’s concerns.
The Chinese government has already said it plans to restrict gamers to three hours of consecutive play, using a “fatigue technique” in games. After three hours of play, the online game would lose some player power, and after five hours, the player would lose most power. After that, there would be a delay of five hours before the game could be accessed to its full capacity.
Analysts and industry execs are concerned the restriction might dampen the growth of the Chinese online game industry.
Analysts like Elias Glenn with Shanghai-based Pacific Epoch think the regulation will have a major effect on the industry. “It has the potential to have a serious impact.”
But beyond government restrictions, other factors like piracy and an increasingly competitive market could throw a wet blanket on the industry’s growth.
“There are huge potentials, but there are also a lot of pitfalls,” said Alexis Madrigal, a DFC Intelligence analyst who recently authored a study on the industry.