Chinese MMO publisher The9 has launched a website for a new title called World of Fight, reports GamesIndustry.biz. Many have drawn immediate comparisons to World of Warcraft, the title The9 previously operated in China but lost last month after Blizzard cut ties with the company, announcing a new deal with NetEase.
Information on the game beyond the title itself is sparse, with the game's official website saying only that "WoF (World of Fight), a new game by The9, is soon to come," according to a translation by The Wall Street Journal's China Journal blog.
The World of Fight website is located at wofchina.com, only one character different from the URL of the official World of Warcraft site, wowchina.com. Additionally, both the art style and logo shown on the site are arguably similar to those of World of Warcraft.
(In fact, Massively notes that the background is lifted from Warhammer Online. However, the site's contention that this could be a rebranded Chinese release of EA and Mythic's MMO seems highly unlikely: the Warhammer licence is central to the game, EA has previously said GigaMedia will release it in China, and it already has an official Chinese website.
According to the China Journal report, Chinese industry observers "wonder whether The9 is launching a 'shanzhai,' or knock-off, World of Warcraft in hopes of keeping WOW players," with iResearch analyst Zhao Xufeng noting that "with the topic staying in the centre of attention, The9 can easily attract attention by doing this."
We'd expect that attention to include a strongly-worded letter from Blizzard's lawyers.
WOW's future in the country - which furnishes a very large proportion of its 11 million players - is far from certain at present. The Chinese government has been dragging its heels over granting a release to latest expansion Wrath of the Lich King, and making noises about tightening restrictions on foreign online games - which could well play into The9's hands.
The9 continues to operate WOW until its contract expires in June.