It isn’t often that a 16-year-old MMORPG makes international waves, but that’s exactly what happened when, 24 hours ago, Ragnarok Online’s developers IP banned entire swaths of the world without warning.
The decision to block Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau-based IP addresses from accessing the international Ragnarok Online servers comes in the wake of an earlier decision in April, which terminated service in all EU-regions. Not just IP bans or server shutdowns. All services operated by Warp Portal, the company responsible for distributing Ragnarok Online and other games to regions outside of Korea, were shut down for good.
The relationship between Warp Portal and the various companies responsible for Ragnarok Online servers is complicated, but a workable comparison is Activision-Blizzard announcing that all services provided by Activision-Blizzard were no longer accessible in the EU.
Even so, the statement from the iRo Gamemaster is an odd one.
Recently we received word to block login access from regions serviced by the twRO partner and our IT team implemented this change. Due to this we are prohibited from accepting direct access from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau. However, users may still login through connections originating from North America and other regions we directly service.
Sadly, this is not something we can choose not to do as this decision came from above. If you are affected by the block, recently made purchases, and have no intention of playing please let us know in a ticket so we can assist you further.
Someone, somewhere, came down on the iRO server staff and demanded a change. Whether that was the parent company of the franchise directly, or the result of someone else coming down on the parent company is unknown, but this wasn’t “We talked about the cost-benefit side of things and decided…” or “It was in iRO’s best interest…”
This was a mandate from outside the company. Already, players are speculating about a Russia/CIS-based IP ban, which would further fragment the community. Given the nature of the political climate in the US as of late, the debates over freedom of the internet, the strong ties Korea has to America and China, and the cash cow that Ragnarok Online is, this may well have a political angle.
Alternatively, it may just be bad business. Taiwan has it’s own RO servers (twRO) as do several other nations (jRo for Japan, etc). The parent company may simply be seeking to region-lock the game to drive users to the ‘correct’ servers, at the expense of community bonding.
Whether the team will provide refunds in a similar fashion to the EU-wide ban, which gave users who had purchased anything within four months of the announcement their money back is, as of now, unknown, though users had no advance warning about the Taiwan/Macau/Hong Kong ban. Players can, conceptually, get around the issue using a VPN, but this is far from the high-water mark of the drama if fans are reading the forecast correctly.