You may recall reading about a certain theme park here on Destructoid in months previous. Several gaming-related sites carried stories relating the apparent effort of CCJoy, a large, online game developer in China, to open an amusement park based largely on Blizzard's mega-hit series, Starcraft and Warcraft, but details were scarcely available to those who could not translate the official website. Without the consent of Activision Blizzard, the park owners weathered several delays and opened the park in early May of this year.
I am unaware of the measures Blizzard has taken against CCJoy, if any, but I am not surprised that they've been unable to prevent the opening. The government of Changzhou, the host city, has high hopes for this park, and Blizzard's only formal presence in China is in the form of a joint venture/licensing deal with a Chinese company.
As an expatriate living in Shanghai, I was in a good position to check this place out - and I admit, I had wanted to go since I first heard rumors of its construction. The idea of building an amusement park around the World of Warcraft IP intrigued me - I was a on-and-off subscriber until 2008, but I still find the characters and setting to be rather memorable. As an aspiring game designer, I'm also very interested in China's game industry - particularly in it's tendency to stoop into the grey areas of 山寨 (counterfeiting). A few otherblogs have already carried coverage of the place, but yesterday I finally made the trip with my brother and recorded what I saw.
We were not prepared. We were not well-equipped... for this instance... sorry, I'll keep the puns to a minimum.
The level of copyright-infringement on display here really took me by surprise - and, personally owning several devices that are Apple in appearance only, I'm no stranger to blatant cloning. On Taobao street (imagine naming Main Street, U.S.A. 'Amazon.com Avenue'), there are Warner Brothers, Transformers, Coca-cola, and Disney stores selling their respective products. Although park operators have attested that these products are legitimate, I can attest with relative certainty that they are not. I believe that the only permissions CCJoy received, or even sought (considering their company overview webpage features stolen Ubisoft concept art), were from the Chinese-owned manufacturers of the products in question. After all, it's not uncommon for Chinese manufacturers to produce a few extra goods for 'alternative business opportunities.'
Mickey Mouse wasn't the only thing to remind me of Disneyland. As I made my way towards the Warcraft-themed zone, I quickly realized that the park is laid out in much the same way Disneyland is - several themed sections surrounding a lake, with a shopping street and a 'magical castle' along a vertical axis.
Terrain of Warcraft
The Warcraft area is certainly the main draw of the park in terms of characters and setting. There are imposing statues at the main gate and along the as-of-yet-unfinished Holy Mountain that take heavy inspiration from the series. The Warcraft zone itself has more statues - some better than others. I liked the naga and Kael'thas statues, but the draenai statue looked more like a hoofed dwarf who had fallen into a vat of blue cleaning solution.
In addition to uninteresting stores, there are a few attractions. Most were closed, save for the log ride, which is entitled 'Splash of Monster Blood' and features a duo of Arthas' that seem to be missing their Frostmournes. I was a 'coward and loser', so I didn't 'bring back peace with my sword' as the ride description urged.
The attendants for the attractions and the Warcraft-themed restaurant (too expensive for my tastes) wear silly leopard-print leotards:
I saw a few workers in cheap costumes, including some goblins and more Arthas' (I think they were Arthas'). They seemed rather miserable, and when I took a closer look just under the mask, I realized...
They were children! The park is using CHILD LABOR! It was a hot day, too... making this fact even more depressing. Luckily, most of the performers and characters disappeared as the day progressed.
True to style, CCJoy was also employing young Chinese girls and dressing them in skimpy outfits, though they too seemed to be avoiding the heat, as they passed by but once. I couldn't exactly tell what they were doing, but it seemed that tribals and dryads had captured a night-elf and were transporting her somewhere - the other visitors and I gathered around in anticipation of a show, but we were left scratching our heads as they disappeared into the employee-only areas behind the park. Note to Joyland employees: Don't beat drums ominously if nothing's going to happen!
Despite being titled the 'Terrain of Magic' on the website and in some areas of the park, the inspiration is clearly named on the map above and in other areas. I'm guessing that park operators only made the changes to cover their asses online, probably in reaction to pressure from either Blizzard or investors. They clearly didn't care enough to right the English names at the actual park, which is certainly true in the Starcraft area of the park as well:
Universe of Starship
Notice, on the far right of the above picture, Stitch and Fox McCloud.
This area of the park has less going on as far as the scenery and is concerned. Certainly the Protoss aspect of the buildings is clear, but even the blaring Starcraft II soundtrack couldn't get me in the mood for a Plants vs Zombies face-paint. As I hurried through the faux-Koprulu sector, I stumbled upon the premier roller coaster of the park - a sleek silver construction named the Sky Scrapper, or Sky Scraper, or Starry Sky Ripper, depending on which sign you read.
As a general rule, I don't ride amusement park rides in China, but this roller coaster seems rather safe and, after strapping myself into the carriage that rides along the underside of the track, I had a great time. When they finish the construction and install all of the blue mineral deposits and vespene geysers that the park's concept art suggests, I can imagine this section of the park, particularly the coaster, being pretty entertaining.
Other Areas of the Park
Not long after its opening, Joyland broke the Guinness record for most cosplayers in a single location. Apparently, they are aiming to become a center for gaming and cosplay conventions. I didn't see any non-employee cosplayers during my visit, but at the back of the park, they offer costume rental and a photography studio for those lacking creativity and not cash:
Lightning, but no Dagger? Bullshit.
There is plenty else to do in the park, provided you don't keep your expectations too high. Here's a short list of some of the other experiences to be had at Joyland:
Play a Ghostbusters-style game where you wander a haunted house and use a gun-mounted monitor to track and shoot spirits. It actually uses an original IP! (Spoiler: It sucks.)
Take a ride on a mine cart through Thunder Moun-- I mean, a giant dragon skeleton mountain:
Discover the hidden pagan/satanic imagery in the kid-friendly Mole World section of the park...
... Pentagrams? 'Transform?' At a second glance, this seems rather dark! WHAT DOES THIS PARK HAVE AGAINST CHILDREN!?
'Study magic' at the blood elf castle with the botched color scheme:
Finally, trade in that lame ground mount and upgrade to an epic flying mount:
All told, I had a lot of fun at Joyland, though my brother and I were ready to head home to the comforts of Shanghai by mid-afternoon. I'm unsure if any of the shows or parades or fireworks are worth seeing, though I'd imagine some are.
As Shanghai gears up for Chinajoy later this month (an equivalent of E3), I'm glad I had a chance to take a look at how Chinese game-makers are targeting their core audiences in a medium outside online games. I'm looking forward to blogging about my experience at Chinajoy, but if any fellow Dtoiders want to know more about Joyland or the Chinese game industry, I'd be happy to respond with more detailed blog posts. I'm already planning on doing so with what I learn from the industry insiders and dealers residing in Shanghai.