So I was reading Daniel Suarez’s Daemon last night (two big thumbs up, by the way) and suddenly realized that I might need a holiday. Here’s what happened.

The novel is about an AI created by a computer genius who runs a multinational game company. The AI, which is not the sentient evil type that populates a lot of SF these days, but a more realistic programmed AI, is triggered by the death of the bad guy and starts doing nasty things, like murder and mayhem. The FBI responds on several fronts, including shutting down the servers at the game HQ, which were running, among other things, several MMORPGs.

I’m enjoying the hell out of the story when I stumble across this:

The Gate is up and running, Pete.”

“Wait—that’s impossible. The Feds shut the servers down.”

“In California, yes. But CyberStorm Entertainment maintains a Chinese mirror site for just such a contingency. It’s beyond the reach of U.S. law. CyberStorm was losing a million a day in revenue, so they switched over to the mirror site and filed suit against the FBI in federal court.”

I could, and should, have glossed over this and preceded to the next fast-paced bit o’ cyberaction, but I was instead immediately bogged down in China law reality.

In the novel, CyberStorm Entertainment is a U.S. company. Would it be able to “maintain” a “Chinese mirror site”?

I think something is screwy here. First, a foreign game company cannot operate an online game in China. Just can’t be done directly under foreign investment restrictions. So if that’s what the author meant, that’s a mistake.

Second, I suppose a U.S. game company could do something indirectly via a VIE structure. But really, while this works for companies that are essentially Chinese (with some foreign investment), I can’t see a high-profile game firm being able to use a VIE out in the open like the novel describes.

Third, the only way foreign online games are allowed to operate over here is by licensing their IP to a Chinese operator (e.g., WoW). So in this case, it’s certainly possible that there was a U.S./international version of The Gate and another, Chinese, version operating simultaneously.

But that’s not what the book suggests. The author uses the term “mirror site,” and it’s clear that he is suggesting that the company simply had an alternate set of servers, not a completely separate Chinese version running in parallel. The point the character was making was that the game company was losing money after the U.S. servers went down, so they just switched over to the China “mirror site.”

This assumes that: 1) the users of the U.S. platform could just hop on the China one with no difficulties; and 2) the two versions were identical and running off the same databases. No freakin’ way. Aside from all the obvious cross-border issues, including latency, you don’t just license a foreign game into China without at least some major language localization, and that’s if you’re lucky and the censors don’t make you change parts of the story, characters, graphics, etc.

I call bullshit. Really fun book, though, if a few years out of date. And yes, I desperately need to relax.

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