World of Warcraft players in Iran have been left high and dry by U.S. trade sanctions.
Complaints began to pour into the World of Warcraft forums last week from Iranian gamers who, for reasons unknown, could no longer access Blizzard's ultra-popular MMO. The first complainant said he couldn't connect to either WoW or Battle.net unless he used a VPN, and hundreds of others soon chimed in with the same complaint. It was quickly suggested that the Iranian government had blocked the Battle.net IPs, but another user pointed out that the Iranian internet filter leads to a separate page explaining why websites are blocked, which wasn't happening in this case.
It took awhile for Blizzard to get involved - three days and 97 pages, to be precise - but it did eventually weigh in, saying that while it can't comment on what the Iranian government may or may not be up to, the recent loss of service in Iran is actually Blizzard's responsibility, as it takes steps to ensure that it's in compliance with U.S. trade sanctions against the country.
Unfortunately, those sanctions also mean that Blizzard can't even offer refunds, credits or anything else to gamers in "affected countries" - they're just cut off and hosed. "We apologize for any inconvenience this causes and will happily lift these restrictions as soon as U.S. law allows," the rep added.
It may seem like a crappy thing to do, but if Blizzard really is at risk of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, it has no choice but to act. The penalties for violating trade sanctions are severe: According to eCustoms.com, individuals or companies violating the embargo against Iran face fines of up to $10 million, asset seizure and prison sentences of up to 30 years. In 2010, Iranian-born U.S. citizen Mahmoud Reza Banki was fined $3.4 million and sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for receiving money from his family in Iran, which he had voluntarily declared to the IRS but for which he did not have the proper exemptions; the case was eventually thrown out on appeal but not until Banki had served 22 months in jail. In other words, this is not something Blizzard can afford to screw around with.