Chinese players of World of Warcraft, one of the world's most popular online games, may be out of luck after a government regulator rejected an application from the game's new licensed operator.

The General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) has terminated Chinese Internet portal NetEase's application seeking approval for the game, the agency said in a statement posted on its website Monday.

NetEase violated a rule banning new account registration and collection of subscription fees during a trial period that started July 30, when the firm was ordered to "revise harmful content" in the game, it said.

World of Warcraft, developed by California-based company Activision Blizzard Entertainment, was previously licensed to another Chinese firm, The9, which ran the game in China for four years from 2005, earlier media reports said.

The online role-playing game had around five million active users in China, and The9's financial report showed it booked net revenue of 380 million yuan (56 million dollars) in the fourth quarter of 2008, the reports said.

NetEase announced in April that it had won a three-year licence for the game from Blizzard after The9's licence had expired.

Analysts said it was uncertain if GAPP's rejection would lead to a permanent ban in China as NetEase in April received approval from the culture ministry, which is also tasked with regulating computer games.

"The chaos is mainly due to the vague demarcation of responsibilities between GAPP and the Ministry of Culture," said Liu Ning, a Beijing-based analyst with research firm BDA China.

"It is not yet certain what will happen -- to be honest, it depends on who will finally win (in the turf war) -- GAPP or the culture ministry," he said.