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Warcraft to go offline in China following Blizzard-NetEase dispute

World of Warcraft is set to go offline today in China following a financial dispute between Blizzard Entertainment and Chinese game publisher NetEase.

Blizzard first announced its deal with NetEase would end last November. Earlier this month, NetEase rejected the offer to extend the agreement by six months, noting the proposal as “commercially illogical.”

According to a Blizzard associate, the developer declined because NetEase had suggested making structural changes within the partnership, which would affect Blizzard’s control over its own IP. NetEase, on its part, was adamant that any usage and licensing of Blizzard’s IP were done based on the contract terms and with Blizzard’s approval throughout their 14-year agreement.

“Any usage and licensing of Blizzard’s IP were done in accordance with contract terms and with Blizzard’s consent and approval,” NetEase said.

Simon Zhu, president of global investment of NetEase, said he had spent a total of “10,000 hours” playing Blizzard’s games. He accused Blizzard of “seeking a divorce but still remaining attached.”

“One day, when what has happened behind the scenes can be told, developers and gamers will have a whole new level of understanding of how much damage a jerk can make,” Zhu said.

Following the dispute, NetEase dismantled a World of Warcraft statue on the grounds of its Hangzhou headquarters last Wednesday.

The disagreement between Blizzard and NetEase affects not only Warcraft but several of Blizzard’s games as well, like the multiplayer shooter Overwatch, the card game Hearthstone and the sci-fi strategy Starcraft.

Previously, there were also reports that Blizzard and NetEase initially had been spending three years developing an unannounced World of Warcraft mobile game. As a result of the conflict, the project was canceled in August 2022.

New feature for Chinese Warcraft as Blizzard searches new distribution partner

John Hight, general manager of the Warcraft franchise, said that Blizzard developed a feature for their Chinese Warcraft players to download their characters and progress. It allows players to keep their game records, knowing that some players may have spent many hours in the game.

“The ‘World of Warcraft’ team is working hard to develop a feature that allows you to transfer your game characters, props, and Azerites [an in-game currency] before the game is shut down on January 23,” Hight said.

With this feature, players can upload their data into the game if Blizzard can form an agreement with a new distribution partner in China. The country is one of the world’s largest gaming industry markets despite the government having strict regulations in gaming.

Unlike other countries, foreign gaming companies generally need a Chinese publisher to release their games in China. Blizzard first launched World of Warcraft in the China gaming market in 2005, a year after its launch in North America.

Before Warcraft was shut down, Hight said that Blizzard had been in talks with potential partners to continue its titles in China. He said the company would continue doing so until they found an appropriate solution.

While looking for Chinese partners to continue operating Warcraft in China, Hight did not specify if Blizzard would also look for partners to operate its other games in the country.

For now, Blizzard still has one active mobile game in China — Diablo: Immortal — as it is operated under a separate agreement outside of Blizzard and NetEase.