Blizzard is suspending most of its game services in China due to the end of its contract with NetEase.
According to their official press release, Blizzard is suspending game services for a lot of its major game titles. This includes World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, Warcraft III: Reforged, Overwatch, Starcraft, Diablo II, and Hero of the Storm. They said, however, that Diablo Immortal will still continue as this is under a separate agreement. This suspension of game services sees an end to the 14-year partnership that Blizzard has with NetEase in publishing games in China. Once the license ends on January 23, 2023, the games mentioned above will no longer be available in China.
According to the press release, Blizzard mentioned that the reason for this is that they were not able to reach “a deal to renew agreements that is consistent with Blizzard's operating principles and commitments to players and employees.” They continued their statement by saying that they will be suspending new sales in the coming days. They noted that Chinese players will receive details about this soon. According to them, though, upcoming releases for World of Warcraft: Dragonflight, Hearthstone: March of the Lich King, and season 2 of Overwatch 2 will still proceed later this year.
Mike Ybarra, president of Blizzard Entertainment, thanked the Chinese community for the passion they showed the past years. He also mentioned that they are currently looking for alternatives to NetEase. This is so that they can “bring our games back to players in the future.” In an email to employees, Ybarra said that it was a mismatch in values that lead to the non-renewal of the contract between Blizzard and Netease. He mentioned that they regularly review their agreements with NetEase. He said that they were working “in good faith to extend our existing agreements”. Ybarra also mentioned that Chinese eSports partnerships will most likely feel the effects of the contract ending.
In response, NetEase released a statement saying that it was sorry to see Blizzard go. They also confirmed that the two companies were not able to see eye-to-eye with key terms of cooperation. NetEase CEO William Ding said in a statement that they will “continue our promise to serve our players well until the last minute. We will make sure our players' data and assets are well protected in all of our games.” Netease declined to comment on what they meant by “material differences” in their statement.
Although this might seem like a somewhat amicable split, there is reason to believe that it might not be the case. Simon Zhu, president of global investment and partnerships for NetEase, posted on his LinkedIn about the split. He said that “One day, when what has happened behind the scene could be told, developers and gamers will have a whole new level of understanding of how much damage a jerk can make.” As of this moment, we do not know whether this “jerk” is from Blizzard or from NetEase. However, until we get more details about what exactly happened, we can't really comment on whose fault it was. NetEase also did not wish to comment on Zhu's post on LinkedIn.
We will have to wait and see if Blizzard will be able to find an alternative game publisher next year.
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