What you need to know
- Activision Blizzard and NetEase have announced that their years-long agreement to release and publish games in China is not being renewed.
- As a result, Blizzard Entertainment games are being entirely pulled from mainland China in January 2023.
- Affected games include World of Warcraft, Diablo 3, Overwatch 1 and 2, Heroes of the Storm, the Starcraft series, and Hearthstone.
- Diablo Immortal is still being released under a separate agreement, but other titles will shortly stop being sold before being pulled entirely.
Many Blizzard Entertainment games enjoy immense popularity in mainland China. The titles exist there because of a long-running agreement between Activision Blizzard and the Chinese publisher, NetEase. Unfortunately, it has been revealed by both companies that negotiations to renew the agreement have fallen through, and the consequence is the exodus of Blizzard Entertainment games from the Chinese market.
Announced in a dual-press release from both Blizzard Entertainment and NetEase, many Blizzard games available in China will shortly become unavailable for any future purchases before eventually being pulled entirely from the market. Affected titles include World of Warcraft, World of Warcraft 3: Reforged, Diablo 3, Overwatch 1 and 2, Heroes of the Storm, the Starcraft series, and Hearthstone.
Owners of the aforementioned games will be able to continue playing them until the agreement officially expires in January 2023. At that point, game services for those titles, which count as some of the best PC games available in China, will be suspended indefinitely, rendering the games nonfunctional. Blizzard Entertainment has promised that more details on how this will work are coming to players in the future.
In the meantime, upcoming releases like Overwatch 2: Season 2, World of Warcraft: Dragonflight, and Hearthstone: March of the Lich King will still roll out to Chinese players as originally planned before the end of the year. While those games will be suspended with the new year, it will give those players a chance to play the new content before it happens. The co-development and Chinese release of Diablo Immortal is protected under a separate agreement between the companies, and will proceed as planned.
NetEase is still committed to protecting players’ information with the major upheaval, according to NetEase CEO William Ding, “We are honored to have had the privilege of serving our gamers over the past 14 years and have shared many precious moments with them during that time. We 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.”
On the Activision Blizzard side of the matter, Blizzard Entertainment president Mike Ybarra has hinted that this may not be the permanent end of Blizzard games in China, “We’re immensely grateful for the passion our Chinese community has shown throughout the nearly 20 years we’ve been bringing our games to China through NetEase and other partners. Their enthusiasm and creativity inspire us, and we are looking for alternatives to bring our games back to players in the future.”
The official press releases don’t indicate why the deal isn’t being renewed, however. On this subject, Ding said, “We have put in a great deal of effort and tried with our utmost sincerity to negotiate with Activision Blizzard so that we could continue our collaboration and serve the many dedicated players in China. However, there were material differences on key terms and we could not reach an agreement. We hold high regard in our product and operational standards and abide by our commitments to Chinese players.”
Outside of the official statements, the situation is even less positive. Simon Zhu, president of NetEase Games, posted to their LinkedIn (opens in new tab) saying, “One day, when what has happened behind the scene could be told, developers and gamers will have a whole new level understanding of how much damage a jerk can make. Feel terrible for players who lived in those worlds.”
It’s not clear to whom Zhu is referring when they say “jerk,” but many people have already speculated the comment is about Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick. There’s limited information available at the moment, but it’s likely that the behind-the-scenes paints a more complicated picture for why the working relationship between Activision Blizzard and NetEase fell apart and stripped Chinese gamers of Blizzard Entertainment products.