Blizzard is blaming NetEase for its games going offline in China next week

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In December we reported on how Chinese players were being prepared for the end of World of Warcraft, with Blizzard's 14-year publishing agreement with NetEase drawing to a close. All new sales of Blizzard games in the region have been suspended since late last year and, while Blizzard promised to find a solution for save transfers, the continued operation of its games requires finding a new Chinese publishing partner.

It now seems inevitable that Blizzard's games in China will cease to function on January 23 when its current deal runs out, after NetEase turned down a proposed six month extension under the existing terms. Blizzard China said on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo (via Reuters) that it had contacted NetEase last week about the extension, but been turned down: 

"It is a pity that NetEase is not willing to extend services of our game for another six months on the basis of existing terms as we look for a new partner," said the statement.

NetEase, a company that in its early days was built on the success of its licensed Blizzard games, has made no comment. The publisher's boss William Ding said last year "there were material differences on key terms" between the companies.

This has a wider context than just Blizzard and NetEase: All videogames require a Chinese publisher and government licenses to operate in the region, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has started paying increasingly close attention to the content of foreign titles. On top of that, in 2021 the CCP limited the amount of time children can spend playing games to one hour a day on Fridays, weekends and holidays. Which is not the ideal situation for a raiding party.

Whether Blizzard will be able to find another publishing partner in the region remains to be seen, and there's no sign yet of the promised solution for players' saves (though if the games aren't coming back, maybe that's a moot point). The publisher's games have always been hugely popular in China, and you'd think money would talk, but the unknowable element here is whether things simply fell apart with NetEase or if Blizzard is being squeezed-out of the Chinese market as part of a wider trend.

I've contacted Blizzard to ask about the situation, the save transfers, and whether it expects its games to return to operation in China, and will update with any response.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."