Almost all of Blizzard’s games will soon become officially unavailable in China due to a lapsing contract with publisher NetEase. A press release from the Chinese publisher confirmed that they have been unable to renew their 14-year long contract with Blizzard and that their partnership will conclude on Jan. 23 of next year. Because all games developed outside of China are required to have a Chinese publisher to operate legally, the end of this agreement means that almost all of Blizzard’s games will become inaccessible through official channels in the country.
To be specific, the games affected are World of Warcraft, Overwatch 2, Hearthstone, all StarCraft titles, Diablo 3, Heroes of the Storm, and Warcraft 3: Reforged. The sole exception is Diablo: Immortal, which was operating on a separate NetEase contract that will remain in effect.
In the press release, CEO of NetEase William Ding wrote, “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.” The company also downplayed the financial significance of the deal’s dissolution, stating that the income contribution of these Blizzard games “represented low single digits as a percentage of NetEase’s total net revenues and net income in 2021,” and that “the expiration of such licenses will have no material impact on NetEase’s financial results.” Presently, the company’s stock remains largely unaffected by the announcement.
In Blizzard’s own press release, president of Blizzard Entertainment Mike Ybarra wrote, “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,” and that “we are looking for alternatives to bring our games back to players in the future.”
In an interview with GamesIndustry.biz, analyst Daniel Camilo explained that NetEase has been increasingly focusing on publishing games for the global market instead of in China and that although Blizzard games have historically been hits in the country, their titles no longer “carry the weight they used to in the last decade.” Camilo also said that it currently takes months to secure a publishing license, meaning that Blizzard’s games are likely a way out from returning.
Activision Blizzard is currently in the middle of being acquired by Microsoft for $68.7 billion, while NetEase recently made several significant business moves such as acquiring Suda51’s studio Grasshopper Manufacture, opening its own studio in Japan, and purchasing Quantic Dream.