World of Warcraft, one the most iconic online games ever, will be taken offline in China today.
Millions of players will have to say goodbye to their heroes after a public dispute between publisher NetEase and developer Blizzard ends a 14-year contract.
Warcraft, the first game to be released in North America in 2004, was originally allowed to launch in China’s gaming market in 2005.
Blizzard’s multiplayer game has been hosted in China since 2008. NetEase also manages bespoke versions of some other Western games, such as Minecraft.
Blizzard – which is owned Activision Blizzard is trying to purchase in a record $69bn takeover deal. The deal is a record for Microsoft’s gaming giant. It was first announced that it would be ending its NetEase deal last November.
This affects not only Warcraft, with an estimated three billion players in China, but also Blizzard’s other hits, like multiplayer shooter Overwatch and card game Hearthstone.
A public dispute
Simon Zhu (NetEase’s President of Global Investment) stated that he had played those games for “10,000 hours”, in a shocking statement about the split.
He wrote that “one day, when the truth behind the scenes could be revealed, developers and gamers would have a whole new understanding of how much damage an alcoholic can cause,” on LinkedIn.
NetEase turned down an earlier offer to extend the agreement for six months. It described the proposal as “commercially absurd” and accused Blizzard “seeking divorce, but remaining attached”.
According to Reuters, a source close to Blizzard said that NetEase wanted structural changes to affect the US firm’s intellectual property control.
NetEase maintained that all Blizzard IP usages and licensing were in compliance with the contract terms and with Blizzard’s consent and approval throughout the 14-year agreement.
Both companies had renewed their 2008 initial deal in 2019.
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Blizzard allowed their Chinese Warcraft players access to their characters and progress ahead of Monday’s deal expiring. Some of these characters will last thousands upon thousands of hours.
If Blizzard locates a new distributor in China, it will be possible to upload their data back into the game. China remains one of the most lucrative markets , despite the restrictions imposed by government.
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NetEase has grown to become China’s second largest gaming company, largely due to its partnership with Blizzard. However, NetEase now accounts for over 60% of its revenue through its own titles.
Tencent is the country’s leading industry player. It also owns US gaming giant Riot. The firm behind League Of Legends, and has stakes in major Western developers such as Epic Games and Ubisoft, creators of Assassin’s Creed.