May 22, 2024

Microsoft and NetEase end dispute and bring Warcraft back to China – April 10, 2024 at 3:00 AM

Chinese video game company NetEase announced it is working with Microsoft to bring popular games like World of Warcraft back to the country after a public dispute ended a decade-long partnership in 2023.

The two companies said in a press release on Wednesday that they are working to return Blizzard Entertainment Games, a subsidiary of American gaming giant Activision Blizzard that was acquired by Microsoft last year, to the world's second-largest economy starting this summer. NetEase was the publisher of Blizzard games in China from 2008 to 2023.

“At Blizzard, we are very pleased to resume our partnership with NetEase, and together, with great appreciation for the collaboration of our teams, we are bringing legendary gaming experiences to players in China,” said Joanna Farris, President of Blizzard Entertainment.

In addition, Microsoft and NetEase have reached an agreement to develop new NetEase titles for Microsoft's Xbox consoles and other gaming platforms.

A number of popular online games developed by Blizzard were pulled from the Internet in China last year after the company ended its lucrative 14-year partnership with NetEase, citing disputes over intellectual property oversight.

The incident escalated into an open dispute, with the two companies suing each other. Tensions eased after Microsoft's acquisition of Activision Blizzard in October, which led to changes in Activision Blizzard's management.

Local Chinese media reported late last year that NetEase and Microsoft were looking for ways to bury the hatchet and relaunch games in China.

Blizzard Games' exit was closely watched as Blizzard games were very popular in China. According to Chinese media, World of Warcraft alone had five million Chinese players in 2009 after NetEase became the publisher.

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Wednesday's press release states that the renewed publishing agreement includes Blizzard's flagship games “World of Warcraft” and “Hearthstone,” as well as other titles in the “Warcraft,” “Overwatch,” “Diablo” and “StarCraft” franchises.

The previous breakup caused an uproar. Millions of Chinese netizens have complained online that they will lose access to their favorite games.

In February 2023, before the games were shut down, more than 1 million Chinese gamers requested refunds for unused services in Blizzard games, NetEase customer service said at the time.

Netease is China's second-largest video game company by revenue after Tencent. (Reporting by Josh Yee; Editing by Christopher Cushing)