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World of Warcraft character (Photo credit  DonanımHaber)
World of Warcraft character (Photo credit: DonanımHaber)

After over two decades of entertaining Chinese players, Blizzard Entertainment shut their servers at midnight local time on Tuesday 24 January 2022. Following what is now called the end of an era, millions of gamers in China have lost access to the widely popular “World of Warcraft” franchise and other games.

Blizzard Entertainment had been in a longtime licensing agreement with local partner NetEase (NTES) through which smash hits from the U.S. game developer and publisher were made accessible to players in China. Sadly, that licensing agreement has expired and renewal efforts failed as a result of a dispute between Blizzard and NetEase.

World of Warcraft (WoW) is a popular online multiplayer game that even earned a movie adaptation of the same name. The game’s popularity grew over the years and it now has everything from board games to playing cards, and a glowing mouse pad.

The game throws players into an imaginary world where they have to fight monsters as they journey through the medieval world of Azeroth.

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As one of the longest-running games, many players all over the world grew up playing it. Therefore, the loss was monumental for those that have become attached to the game or have built memories around it.

“I didn’t want to accept the reality when I woke up,” one gamer wrote on Tuesday 24 January 2023 on Weibo, a platform similar to Twitter. “I cried throughout the night because the game went offline. I was crying in the center of the class in my dream.”

The challenges of serving Chinese gamers

US gaming giant Blizzard Entertainment during the annual China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference, known as ChinaJoy, in Shanghai.  (Photo credit: CNS / AFP/ Getty Images)
US gaming giant Blizzard Entertainment during the annual China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference, known as ChinaJoy, in Shanghai. (Photo credit: CNS / AFP/ Getty Images)

Unlike other parts of the world, video game publishers must collaborate with local partners to bring their games to the screens of players in China. Blizzard, a unit of Activision Blizzard (ATVI) has been doing this with NetEase until November 2022 when they announced that the licensing agreement would not be renewed.

Since 2008, Blizzard has worked with NetEase to bring its popular titles like “Diablo III”, “Hearthstone”, and “World of Warcraft” to mainland China. Both sides released separate statements saying they were unable to find a common ground on key terms without going into details.

However, on Tuesday 17 January 2022, Blizzard disclosed that it reached out to NetEase “for help in exploring a possible six-month extension to the existing agreement [to allow fans uninterrupted access] based on personal feelings as gamers, and the frustration players in China have directed to us. Unfortunately, NetEase declined our proposal for an extension.”

NetEase has been Blizzard's long-time partner (Photo credit: Sergei Elagin Shutterstock)
NetEase has been Blizzard’s long-time partner (Photo credit: Sergei Elagin Shutterstock)

In an unexpected response, NetEase accused Blizzard of blindsiding it with the “sudden statement”. The Chinese tech and gaming giant also described the so-called proposal from the U.S. company with strong terms as “outrageous, inappropriate, and not in line with business logic.”

Furthermore, NetEase also revealed that Blizzard was already in the process of finding a new partner in China which puts them in an “unfair” position. Enthusiasts that have followed the partnership between the two companies for the past 14 years were stunned by the public outburst.

It may not be game over for players in China

Although millions of gamers in China are counting their loss, there is a chance that they will get back online before long. Blizzard and NetEase in a separate agreement will collaborate to jointly develop and publish “Diablo Immortal”.

This is another demon-slaying multiplayer game that has garnered lots of followers. Although NetEase disagreed with the extension of their licensing agreement with Blizzard, they said clearly that the other development project would continue.

While gamers in China wait patiently for Blizzard to find a new partner, the company told fans of World of Warcraft back in December 2022 that they can backup their playing history so that they don’t lose their progress.

Whenever Blizzard finds a new partner, gamers that saved their progress can pick up from where they stopped. Activision Blizzard had another partner before NetEase. Speaking to CNN, a spokesperson for Activision Blizzard expressed the company’s commitment to developers in China.

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“Our commitment to gamers on mainland China remains strong,” the spokesperson said, “as we continue to work with Tencent to distribute ‘Call of Duty: Mobile’ and engage with potential partners to resume gameplay for Blizzard’s iconic franchise.”

History and features of World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft Shadowlands (Photo credit: DonanımHaber)
World of Warcraft Shadowlands (Photo credit: DonanımHaber)

World of Warcraft is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that was first released on 14 November 2004. It allows millions of players to play online at the same time in a world that exists independently of each character.

World of Warcraft is part of the Warcraft franchise which has other titles like “Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos”, “Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness”, and “Warcraft: Orcs & Humans”.

World of Warcraft is set in Azeroth, a fictional world where players create avatar-like characters and interact with NPCs (non-playable characters) as well as other players from around the world.

Gamers complete diverse missions, battles, and quests in solo mode or as part of a guild. Winners earn weapons, gold, and other valuable items that can be used to upgrade the character. One thing is clear, gamers in China have not seen the last of World of Warcraft.