World of Warcraft, one of the most groundbreaking online games in history, will go offline in China today.
Millions of gamers will be forced to say an emotional goodbye to their fantasy characters as a public spat between developer Blizzard and publisher NetEase ends a 14-year deal.
Warcraft, first released in North America in 2004, was initially approved in the notoriously restrictive Chinese language gamble Market back to 2005.
Blizzard’s massively multiplayer games have been managed on its servers since 2008 China Operated by NetEase, which also operates customized versions of some other popular Western games such as Minecraft.
Blizzard – Owned by Activision Blizzard, Gaming giant Microsoft is trying to snap up a $69bn (£56bn) takeover deal – First announced that the deal with NetEase would close last November.
It not only affected Warcraft, which has an estimated 3 million players in China, but also other popular Blizzard titles, such as the multiplayer shooter Overwatchthe card game Hearthstone and the sci-fi strategy game StarCraft.
ugly disputes made public
In a statement condemning the breakup, NetEase Global Investment President Simon Zhu said he had spent “10,000 hours” playing the games.
“One day, when what’s going on behind the scenes can be told, developers and gamers will have a whole new appreciation for how much damage a jerk can cause,” he wrote on LinkedIn.
NetEase earlier this month rejected a proposal to extend the agreement by six months, saying it was “commercially illogical” and accusing Blizzard of “seeking a divorce but remaining attached.”
Citing a person close to Blizzard, Reuters reported that the dispute stemmed from NetEase’s desire to make structural changes that would affect the US company’s control over its intellectual property (IP).
In the 14-year agreement, NetEase insisted that “any use and licensing of Blizzard IP is performed in accordance with the terms of the contract and has been agreed and approved by Blizzard”.
“We would like to clarify that we never attempted to gain control of the IP from Activision Blizzard – this is a baseless allegation,” a NetEase spokesperson told Sky News.
“We hope to continue working with Activision Blizzard in no different way than other companies in our industry partner to license and operate online games,” they added.
The companies previously renewed their initial 2008 deal in 2019.
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Before the deal closed on Monday, Blizzard took the unusual step of allowing their Chinese Warcraft players to download their characters and progress, which would cost thousands of hours for some.
If Blizzard finds a new distribution partner in China, their data will be able to be uploaded back into the game, China remains one of the most profitable markets in the world Despite government restrictions.
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NetEase’s rise to become China’s second-largest game company was largely due to its partnership with Blizzard, but its own games now account for more than 60% of its revenue.
The industry leader in the country is Tencent, which, in addition to making its own games, also owns American gaming giant Riot, the company behind League of legendsand holds stakes in major Western developers such as Fortnite developer Epic and Assassin’s Creed developer Ubisoft.