The logo of video game publisher Blizzard Entertainment.
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Blizzard Entertainment is in talks with potential partners about continuing to offer its popular World of Warcraft title in China, as its deal with Chinese gaming giant NetEase is set to wind down.
The company is “currently negotiating with some new potential distribution partners in the national service area,” said John Hight, general manager of the Warcraft franchise, according to a Google translation of a letter posted Tuesday by Blizzard on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. “This process will continue until we find an appropriate solution.”
Blizzard said last month that it would discontinue services for World of Warcraft and other games in China from January 2023, after failing to renew its contract with NetEase. The deal, first signed in August 2008, allowed Blizzard to offer World of Warcraft in the country, where it has since become wildly popular.
World of Warcraft is a massively multiplayer online game that sees players role play as their own characters, embark on various quests and battle monsters.
Chinese players are worried their game data will be deleted once Blizzard’s tie-up with NetEase ends.
In a bid to reassure them Tuesday, Hight said: “The ‘World of Warcraft’ team is working hard to develop a feature that allows you to transfer your game characters, props, and Azerites [an in-game currency] before the game is shut down on January 23.”
“The progress of the game in Lars World will be stored in your personal devices,” Hight added.
High did not say whether Blizzard plans to seek alternative distribution partners for its other games in China, which include Hearthstone, Starcraft and Diablo III.
Blizzard’s partnership with NetEase marked one of most significant examples of a Western game franchise finding success in the Chinese market. It is now set to end after 14 years.
In November, NetEase CEO William Ding said Blizzard and NetEase had “material differences on key terms” when they were looking to renew their agreement.
Mike Ybarra, president of Blizzard, said in November that the company was “immensely grateful” for the passion of its Chinese community and was “looking for alternatives to bring our games back to players in the future.”
Upcoming releases for World of Warcraft: Dragonflight, Hearthstone: March of the Lich King and season 2 of Overwatch 2 are expected to proceed as normal later this year, while the launch of mobile and PC game Diablo Immortal in China won’t be affected as it is covered by a separate agreement.
More generally, life has been tough for video games companies in China since Beijing embarked on a crackdown of the industry in 2018. The government has limited the time minors can play games online to only three hours per week. And it has tight restrictions on the release of new games.
There are some signs the crackdown may be easing, though, with the pace of new game approvals accelerating this year.
Blizzard has been owned by Activision, the maker of Call of Duty, since the two firms’ merger in 2008. Microsoft is seeking to acquire the combined group, Activision Blizzard, for almost $69 billion. However, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is suing to block the deal on competition grounds, and regulators in the U.K. and European Union are also investigating it.