Fans of Blizzard games like World of Warcraft and Overwatch in China are mourning the closure of most of Blizzard’s gaming services in the country after Activision Blizzard and China’s NetEase Games failed to renew their licensing agreement.
The two companies had been partners for 14 years, with Blizzard’s MMORPG operating under a separate company in the country for a number of years prior to Blizzard and NetEase’s partnership. The handover between WoW’s former operator in China and NetEase in 2009 marked the first time WoW was shut down in the region, although it was only for a few months.
This is how it starts.
It’s funny that we call this file “electronic urn” here and the process of creating this file “cremation”.
Unfortunately, players will not be able to gather in the city like last time and wait for the last moment together, since this service with the servers breaks down. pic.twitter.com/k04HqDfiMF
— Peter Yu (@Peterodox) January 18, 2023
Activision Blizzard announced late last year that it would not be renewing its contract with NetEase as gaming services would end on January 23. That time is now over, as WoW players in China have been forced to download nearly two decades of character data in hopes that one day the game’s servers can return and their characters can be restored.
A longtime WoW player in China documented the game’s final moments in the country Twitter, and explains that the process of downloading her character is referred to as digital “cremation” among Chinese players. Unfortunately, the server shutdown was a quiet affair, as the act of a player downloading their character data effectively prevents them from playing the game and attending any sort of farewell gathering.
In a lengthy LinkedIn post titled “A Love Letter: The Memory Remains,” NetEase’s President of Global Investments and Partnerships, Simon Zhu, personally thanked various Blizzard employees (many of whom are no longer with the company) for their contributions to the Creation of these worlds were enjoyed by millions of Chinese players.
“Today is such a sad moment to witness the server shutdown and we don’t know how things will develop in the future,” Zhu wrote. “The biggest casualty would be players in China who live and breathe in those worlds. I also know how difficult it will feel for the Blizzard developers who have poured all their passion and talent into building these amazing worlds. I hope all these precious memories never fade.”
Activision Blizzard is looking for a new partner in China to distribute its games, but has recently attempted to extend its contract with NetEase by just six months to avoid a disruption in game services. NetEase rejected that deal, citing unfair treatment because Blizzard had reportedly offered three-year contracts to other companies. Both companies have issued statements essentially blaming each other for the failure of the deal. NetEase has since disbanded the team responsible for Blizzard games in the region, even going so far as to demolish its Blizzard offices and dismantle an orc statue live on stream.
It’s unclear when Blizzard games might return to China. WoW general manager John Hight said in December that Blizzard was in talks with “a number of new distribution partners” and that the “process will continue until we find a viable solution.”
Despite the apparent bad blood between Blizzard and NetEase, there is one Blizzard game that will remain playable in China: Diablo Immortal. The free mobile game was developed by NetEase together with Blizzard and is included in a separate license agreement between the two companies. NetEase was also reportedly working on a Warcraft mobile MMO until last year, when the project was shelved after Blizzard and NetEase couldn’t agree on financial terms.
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https://www.gamespot.com/articles/chinese-wow-servers-shut-down-after-14-years-following-expiration-of-netease-agreement/1100-6510829/?ftag=CAD-01-10abi2f Chinese WoW servers will be shut down for 14 years after the NetEase agreement expires