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Microsoft Brings Warcraft Back to China Following Purchase of Activision Blizzard

Last Updated April 10, 2024 9:49 AM
Giuseppe Ciccomascolo
Last Updated April 10, 2024 9:49 AM

Key Takeaways

  • Microsoft’s Blizzard signed a deal to revive its partnership with NetEase.
  • Popular titles like World of Warcraft, StarCraft, Diablo, Hearthstone, and Overwatch are returning to China.
  • The Chinese gaming market is expected to resurge next summer.

NetEase has struck a new agreement  with Microsoft’s Blizzard Entertainment to distribute games in China. This will reinvigorate a 15-year partnership and bring back titles like World of Warcraft to the world’s largest gaming market.

This deal  not only fortifies the bond between these two gaming behemoths. But it also heralds a resurgence in China’s gaming sector, setting the stage for exciting new developments.

Warcraft Returns To China

Renowned franchises such as Warcraft, StarCraft, Diablo, Hearthstone, and Overwatch are poised to return to the gaming landscape in China. Following a hiatus initiated by the Hangzhou-based publishing powerhouse and Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard subsidiary due to contractual disagreements, this deal marks a revival of their longstanding partnership.

“We at Blizzard are thrilled to reestablish our partnership with NetEase and to work together, with deep appreciation for the collaboration between our teams, to deliver legendary gaming experiences to players in China,” said  Johanna Faries, President of Blizzard Entertainment.

In addition to resurrecting these beloved classics, Microsoft and NetEase have also announced  plans to delve into new territories. These include the introduction of innovative NetEase titles to Microsoft’s Xbox gaming consoles and other gaming platforms.

“Returning Blizzard’s legendary games to players in China while exploring ways to bring more new titles to Xbox demonstrates our commitment to bringing more games to more players around the world,” said Phil Spencer, CEO of Microsoft Gaming.

What’s Next?

Last year, the longstanding partnership between NetEase and game developer Activision Blizzard ended after 14 years. This was due to disagreements over intellectual property control.

However, tensions eased following Microsoft’s monumental acquisition of Activision Blizzard for $69 billion in October 2023. It marked the largest deal in the gaming industry’s history.

The return of beloved Blizzard titles such as Hearthstone, Warcraft, Overwatch, Diablo, and StarCraft to China signifies a significant turning point. With most online game services and sales suspended in mainland China following the expiration of the previous agreement over a year ago, both parties experienced a notable loss in revenue. The highly anticipated release of Diablo IV in June 2023, which garnered significant international acclaim, remained unavailable in China.

Now, in a promising development, the companies have announced plans for a sequential return of Blizzard games to the Chinese market. The return will occur next summer, with further details forthcoming.

Chinese Gaming Market Opens Up Again

China maintains its position as the global leader in the online gaming sector. Domestic revenue surged by 13% to reach 303 billion yuan ($42 billion) at the end of 2023. However, the lucrative nature of this sector has often found itself at odds with regulatory authorities.

The Chinese government’s initial intervention in the gaming sphere occurred in 2021. It decreed that online gamers under 18 could only engage in gaming activities for one hour on Fridays, weekends, and holidays.

Authorities announced  additional restrictions toward the end of last year to curb in-game purchases. However, China appears to have taken a step back from stringent regulations aimed at combatting what regulators termed ‘obsessive’ gaming behavior.

The dissolution of partnerships within the gaming industry prompted widespread outcry. Millions of Chinese internet users were concerned about potentially losing access to their cherished gaming experiences.

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