China-based game publisher NetEase has defended itself from criticism after former partner company Activision Blizzard claimed it had rejected a sound offer to keep Blizzard Entertainment’s games in China for an additional six-month period. In mid-January, Activision Blizzard stated that NetEase had declined a publishing extension, and was not willing to extend service, despite the games being set to leave China on 23 January 2023.
NetEase has now spoken out against this claim, telling Reuters that Activision Blizzard offered a ‘commercially illogical’ proposal that was ‘seeking a divorce but still remaining attached’. It appears Activision Blizzard wanted NetEase to continue publishing its games in China for a short period as it sought a new publishing partner – effectively treating NetEase as a temporary ‘go between’ solution.
‘Considering the non-reciprocity, unfairness and other strict conditions attached to the cooperation, the parties could not reach an agreement in the end,’ NetEase said. The offer was reportedly only provided in early January, weeks before the planned removal of Blizzard games.
These discussions appear to be the final pitstop in a months-long dispute between NetEase and Activision Blizzard, which ended in the dissolution of a 14-year-long deal to publish Blizzard Entertainment games, including Overwatch 2, World of Warcraft, and Starcraft, in China.
Once the current deal expires on 23 January, servers and other support for these games will be removed – effectively rendering them unplayable for everyone in China. As one of the largest global gaming markets, it’s not a loss Activision Blizzard can afford to take – but given the terms laid out here, it’s apparent the company is currently looking for other regional partners to cooperate with.
Finding a solution will likely take several months, and with NetEase reasonably refusing to cover the gap while Activision Blizzard seeks new partners, it does appear there will be a significant gap in which Blizzard Entertainment’s games are unplayable for Chinese fans.
Stay tuned for each company’s next steps as the partnership dissolves, and Blizzard’s games make a sharp exit from China.