There is no official word yet, but the end of the fourteen-year deal will make most Blizzard games officially unavailable in China.
The South China Morning Post has reported that the Chinese NetEase team behind the games licensed from Blizzard Entertainment (Overwatch, or rather Overwatch 2, Hearthstone, World of Warcraft, Diablo, the Starcraft franchise, and Heroes of the Storm) has split up ahead of the termination of the nearly decade and a half long agreement between the two parties on January 23.
The games have reportedly been unavailable for purchase since November 23. Activision Blizzard is trying to work out a refund plan with the Chinese tech giant while also vowing to protect players’ data and assets. According to the South China Morning Post, members of the Blizzard team have either been dismissed or have been able to find employment elsewhere within NetEase. A minimal (“skeleton”) team remains: the ten-person team will continue to handle customer support and technical issue-related activities for six months after the agreement expires.
It’s worth pointing out that we only mentioned Diablo, not Diablo Immortal (on which NetEase was actively working with Activision Blizzard). That game will remain available in China, and Blizzard is now working on a new deal with NetEase for the game, which is being run by the Chinese company (and, of course, the people behind the game are not involved in the cuts). In December, Activision Blizzard was already in talks with other Chinese companies about distribution there. Still, despite several companies sending delegations to the US, none of them got a deal done in time (and now, with the pandemic, it would be difficult to get into the US because of required negative tests).
Surprisingly, Activision Blizzard couldn’t reach an agreement with Tencent since (before Microsoft made a takeover bid for the publisher) they already had a 5% stake in the company in 2013. It is incomprehensible. Microsoft’s transaction hasn’t closed yet, so they have no say…
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