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Blizzard strikes new deal with NetEase to bring World of Warcraft and other games back to China

In brief: Great news for fans of Blizzard games who live in China. After the US giant’s failure to renew licensing agreements with local partner NetEase in January, a number of its titles went offline in the Asian nation. But reports say that Blizzard has reached a new deal with NetEase that will see China-based gamers able to easily access its library of titles once again.

It was back in November when Blizzard announced its agreement with NetEase that allowed the former to publish games in mainland China since 2008 would expire on January 23, 2023, the result of the two parties failing to reach a deal to renew the license. Blizzard at the time said it could not come to an agreement consistent with its “operating principles and commitments to players and employees.”

Attempts to extend the deal by six months so Blizzard could find a new publishing partner in China failed. The country’s strict gaming rules require foreign titles only to be published by local distributors to ensure proper license rules are adhered to.

The companies hurled accusations at each other following the breakdown of talks, and in January, most of Blizzard’s games were taken offline in China. NetEase filed lawsuits against Blizzard over the refunds it had to pay affected gamers. Blizzard responded with lawsuits of its own, claiming property infringement and unfair competition over NetEase’s game Justice, which was designed to attract WoW fans.

However, it appears that relations between the firms have been restored in the wake of Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard. Chinese news site 36Kr writes that Blizzard had been in talks with other publishers in the country to bring its games back, but it has now managed to renew the original partnership with NetEase.

Gamers in China will still have to wait a while before being able to play the likes of WoW, Diablo 4, and Overwatch 2 without using non-official means, such as VPNs. The report states that once the new deal is signed, it will take at least six months for the games to return as the companies rebuild their operations and test servers.

News of the reunion is being celebrated in China as #NetEaseBlizzardReunion became a top-trending hashtag on Weibo, writes SCMP. World of Warcraft had been especially popular in China, though like everywhere else in the world, player numbers declined in recent years before the local servers were taken offline.

The finalization of Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard likely played a large part in the companies’ reconciliation. Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, who’s never enjoyed the best reputation, was reportedly considered by NetEase to be a tough person to deal with. He will step down from his position on December 29.

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