Why World of Warcraft is no longer available in China

Blizzard Entertainment’s servers in China shut down after 14 years

World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft and other video games developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment are no longer accessible to players in mainland China.

After 14 years of operation, the company’s servers in the country went offline at midnight local time on Tuesday, January 24th, marking the end of an era for millions of Chinese players.

Set in the medieval world of Azeroth, World of Warcraft, a.k.a. WoW, is a massively popular online multiplayer game that allows users to fight monsters and journey through expeditions. The fantasy game is known for being highly addictive, so it’s not surprising that a lot of Chinese fans were upset and left heartbroken following the shutdown of the service in the country.

“When I woke up, I still didn’t want to accept [it],” a fan from mainland China wrote on Weibo — a Twitter-like social networking site — after World of Warcraft went dark in the country. “I cried all night in my sleep because the game went offline. I dreamed that I was crying in the middle of the class.”

Another player from the country wrote that World of Warcraft “was not just a game”, but “also the memories of a whole generation” of young Chinese people.

Some Chinese gamers called World of Warcraft their “first love” so they “really can’t forget it.”

In addition to World of Warcraft, other Blizzard games that were shut down in the country include Overwatch 2, Diablo III, and Hearthstone.

Characters from different Blizzard Entertainment games
Characters from different Blizzard Entertainment games

Why did World of Warcraft shut down in China?

Under local law, foreign game developers are required to partner with Chinese companies to offer their products and services in the country. Through Blizzard’s licensing agreement with its longtime local partner NetEase, World of Warcraft and other games from its library had been available in China since 2008. But in November 2022, Blizzard and NetEase revealed for the first time that they would not renew their licensing agreements, which ultimately expired this month.

Without giving specific details, Blizzard and NetEase companies released separate statements at that time saying that they were unable to reach a new agreement on key terms. But earlier this January 2023, Blizzard released a new statement revealing that it approached NetEase again this month “for assistance in exploring a six-month extension” of their existing agreement “to allow everyone to continue playing without disruption and for Blizzard to continue exploring a reasonable and long-term path forward in the China region.”

NetEase games
NetEase games

Blizzard, a subsidiary of the American-owned video game holding company Activision Blizzard, pointed out in its latest statement that its request for a six-month contract extension was “based on terms NetEase has agreed to in 2019.”

Blizzard’s request for a six-month extension was confirmed by NetEase in a separate statement. But the Chinese tech and gaming giant denied the request, calling the proposal of its U.S. counterpart “outrageous, inappropriate, and not in line with business logic.”

NetEase also accused Blizzard of blindsiding it with its “sudden statement”, pointing out that the latter had already begun “the work of finding new partners” in China, putting the former in an “unfair” position.

Despite the non-renewal of licensing agreements between Blizzard and NetEase for World of Warcraft and other Blizzard games, both companies are still working together on the joint development and publishing of Diablo Immortal through a separate deal. NetEase confirmed in a statement in November that this collaboration would continue.

Is World of Warcraft returning to China?

World of Warcraft Battle for Azeroth
Promo art for World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth

In December 2022, Blizzard made it clear that the shutdown of its Chinese servers was not “the end” but just a “temporary unhappy suspension”. Before the deactivation of the servers in the country, Blizzard reminded World of Warcraft players that they can save their data for use when WoW and other Blizzard games return to China.

Blizzard spokesperson Joe Christinat also told The Verge this January 2023 that Activision Blizzard is in active talks with potential partners to resume gameplay for their iconic franchises in China.

Sources: CNN, The Verge, The Guardian
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