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Microsoft and NetEase to re-launch Warcraft game in China, ending feud

Microsoft and NetEase to re-launch Warcraft game in China, ending feud
Gamers play the 'World of Warcraft' computer game at the Gamescom gaming industry event in Cologne. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

HONG KONG, April 10 (Reuters) - Chinese video games giant NetEase 9999.HK said it is working with Microsoft MSFT.O to bring popular games including "World of Warcraft" back to the country after a public fallout that ended a decade-long partnership in 2023.

By Josh Ye

The two companies said in press release on Wednesday that they are working to bring games developed by Blizzard Entertainment, a subsidiary of U.S. gaming giant Activision Blizzard which Microsoft acquired last year, back to the world’s second-largest economy, starting this summer. NetEase was the publisher of Blizzard’s games in China from 2008 to 2023.

“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.

Additionally, Microsoft and NetEase said they have also entered into an agreement to explore bringing new NetEase titles to Microsoft’s Xbox gaming consoles and its other gaming platforms.

A number of popular online games developed by Blizzard were taken offline in China last year after the company terminated its lucrative, 14-year-long partnership with NetEase, citing disagreement over intellectual property control.

The incident escalated into an open feud that saw the two companies sue each other. Tension eased after Microsoft acquired Activision Blizzard in October, which was followed by changes to the latter’s management.

Local Chinese media reported late last year that NetEase and Microsoft were seeking ways to bury the hatchet and re-launch the games in China.

The exit of Blizzard games was closely watched because Blizzard’s games were highly popular in China. Chinese media said “World of Warcraft” alone had five million Chinese gamers in 2009 after NetEase became the publisher.

The press release on Wednesday showed the renewed publishing agreement covers Blizzard’s flagship games “World of Warcraft” and “Hearthstone” as well as other titles in the “Warcraft”, “Overwatch”, “Diablo” and “StarCraft” franchises.

The earlier breakup sparked outcry with millions of Chinese netizens complaining online that they would lose access to their favourite games.

In February 2023, before the games were taken offline, over a million of Chinese gamers requested refunds for unspent services in Blizzard’s games, NetEase customer service said at the time.

Netease is China’s second-largest video games company by revenue after Tencent 0700.HK.

(Reporting by Josh Ye; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

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