Blizzard Entertainment, the American video game developer behind popular titles such as World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and Hearthstone, is reportedly planning to re-enter the Chinese market with a new partnership with NetEase, a Chinese internet company that operates online games and other digital services. The two companies have a history of collaboration, but also a history of conflict, which led to the termination of their previous partnership in 2022. However, recent rumors suggest that they are willing to bury the hatchet and work together again, for mutual benefits and opportunities.
Background on Blizzard and NetEase Partnership
Blizzard and NetEase first partnered in 2008, when NetEase obtained the license to operate Blizzard’s games in mainland China, including World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III, Hearthstone, and Overwatch. The partnership was successful for both parties, as Blizzard gained access to the lucrative and growing Chinese gaming market, and NetEase earned a share of the revenue and reputation from Blizzard’s high-quality games. The partnership also allowed Blizzard to comply with the Chinese government’s regulations and censorship policies, which NetEase was familiar with.
Fallout and End of Partnership
However, the partnership was not without challenges and controversies. In 2019, Blizzard faced a backlash from its global fanbase, when it banned a professional Hearthstone player from Hong Kong, who expressed support for the pro-democracy protests in the city, during a live-streamed tournament. NetEase, which hosted the tournament, was accused of pressuring Blizzard to take action, in order to appease the Chinese authorities and avoid losing its license. Blizzard later reduced the ban and restored the player’s prize money, but the damage was done, as many players and employees criticized Blizzard for compromising its values and freedom of expression.
The relationship between Blizzard and NetEase deteriorated further in 2022 when Blizzard announced that it was ending its partnership with NetEase, and transferring the operation of its games in China to another company, Tencent, which is NetEase’s main rival and the largest gaming company in the world. Blizzard cited “strategic reasons” for the decision, but some analysts speculated that Blizzard was unhappy with NetEase’s performance and service quality and that it wanted to leverage Tencent’s resources and influence to expand its presence and reach in China.
Rumors of Rekindled Partnership
News About a New Deal
However, in a surprising turn of events, rumors have emerged that Blizzard and NetEase are planning to rekindle their partnership and that they have already signed a new deal, which will be announced soon. According to anonymous sources, the deal will involve NetEase taking over the operation of Blizzard’s upcoming game, Diablo IV, in China, as well as co-developing and publishing a new mobile game, based on Blizzard’s intellectual property. The sources also claimed that Blizzard and NetEase have resolved their differences and agreed to cooperate on future projects, as well as share technology and expertise.
Potential Reasons for the Renewed Partnership
The reasons for the rumored comeback of Blizzard and NetEase are unclear, but some possible factors are:
- Blizzard’s dissatisfaction with Tencent: Blizzard may have realized that working with Tencent is not as beneficial as it expected and that it faces more competition and pressure from Tencent’s own games and platforms, such as League of Legends, Honor of Kings, and WeChat. Blizzard may also have encountered difficulties in adapting to Tencent’s culture and management style, which are different from NetEase’s.
- NetEase’s ambition and innovation: NetEase may have impressed Blizzard with its ambition and innovation, as it has been developing and launching its own original games, such as Onmyoji, Identity V, and Revelation Online, which have gained popularity and acclaim in China and abroad. NetEase may also have demonstrated its ability and willingness to invest in new technologies and genres, such as cloud gaming, virtual reality, and e-sports, which Blizzard may want to explore and leverage.
- Mutual trust and respect: Blizzard and NetEase may have realized that they share a common vision and passion for creating high-quality and immersive games and that they have a mutual trust and respect for each other’s expertise and experience. Blizzard and NetEase may have also acknowledged their past mistakes learned from them, and decided to give each other a second chance and a fresh start.