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‘World of Warcraft’ and other hit games return to China as Blizzard and NetEase end dispute

By Diksha Madhok and Wayne Chang, CNN

(CNN) — China’s gaming giant NetEase will bring back the iconic “World of Warcraft” and other popular video games by Microsoft’s Blizzard Entertainment to the country, the companies said in a joint statement Wednesday.

California-based Blizzard and Hangzhou-based NetEase had ceased their 15-year relationship in 2023 after an acrimonious fallout, leaving millions of fans in China heartbroken.

“After a year of negotiations, Blizzard and NetEase are pleased to align on a path forward to once again serve players in mainland China,” the companies said in a post on NetEase Games’ official Weibo account.

The new deal will see the return of “World of Warcraft” and “Hearthstone” games to China, as well as other titles in the Warcraft, Overwatch, Diablo and StarCraft universes, according to the statement.

“World of Warcraft,” also known as “WoW,” is a hugely popular online multiplayer game that allows users to fight monsters and journey through expeditions in the medieval world of Azeroth.

The games will “sequentially return to the Chinese market beginning this summer,” the companies said, adding they will share further details at a later date.

“We are thrilled to embark on the next chapter, built on trust and mutual respect, to serve our users in this unique community that we’ve built together,” said William Ding, Chief Executive Officer and Director, NetEase.

Foreign publishers must work with local partners to offer video games in China. In November 2022, however, Blizzard and NetEase announced they would not renew licensing deals as they were unable to agree on key terms.

Separately, Microsoft Gaming and NetEase have also entered into an agreement to explore bringing new titles by the Chinese company to Xbox consoles, according to the statement Wednesday. Microsoft had completed its takeover of Activision Blizzard— one of the world’s biggest video game developers— in 2023.

“Blizzard’s universes have been part of players’ lives in the region for many years. Returning Blizzard’s legendary games to players in China while exploring ways to bring more new titles to Xbox demonstrates our commitment to bringing more games to more players around the world,” said Phil Spencer, CEO of Microsoft Gaming.

China has launched a crackdown in recent years on its massive online gaming industry, as Beijing seeks to reverse what it sees as a growing trend of gaming addiction among young people.

In 2021, China barred online gamers under age 18 from playing on weekdays and limited their play to just three hours most weekends.

That was part of Beijing’s wider clampdown targeting what it sees as overly powerful companies, especially in Big Tech.

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