On 17 January, American game developer Blizzard announced that mainland Chinese players will no longer be eligible to participate in the Hearthstone tournament, which arrived just after the company’s decision to suspend most of its gaming services in the region.
Criticising the proposed terms as being “unfair, indecent and commercially illogical” in a public statement, Chinese games publisher NetEase rejected a proposal from Blizzard to temporarily extend their long-term partnership for another six months while the American game developer continues to negotiate with potential partners in China.
Soon after the news was announced, topics related to Blizzard and NetEase ignited a heated discussion on China’s biggest microblogging site Weibo, drawing in over 500 million views with the figure still growing. Varying sentiments from netizens can be observed through the comments. Some felt rather upset by the decision, while others expressed their discontent at Blizzard being so rude to its audiences, including a significant amount of users who support NetEase’s rejection as “it’s obviously a lack of a considerate offer for both gamers and NetEase.”
The longstanding publishing relationship between the two gaming giants has been ongoing for the last 14 years since 2008 and is set to end on 23 January as planned. Many top-rated games have been introduced to mainland Chinese players during this period of time, such as World of Warcraft, Overwatch, the Starcraft series, and Hearthstone, with 7 Blizzard titles soon to be unavailable for access, along with the expiring licensing agreements.
The American developer has yet to reach a deal with an alternative local publisher to release its game titles in mainland China. According to Jiang Han, an analyst at Pangoal Institute, a China-based public policy think tank, demanding requirements such as massive marketing capabilities, innovative gaming technologies as well as strong financial resources are essential for a firm to be in partnership with Blizzard.
After evolving over the years, Chinese gaming companies have accelerated their own game development potential. The overall income of in-house games reached 222.38 billion RMB ($32.79 billion) as of 2022, as well as becoming a comparable opponent amongst worldwide rivals, with domestic player Tencent claiming the top spot with 32.2 billion USD in terms of gaming revenue. With Blizzard’s business operations ending in mainland China, it opens up opportunities for the local marketplace to thrive with its own game titles and related innovative technologies.