Blizzard wants World of Warcraft back in China

  • Activision Blizzard is looking for a new Chinese partner to host World of Warcraft in the country.
  • This is after previous partner NetEase suddenly dropped the 14-year partnership to publish the MMO for Chinese players.
  • World of Warcraft has been in China since 2005 and the Blizzard-NetEase partnership was once considered among the most lucrative in gaming.

The California-based Activision Blizzard, one of the world’s largest video game publishers, is looking for new ways to return its live-service giant World of Warcraft (WoW) to China.

In China, the game was distributed/published by NetEase, but this 14-year deal suddenly fell through last month in a surprise announcement. Blizzard did not indicate why the deal was scrapped.

On Tuesday, Reuters reported that Blizzard’s Chinese subsidiary, Blizzard China, published a post on Weibo (China’s version of Twitter), saying that it was in talks with possible publishing partners.

While this would be good news for WoW players in the country, Activision Blizzard losing its Chinese subscribers would be a major blow to its bottom line. Thus these forays into new partnerships.

According to Engadget’s WoW in China archive, the MMO has been in the Asian country since 2005 when it was first launched with partner The9.

The9 handled localisation, support and customer service for Blizzard in the country until 2009.

That year, NetEase took over operations of WoW in China. This was after The9 lost their contract with Blizzard over EA (a direct competitor) purchasing 15 percent of The9 and a soured relationship tested by strict censorship rules enforced by the Chinese Ministry of Culture.

Since then, the NetEase-Blizzard partnership had become one of the most lucrative in gaming with millions of Chinese players maintaining subscriptions for WoW since the early 2000s.

WoW remains one of the world’s leading subscription-based MMOs even though it has lost most of its original shine. Its all-time subscriber high was 12 million paid players in 2010, coinciding with the release of the Cataclysm expansion pack.

As of 2022 around 4.8 million people subscribe to the game, but this number fluctuates around new expansions. The latest of which, Dragonflight, launched on 28th November.

In the west, Activision Blizzard is embroiled in a protracted series of legal battles involving Microsoft’s attempts to purchase it. The deal would be the largest gaming has ever seen, and regulators across the world are making sure it won’t create a mega-monopoly in the gaming industry.

The latest challenge faced by Microsoft in the acquisition is the blocking of the deal by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Microsoft will seek to fight this in court.


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