Blizzard and NetEase get into it, and World of Warcraft servers go dark in China

Sadly, it's the end of an era for Warcraft players in China.

Blizzard and NetEase get into it, and World of Warcraft servers go dark in China
Mists of Pandaria video game published by Activision Blizzard, owned by Vivendi, are displayed in a shop in Rome, October 16, 2012. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

The backstory: For video games to be released in China, companies need a license from the government regulator. And, for quite some time, US-based Activision Blizzard and China's NetEase had a pretty good thing going. NetEase is one of the biggest game distributors in the country and had a deal to distribute Blizzard's titles in China and run the online servers. This helped Blizzard get a foothold in the massive Asian market. But, things took a turn for the worse when the two couldn't agree on a new deal for some of Blizzard's most popular franchises, like Diablo, World of Warcraft and Overwatch.

More recently: The disagreement between the two companies got heated when NetEase accused Blizzard of being "rude and inappropriate," and things went downhill from there. The main issue was over who owned the intellectual property rights and controlled the data of China's millions of players. NetEase said it never intended to take control of the IP rights and had only used Blizzard's assets with their mutual consent.

The development: Sadly, it's the end of an era for Warcraft players in China, as all of Blizzard's game servers shut down on January 23. Blizzard has promised to allow players to save their progress with a new service, and it's said it is exploring other licensing deals. It's a big disappointment for the dedicated players who have been enjoying the game for years, with one player writing online, "It really hurts my heart."

Key comments:

"Unfortunately, after renewed discussions last week, NetEase did not accept our proposal for an extension," said a statement from Blizzard regarding the licensing agreement renewal.

NetEase released a statement about Blizzard's proposal for a six-month extension of their deal while exploring other partnerships, calling it "commercially illogical" and comparing it to "seeking a divorce but still remaining attached."

"After sixteen years of service, Chinese World of Warcraft servers have officially shut down, following the expiration of the licensing agreement between NetEase and Blizzard Entertainment," said World of Warcraft gaming site Wowhead on Twitter. "It is truly a sad day for World of Warcraft players and Blizzard Entertainment fans everywhere. The sudden shutdown is a stark reminder of impermanence, displacing millions of players."

"When I woke up, I still didn't want to accept [it]," said one Warcraft player on Weibo. "I cried all night in my sleep because the game went offline. I dreamed that I was crying in the middle of the class."