Activision Blizzard, the publisher of games like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and Overwatch, and subject of half a dozen ongoing labor cases, has announced that it will be ending service to most Blizzard games in China. This cessation of service is caused by an expiring agreement between Activision Blizzard and NetEase, a massive internet company and video game publisher in China. The agreements expire on January 23, 2023, and will end service for Warcraft, Hearthstone, Warfcraft III: Reforged, Overwatch, the StarCraft series, Diablo III, and Heroes of the Storm. However, Diablo Immortal’s service will continue, as the game was co-published under a different agreement.
“LNetEase acts as one of China’s largest video game development and publishing companies, acting as the developer of games like Naraka Bladepoint, and the Chinese publisher of Minecraft, published in the United States by Microsoft, which is currently in the process of purchasing Activision Blizzard.
Per the company’s announcement to investors, Activision Blizzard will halt sales to affected games in the coming days, but still plans to launch World of Warcraft: Dragonflight, Hearthstone: March of the Lich King, and Season 2 of Overwatch 2 in China. It has not yet been announced if the company plans to restore sales or service to any of these games in the foreseeable future.
The video game market in China is tightly controlled by the government, and U.S. made games, which often have to modify their content to comply with Chinese censorship, can only be published in the country if they have a local partner. In theory, these Activision Blizzard could return to China under a new licensing deal.
The end of its Chinese publishing agreement is just one of the many problems currently facing Activision Blizzard, which is currently embroiled in several labor disputes, an ongoing union organizing drive among QA workers in Albany, NY, and the very rocky launch of Overwatch 2. Each of these stories could define a company’s entire year, and yet every month a new story appears to emerge from within Activision Blizzard. The company could be a real innovator in the field of controversy, if the problems it faced were not so predictable and mundane.
Deals falling through, union organizing, and labor disputes are commonplace at companies of Activision Blizzard’s scale, but Activision Blizzard has managed to distinguish itself with the shocking frequency with which it stumbles, blindly, into new problems. Even the company’s merger with Microsoft is under intense scrutiny by European regulators, who argue that such a deal may be illegal under antitrust laws throughout the European Union.
As the future of Activision Blizzard grows ever more uncertain, the industry will have to watch with bated breath to see if one of its biggest publishers can survive the next few years.