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One of the saddest messages about Blizzard Entertainment’s divorce from NetEase over publishing World of Warcraft and other games in China came from a senior NetEase executive.
Simon Zhu, president of global investment and partnership at NetEase Games, said on his LinkedIn page: “As a gamer who spent ten thousand hours in the world of Azeroth, StarCraft, and Overwatch, I feel so heartbroken that I will no longer have access. to my account and memories next year.”
But the second part of that message suggested some behind-the-scenes trickery.
He added: “One day, when what happened behind the scenes [sic] arguably, developers and gamers will have a whole new level [of] understanding of how much damage a jerk can do. I feel terrible for the players who lived in those worlds.”
Let me take a guess and suggest that Zhu is calling Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick a “jerk.” Given Kotick’s reputation in business, anyone on the opposite side of the negotiating table can apply that name to him.
Being a fly on the wall in these negotiations would be quite interesting, that’s an understatement. As a consequence of the failure of the negotiations, as of January 23, Blizzard will suspend the services of World of Warcraft, Warcraft III, Hearthstone, Overwatch 2, StarCraft, Heroes of the Storm and Diablo III.
Blizzard’s own comment on the situation wasn’t very revealing. He said the two parties have not reached an agreement to renew the agreements that is consistent with Blizzard’s operating principles and commitments to players and employees, and that the agreements will expire in January 2023.
The company said that it will suspend new sales in the coming days and that Chinese players will receive details of how this will work soon. The upcoming releases of World of Warcraft: Dragonflight, Hearthstone: March of the Lich King, and Overwatch 2 Season 2 will continue later this year. Call of Duty: Mobile is governed by agreements with other third parties that are not affected.
“We are immensely grateful for the passion our Chinese community has shown over the nearly 20 years we have brought our games to China through NetEase and other partners,” Mike Ybarra, president of Blizzard Entertainment, said in a statement from press. release. “Your enthusiasm and creativity inspire us, and we are looking for ways to make our games available to players again in the future.”
In an email to employees, Ybarra said: “Your approach was not aligned with our commitment to players, employees, and our operating principles. As a result, we are finalizing our current agreements and exploring alternatives to serve players in the country.”
While they’re still collaborating on Diablo Immortal in a separate deal, it’s tragic for players that the Chinese accounts will likely disappear once the expiration date hits. Some of those accounts have been around for 14 years, ever since the deal was first closed. Player data should be treated like absolute treasure. He must not be held hostage during negotiations.
And it is an illustrative example of what defenders of decentralization call the worst case. Because players don’t “own” the things they paid for in the game, they probably won’t be able to take the things they paid for and create with them when the game closes. It’s like I can’t take my 39,000 followers or my tweet history with me if Elon Musk flushes Twitter down the drain.
Bloomberg reported that ownership of player data and intellectual property was one of the sticking points in the negotiations. NetEase issued a press release saying that the talks had collapsed.
“We have worked hard and sincerely tried to negotiate with Activision Blizzard so that we can continue our collaboration and serve the many dedicated gamers in China,” William Ding, CEO of NetEase, said in a statement. “However, there were material differences in key terms and we were unable to reach an agreement. We have great respect for our products and operational standards, and we honor our commitments to Chinese players.” Ding added: “We are honored to have had the privilege of serving our players for the past 14 years and have shared many precious moments with them during that time. We will continue our promise to serve our players well until the last minute. We will make sure that our players’ data and assets are well protected in all of our games.”
But that data and assets may not be returned to players if the companies dispute who owns that data, even in the event of a shutdown.
I don’t know enough about this to take sides. But it is the worst possible outcome for a negotiation. Players may be able to continue if Activision Blizzard reaches an agreement with another Chinese company. That was what happened. Blizzard moved from The9 to NetEase. But I would wonder if the ownership of player account data would pass to the new provider. It seems that companies disagree on who owns player data. And that is a recipe for litigation.
The only clear thing here is that no one will win in this matchup. Negotiators need to come back to the table and remember the message of Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller: when everyone plays, everyone wins.
[Updated: 11/18/22 at 4:02 pm Pacific with additional info.]
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