When a licensing deal between Activision Blizzard and Chinese game firm NetEase expires on January 24, 2023, many popular games such as World of Warcraft and Hearthstone will suspend services in mainland China. NetEase said that it will work out plans as soon as possible and start refunds and related work.
Among the affected games, World of Warcraft has been in operation for 18 years, with about 170 million players, and there are more than 10 million players in China. Due to the charging suspension of game time cards in China, the price on second-hand platforms is rising, according to a report by Beijing Youth Daily. The time card with a price of 360 yuan ($52), for instance, is now priced at 500 yuan.
In contrast, on trading platforms related to World of Warcraft, the prices of virtual gold coins and equipment in the game are falling. One commented, “The ending of the deal between NetEase and Blizzard resulted in a large number of players starting to sell gold coins in accounts on second-hand platforms, and the prices were getting lower.” Another person wrote on a trading platform, “No one has come to ask for information for the time being,” and, “coins haven’t been sold yet.”
One lawyer said to Beijing Youth Daily that no laws have been enacted so far to clearly define the scope of virtual property in China. In practice, online game enterprises usually stipulate that players only have the right to use game accounts or game equipment without ownership through user agreements. Therefore, it might be difficult for players to defend their rights.
One veteran gamer expressed in a report, “The end of the deal basically does no direct harm to the virtual assets of game players. Many web users commented that their accounts have been wasted, but objectively speaking, the situation has not yet been that worse. Players’ data is still there. Neither Blizzard nor NetEase can or should delete this data. When Blizzard finds a new agent in China, this data will be handed over to the new agent.”
The gamer also said they believe there are still many indirect impacts. “The most important influence is that players may not be able to access games until Blizzard finds a new agent in the country. This is a bit like buying a gym card, but the gym needs to be closed for two months, and you can’t go to the gym during this period. In addition, the property in games is actually facing ‘inflation.’ Equipment or coins that are currently valuable may change as the game version upgrades, which may result in a big drop in value. These things will happen in one form or another.”