Activision Blizzard (ATVI) is getting a new partner to run its blockbuster hit World of Warcraft in China.
Starting in June, NetEase (NTES) will get exclusive operating rights to run the game in mainland China, replacing Blizzard’s longtime partner The9 (NCTY), according to reports in Chinese media. The move doesn’t come as a complete shock — NetEase and Blizzard were already working together on other games like the upcoming Starcraft 2.
Hopefully a new partner will help Blizzard through what’s been a difficult period in its relations with the Chinese government. Blizz’s latest Warcraft expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, still isn’t on sale in China.
Chinese censors have objected to things like “skeletons” and “city raids” in the new Warcraft. Part of that is par for the course in China — Blizzard’s previous WoW expansion The Burning Crusade ran into censor objections too — but China seems particularly picky about Lich King. And then, last month Chinese government officials said they would be making it even harder for foreign online games to win approval from censors, singling out WoW as a game to face tighter scrutiny.
A thumbs up for Lich King could mean a great deal to Activision’s bottom line — there are over 3.5 million Warcraft players in the Middle Kingdom.