Activision Blizzard and NetEase have canceled a joint World of Warcraft mobile game following a dispute over financial terms. The unannounced project, code-named Neptune, was developed in secrecy for three years before being scuttled, according to a report from Bloomberg.
Blizzard spokesperson Andrew Reynolds disputed Bloomberg’s characterization of the relationship between the studio and NetEase.
“We continue to have an extremely successful relationship with NetEase, and it is entirely untrue to suggest that there have been financial disputes,” Reynolds wrote in an email to The Washington Post.
Canceled projects are common in the industry. Games get pitched, developed and scrapped within studios all the time. Assets from a canceled productions are often reappropriated for another project. Blizzard’s team-based shooter “Overwatch” was the phoenix that rose from the ashes of project Titan, a clandestine MMORPG project that Blizzard quietly shut down in 2013.
But after Neptune was canceled, NetEase also dissolved a team of over 100 members working on the project, Bloomberg reported. Only some of those employees were offered opportunities elsewhere at NetEase.
China boasts a gargantuan 660 million mobile gamer market. But the conflict between NetEase and Blizzard has cast doubts over future collaborations. NetEase, an internet technology corporation based in Hangzhou, has been Blizzard’s partner in China since 2008. Traditionally, the company’s role has been to steward Blizzard’s games and Battle.net (Blizzard’s digital platform and multiplayer service) in China, but the partnership between the two companies has since evolved into joint development.
“Diablo Immortal,” a mobile game based on Blizzard’s action RPG series Diablo, marked the first time that NetEase and Blizzard developed a title together. The gaming public responded to “Diablo Immortal” with backlash, taking issue with the game’s approach to monetization. That hasn’t stopped “Diablo Immortal” from being a huge earner; the game generated $49 million in its first month.
Despite “Diablo Immortal’s” success, Activision Blizzard’s quarterly earnings, reported Monday, showed drops across revenue, income and monthly active users, among other metrics. The company has also been under intense scrutiny from regulators, the public and its own workers for issues ranging from sexual harassment allegations to the lifting of vaccine mandates.