Microsoft has joined forces with NetEase to officially launch the PC and mobile versions of Minecraft in mainland China.
This won't be standard Minecraft, either. Mojang and NetEase will collaborate on creating a new version of the game tailored for the Chinese market, and then publish it through one of NetEase's affiliates in mainland China. The terms of the licensing deal will last for five years.
In a statement released today, NetEase CEO William Ding said the expectation is that the company's, "large online community [will] embrace this preeminent game." And that community is definitely large: NetEase is behind only Tencent in the Chinese games market, earning Ľ22.8 billion ($3.5 billion) in revenue and Ľ7.4 billion ($1.1 billion) in net profit last year alone.
"With our deep understanding of the Chinese market and our ability to successfully launch world-renowned online and mobile games, we offer a strong platform for the introduction of Minecraft to China's vast user base," Ding continued. "We believe this cooperation could leverage the strengths of both Mojang and NetEase, as well as provide the world's largest audience with a superior user experience."
In truth, MInecraft is already officially available in China. Xbox One launched there in 2014, but any potential for a substantial market in the region is undermined by the local predilection for free-to-play mobile and PC games that developed during the 15-year ban on consoles. Microsoft has publicly stated that it's prepared to play the long game with Xbox in China, but this deal with NetEase suggests an awareness that money is being left on the table.
Whether the Chinese version of Minecraft will sacrifice its traditional premium pricing isn't yet clear, but NetEase has enjoyed huge success on mobile in China with free-to-play. Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz earlier this year, NetEase's Tom Van Dam had some choice - and possibly telling - words of advice for companies wanting to make a big splash with their products in China: "If you want to play in that top segment, you'd better go all in."