This story appears in the November 2023 issue of Forbes Asia. Subscribe to Forbes Asia
This story is part of Forbes’ coverage of China’s Richest 2023. See the full list here.
In the wake of Beijing’s decision to lift a freeze on granting online gaming licenses that was imposed to curb addiction among young people, William Ding, chief executive of gaming giant NetEase, has emerged as a huge winner. Ding’s net worth shot up by two-thirds to $32 billion and he rose three spots to No. 5.
Eggy Party, licensed just before the clampdown and launched last year, has become one of the company’s most popular titles with 100 million active monthly users as of August. More than 40 million users signed up for the June test run of Justice Mobile, a martial arts-themed role-playing game with generative AI-powered in-game responses drawn from Song dynasty literature. (NetEase first set up its AI labs in 2017.)
The performance of both games surpassed market expectations, says Shi Jialong, Hong Kong-based head of China Internet Research at Nomura. Consumers have been hungry for new titles since the licensing freeze as smaller developers with limited resources suspended the development of new games, he notes.
In January, after reported differences over renewal terms, NetEase ended its 14-year partnership with Activision Blizzard (since acquired by Microsoft), which had allowed it to sell the U.S. games juggernaut’s hugely popular titles such as World of Warcraft in China. Despite this, NetEase reported a 5% rise in revenue to $6.8 billion in the first half of this year, with games revenue accounting for nearly 80%. Operating profit jumped 27% to $1.8 billion.
Ding started NetEase in 1997 as an email-service provider and grew it into a games giant with interests in e-commerce, music, education and media. The company aims to raise the share of overseas sales to nearly half from 10% today, and has set up studios in Japan, North America and Europe.