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NetEase CEO William Ding Lei has stepped down from multiple roles at the company’s video gaming unit. Photo: VCG via Getty Images

NetEase’s William Ding and Xiaomi’s Lei Jun relinquish corporate roles at video gaming entities amid tightened regulation

  • The respective chief executives of NetEase and Xiaomi have stepped down from their main roles at the companies’ related video gaming entities
  • The moves from part of a growing trend of Chinese Big Tech leaders moving away from front-office roles amid Beijing’s tightened scrutiny

William Ding Lei, founder of China’s second-largest video gaming company NetEase, has relinquished his roles as legal representative and executive chairman of one of the firm’s gaming affiliates, according to information from business registration tracking platform Tianyancha.

Ding’s retreat from Shanghai NetEase Network Technology Development Limited comes days after it emerged that Lei Jun, founder of smartphone giant Xiaomi, was no longer the chief executive of the company’s gaming unit, Beijing Wali Internet Technologies Co.

NetEase and Xiaomi did not immediately respond to the requests for comment on Tuesday.

The moves come as China’s video gaming industry faces the growing scrutiny of Beijing, as well as increasingly fierce competition.

Xiaomi’s founder, chairman and CEO Lei Jun also stepped down as chairman of Xiaomi Electronics earlier this year to focus on the company’s car production venture. Photo: AP Photo
While regulators ended their eight-month freeze of new game licences in April, the pace of approvals has significantly slowed down from a year ago. NetEase, along with the country’s largest gaming company Tencent Holdings, has yet to gain a single new licence this year.
Last month, NetEase said it would indefinitely postpone the launch of the highly anticipated Diablo Immortal mobile game in mainland China.

Shanghai NetEase Network Technology Development was incorporated in 2008 as a vehicle for the Chinese operation of games from US giant Blizzard Entertainment, including its two main franchises World of Warcraft and Hearthstone.

Wali Internet Technologies, which Xiaomi fully acquired in 2014, develops Xiaomi Games, the gadget maker’s game distribution app, and publishes the Beijing-based tech firm’s self-developed mobile games.

Ding and Lei join a rising number of major tech entrepreneurs in China who have chosen to step down from front-office roles.

They include Richard Liu Qiangdong, who recently handed over’s chief executive role to company president Xu Lei; Zhang Yiming, who stepped down as ByteDance CEO last December; Su Hua, who resigned in November as CEO of Kuaishou Technology; and Colin Huang Zheng, who announced his exit from Pinduoduo in March last year.
Ding, ranked 55th in Forbes’ global billionaires list with a net worth of US$25.2 billion as of Tuesday, also stepped down from several roles at NetEase’s media subsidiary in April. In the same month, Daniel Zhang Yong, chairman and chief executive of Alibaba Group Holding, stepped down as legal representative of the corporate entities behind Taobao Marketplace and Tmall.

Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

How Xiaomi rose to become China’s No 1 smartphone maker

Lei Jun, who currently has a net worth of US$11.7 billion, stepped down in January as the chairman of Xiaomi Electronics, the company’s unit in charge of home gadgets. The company said the 52-year-old billionaire would instead focus on the brand’s car production plans.

Ding’s roles have been taken up by Zhang Dong, who currently works at Shanghai NetEase and focuses on the entity’s cooperation with Blizzard, while Xiaomi added three new names – Liu De, Ma Ji and Zhao Yi – to its subsidiary’s management team. Both Ding and Lei retain their shares at their companies’ game units.