An acclaimed video game that was censored in China over an "offensive" hidden message comparing Xi Jinping to Winnie the Pooh has been dropped again by another platform before even going on sale.

GOG, a digital storefront owned by CD Projekt Red - the creators of Cyberpunk 2077 - announced on Wednesday that it would be listing Devotion, but backflipped within hours "after receiving many messages from gamers".

Developed by Taiwanese studio Red Candle Games, the atmospheric horror game caused a stir on Chinese social media last year after players discovered a number of politically charged Easter eggs, including a poster with a red seal in the middle containing the words "Xi Jinping" and "Winnie the Pooh".

The cartoon bear has been banned in China since 2017 after Communist Party censors began cracking down on a long-running meme comparing the Chinese President to the A.A. Milne character.

 


Devotion, which takes place in an abandoned 1980s Taiwanese apartment complex, was only available for six days last year before being pulled from Steam, the biggest digital distribution platform for PC games.

All mentions of the game were scrubbed from Chinese social media platform Weibo, where the hashtag #Devotion reportedly racked up more than 120 million views.

Red Candle Games issued an apology on Facebook in February last year and confirmed the game had been removed from Steam China. The statement in Chinese said the messages were the fault of one team member, and were quickly patched out.

The red seal reads ‘Xi Jinping’ and ‘Winnie the Pooh’ in an ancient style of writing. Picture: ABC
The red seal reads ‘Xi Jinping’ and ‘Winnie the Pooh’ in an ancient style of writing. Picture: ABC

 

 

"The other Red Candle team members were unaware of the incident as everyone was busy with their duties during the project," the statement said, according to a translation by the ABC.

"We didn't (notice) this incident until players reported it on February 21, so we urgently changed the art material when we found it. This is not the viewpoint of Red Candle Games, nor is it the original intention of Devotion."

The developer said it would also be removing the game from the international Steam store "due to technical issues that caused unexpected crashes, among other reasons". "At the same time we'd like to take this opportunity to ease the heightened pressure in our community (that) resulted from our previous art material incident," it said.

"Our team would also review our game material once again, making sure no other unintended materials was inserted in. Hopefully this would help all audiences to focus on the game itself again upon its return."

The game, which was named number three in Polygon's 2019 Game of the Year list, has been widely unavailable ever since.

Red Candle Games had announced earlier on Wednesday that the game would be releasing on GOG on December 18. "Thank you for your trust and support," it said. "We wish you a happy end of the year."

The company has not yet responded to GOG's backflip.


It comes amid a turbulent week for CD Projekt Red, which has faced severe backlash over the buggy release of the long-awaited Cyberpunk 2077. The Polish company has offered refunds to customers unhappy with game's performance on PS4 and Xbox One.

"Pretty good week for you guys," one Twitter user wrote.

Another said, "Hello fans. After having many discussions with gamers, we have decided we'd rather do business in China thank you."

Cyberpunk 2077 has proven a major hit in China, despite not officially being approved for sale in the country.

Instead, players have been using Steam, GOG and the Epic Store to buy it. Industry website PCGamesN noted that the government can shut down digital stores at any time.

Some on social media speculated that Chinese gamers may genuinely have complained about Devotion being listed - not out of support for the CCP, but because they did not want the platform to be banned.

China-related censorship in the gaming industry is nothing new.

Earlier this year a trailer for the latest Call of Duty game was pulled down and re-edited to remove footage from the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, after the clip was blocked in China.

The game's publisher Activision Blizzard was also embroiled in a major censorship controversy last year after suspending a professional player of its digital card game Hearthstone for supporting the Hong Kong protests.

And earlier this month, Capcom's Monster Hunter: World was bombed with negative reviews by Chinese users on Steam after the associated film was pulled from theatres in China over an allegedly racist piece of dialogue.

frank.chung@news.com.au

Originally published as Game nuked over 'offensive' secret text



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