Developer Red Candle Games pulled its horror game Devotion from Steam four months ago. In a statement released on social media today, it admitted Devotion probably isn’t coming back. Players and critics praised the Taiwanese developer for crafting a scary and thoughtful game about exploring the home of a family under the power of a religious cult. Red Candle Games pulled Devotion from Steam after a players discovered it contained a political joke that mocked Chinese President Xi Jinping.
In its statement, Red Candle Games said that the “art asset incident” caused immeasurable harm to the developer and its business partners. “While mediation is still in progress, Red Candle’s co-founders have reached a unanimous decision to not re-release Devotion in the near term, including but not limited to obtaining profit from sales, revision, IP authorization, etc. to prevent unnecessary misconception,” the statement said.
Red Candle Games is based on the Taiwanese mainland and nominally outside of the reach of China’s regulatory bodies. Indievent, its Chinese publisher, was not. At the end of May, Beijing revoked Idievent’s business license, for “[engaging] in illegal activities that endanger national security, social, and public interest.”
The “art asset” that started all the trouble was a poster on a wall in the apartment. In a mix of Mandarin and Taiwanese script, the picture read “Xi Jinping Winnie the Pooh Moron.” People often use Winnie the Pooh to mock President Xi Jinping and Pooh is effectively outlawed in mainland China.
When Chinese gamers noticed the picture in Devotion, it went viral and they review bombed Red Candle Games. Four days after release, Indievent issued a public statement severing ties with Red Candle Games, as did its Taiwanese publisher Winking Entertainment. Devotion left Steam and hasn’t come back.
In today’s statement, Red Candle Games emphasized that the use of the Winnie the Pooh meme was a “malfunction of project management, not a deliberate act. If, in the future, the public would be willing to view the game rationally and allow us the opportunity to rebuild trust with our players, Red Candle would reconsider re-releasing Devotion.”
In a conversation via Twitter DMs, a representative from Red Candle Games did not respond to requests to explain what it meant by “viewing the game rationally.” It also refused to comment about Indievent directly.
The Devotion controversy highlights a Beijing that has taken a stronger hand with media recently. After three hours, Fortnite provides diminishing rewards and pushes players to take a break. Gamers have to register with the government to prove they’re not underage, PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds was pulled and re-released as the highly patriotic Game for Peace, and many Chinese publishers saw profits dip in 2018 because Beijing wasn’t approving new games for release.