Popular Horror Game Removed From Steam After Chinese Players Say It Insults China

Less than a week ago, the developers of P.T.-inspired horror game Devotion were riding high. Their game’s February 19 release was met with thousands of positive Steam reviews and hundreds of thousands of viewers on Twitch. However, after a weekend of controversy, Devotion has met an even more untimely end than the game that inspired it.

It all began late last week when Chinese players of the Taiwan-developed game came across a piece of in-game art that seemingly disparaged China’s president, Xi Jinping, by mentioning him and Winnie the Pooh on a scroll next to the word “moron.” Winnie the Pooh has frequently been used in memes mocking Jinping, to the point that last year’s film Christopher Robin was banned in China.

Some players proceeded to dig deeper into Devotion, claiming that the game was an allegory that demonized not just Jinping, but Chinese mainlanders as a whole (Taiwan, though considered to be an extension of China by China and most of the world’s most powerful nations, has its own elected government and identity, leading to tensions between mainland China and Taiwan).

Review bombs followed these allegations, leaving Devotion with a dismal 40 per cent positive review score on Steam. People also created false statements attributed to developer Red Candle Games, who attempted to clear the air on three separate occasions.

First, last week, it said in a Steam post that the Winnie the Pooh reference was accidental.

“When making the prototype, the team often referred to the then known internet slang as placeholder,” the developer wrote. “However, due to the version synchronizing problem, not all of the placeholders were deleted properly. This is purely an accident, and we have no intention for causing harm nor hatred. The art material has been taken down and replaced at the evening of February 21.”

In a post the next day, Red Candle further explained that one developer created the art asset, and the rest of the team was “busy working on one’s own tasks while chasing the deadline,” which is why Winnie the Pooh made it into the game in the first place.

The developer further said that “the words written on the art material does not stand for Red Candle Games’ stance, nor is it in any ways related to Devotion’s story and theme.” Red Candle went on to note that its partnership with Devotion’s publisher had been “terminated” over the controversy, leaving the developer on the hook to “compensate the relevant loss based on the contract.”

Those explanations, however, did not quell the anger stalking Devotion through Steam’s dark, creaky halls. Today, the company released another statement reminding fans “not to be misled by other incorrect information” coming from people claiming to speak on behalf of the game and saying that the goal of Devotion is not to “secretly project extensive ideology, nor is it to attack any person in the real world.”

Rather, it’s just a game about a cult doing bad, culty stuff in the name of “pure parental love.” Red Candle also acknowledged that its page on Weibo, a hugely popular Chinese social media site, had been shut down, damaging the developer’s ability to get the word out about what’s going on.

Earlier this afternoon, Devotion’s Steam store page disappeared, rendering the game unbuyable. Devotion-related content appears to have been removed from Red Candle’s YouTube channel as well. Kotaku reached out to both Red Candle and Valve for an explanation, but has yet to hear back from either.

In a statement on Devotion’s Steam forums, however, the developer attributed the Steam removal to “technical issues that cause unexpected crashes” and a desire to “ease the heightened pressure in our community resulted from our previous Art Material Incident” by reviewing “our game material once again making sure no other unintended materials was inserted in.”

For now, Red Candle’s previous game, Detention, remains up. It’s been reviewed bombed to the point that it has just 30 per cent positive reviews.


Comments

    Was a decent little game the amount of salty communist tears only makes me hope it gets more attention.

      It’s good point. Conflating “China” and “Chinese Communist Party”, as articles frequently do, ignores that they often sit in direct opposition to each other. The CCP looks after the CCP, not the people of China.

        Lets be real, if the shoes were switched the Australian public would probably feel like communism was the answer (fuck off anyone that wants to make political joke), but I still don't think that their decisions should get a free pass because ultimately the people of china quite openly prop up winnie the pooh.

      Um one huge problem they had was that the publisher was owned by Tencent.

    This shit is getting ridiculous. WTF is happening to the world.

    They seem to be moving down the "cult of personality" path with old Pooh Bear.

    Yet another lesson in why you should never include anything insulting in your code/software regardless of how unlikely you think it is that anyone will see it.

    Good PR though.
    Not really a great impact on sales since only 9,000 copies were sold in China anyway.

    Typical Mainland response. Wipe the crocodile tears away and move on.

    Hopefully it comes back up, I added it to my wishlist the other day

    Does Steam have any process in place to combat these obvious review-bombing campaigns? Whether that's removing certain reviews or something else. Or are they there forever regardless? Not such an issue here now that the whole page has been taken down, but this obviously isn't the first time this kind of thing has happened.

      No. Its becoming a bigger problem, and they've said they're looking into ways to deal with it, but as of right now, no they don't.

      I can think of a few options myself, but really theres no automatic solution. If it was easy, it would have been done. I think a few extra filters would be a start, but that potentially cuts out a lot of legit reviews as well.

      The review bomb is only a symptom. I believe their publisher was predominantly owned by Tencent. This more than anything else probably got the game pulled from steam.

    Maybe the historical context shielded it a bit, but it's surprising that Detention didn't face this sort of trouble given it didn't exactly paint China in a rosy light either.

    I hope they can get this sorted out quickly. Detention was a really interesting little horror game and I've been quite looking forward to seeing what they do with Devotion.

      Detention didn't have a Winnie the Pooh reference in it. If you are criticizing Xi, you are criticizing China. If you are mocking Xi, you are mocking China. 万岁!万岁!万岁习主席!

    Stuff like this is going to become more and more common as China's influence grows in the rest of the world. Game developers (and TV/Film producers) are going to find it cheaper to just produce content that's China-friendly rather than making China-friendly versions of their existing content, as has been practiced in the past.

    It doesn't sound great, but unless China becomes more open to criticism of its government/society (unlikely without some kind of major upheaval) then this is the path the world is going down.

    It's not like this has ever happened before (such as in games, telelvsioin, university courses, western journalism publications, the south china sea, Xinjiang) or will ever happen again. Clearly this is a once off and we all have no reason to be concerned about the overpopulated, nationalist totaliatarian dictatorship in our neighbourhood.

    Imagine if Australians had a hissy fit any time someone made fun of our (in)glorious leaders. Everyone would laugh at us even more and tell us to jog on, plus we'd get nothing done because it happens all the time...

    That nightmare land deserves to be insulted at every opportunity. It's like the government looked at all the dire warnings about dystopias made through various mediums over the last hundred years and said 'You know what? Let's do that.'

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