When it released in February, Devotion received thousands of positive reviews on Steam and was becoming popular with viewers on Twitch. But it was taken down after only a couple weeks when fans discovered art in the game that appeared to make fun of China’s president. Five months later, the studio behind the game says it still won’t be returning to Steam “in the near term.”
“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,” Red Candle Games said in a statement released on Twitter this morning. “As we reflect on the situation, we notice many players, industry friends, and the media are starting to understand that the incident was indeed a malfunction of project management, not a deliberate act.”
The “incident” the studio is referring to was the appearance of a scroll in the game which contained the name of China’s president, Xi Jinping, next to the name Winnie the Pooh and the word “moron.” It’s a popular meme associated with mocking the president after China banned the new Winnie the Pooh movie for perceived similarities between Pooh and Jinping. The fact that the meme was appearing in a game developed by a studio in Taiwan, which is considered part of China but has its own elected government, only made the situation more fraught for the developers.
After the discovery was made, Chinese players began review bombing the game on Steam, and the game was subsequently removed. Red Candle Games said that the image in question was placeholder art developed by one team member and was never intended to be in the final version of the game or represent the views of the studio. Despite that explanation, Red Candle Games’ publisher, Indievent, cut ties with the studio, and in June, Chinese authorities revoked Indievent’s business license.
Given Devotion’s popularity and critical acclaim prior to the art surfacing, lots of players, myself included, have been curious to see when it will become available to play again and in what form. In May, Red Candle Games told Vice it planned for the rerelease of Devotion to be the same as the original, minus the offending placeholder art. But part of the issue with the game is that many players believe its underlying story is also an anti-Chinese allegory about the country’s relationship to Taiwan. As a result, Red Candle Games has been trying to downplay those fan theories.
“In ‘Devotion,’ its core message is about the tragedy of a loving family twisted by the frantic belief of a religious cult,” the studio said today. “We made a critical and unprofessional error during the game’s production. It saddens us that the focus of the game was shifted drastically since the erroneous art asset was found…In the aftermath of the incident, some still possess different speculations about ‘Devotion.’
“As regretful as the incident was, we have to bear its full consequence. We hope for a second chance in the near future. A chance to prove that, both Red Candle and its partner simply wanted to create a great game and no one wished for such incident to occur.”