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 demonised 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 percent 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, on Friday, 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 synchronising 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.
Yesterday, 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 percent positive reviews.