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What’s going on with Devotion and GOG’s abrupt change of heart?

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CD Projekt Red made the disastrous, unclarified, and baffling decision to not rehome Devotion on the same day it was announced.

News moves quickly in 2020. In an announcement many commenters reacted to as if Christmas had come early, Red Candle Games announced that their award-winning (and somewhat controversial) horror game, Devotion, would finally find a new home on the GOG storefront after it was delisted on Steam in February 2019.

GOG, it seems, had other ideas.

The excellent game (which I did actually manage to play and review the first time around) got the Taiwanese studio in hot water after the discovery of an in-game asset which apparently mocked Chinese President Xi Jinping. A poster containing the words “Xi Jinping” next to “Winnie the Pooh” was a clear reference to the comparison made on blogs that ultimately got the beloved character censored on Chinese search engines and social media. There’s also apparently a reference on a newspaper to “steamed bun” which is another sensitive term in China, where it’s used to refer to the President whilst evading government censors on social media.

Whilst the studio tried to reassure players that it was “a malfunction of project management, not a deliberate act” and a patch was immediately released, this didn’t quell the response from outraged players. The game racked up 120 million views on Weibo, the Chinese social media giant, in a single weekend. The game then suffered brigading on Steam.

There was also the concern that the incident would bring Steam to the attention of Chinese censors. Despite not having official approval and operating in a legal grey area in the country, the platform had a significant 30m users and Simplified Chinese was the language of choice on Steam for 56% of users at the time. This is a much bigger story for the future given a Chinese version of Steam is finally on its way and this bifurcation in Steam’s population will be devastating for developers.

The announcement that the game would be pulled from Steam cited “technical issues that cause unexpected crashes… among other reasons,” for the decision. It was clear from a subsequent (and as of yet final) post that those “other reasons” were most certainly the principal driver of the decision. Red Candle Games said the incident had caused “immeasurable harm to Red Candle Games and our partner” and that “Red Candle’s co-founders have reached a unanimous decision to not re-release Devotion in the near term.”

That time finally came on Wednesday, December 18, or so we thought. Disappointingly, hope of a rerelease was shot down in a same-day decision by GOG, the digital storefront owned by beleaguered Cyberpunk 2077 developer CD Projekt Red. It bizarrely cites “many messages from gamers” for backtracking, with no further clarification.

It’s possible that GOG is also trying to avoid scrutiny from Chinese censors (as well as users), but it’s another loss for freedom of speech and Red Candle Games. It will be interesting to see how “the gamers” – who are famously “anti-censorship” when it comes to things like fictional bosoms – will react to this instance of actual censorship.

Red Candle Games, in response to the decision, has said it is “willing to understand and respect” it but that it “won’t stop striving” to re-release the game. Some have even suggested as a potential host for the game.

Thankfully, Red Candle Games does appear to have survived the incident and moved swiftly on. It recently saw released a Netflix adaptation of its earlier game, Detention, and is “busy working on a new game.”

As for GOG and CDPR, it’s a disastrous look in a week wherein Cyberpunk 2077 has been generating unbelievably negative press. Not only has the game triggered epileptic seizures in reviewers and CDPR promised refunds they can’t deliver when the game was found unplayable on versions intentionally hidden from reviewers, but it’s now been removed from the PlayStation store in a completely unprecedented move. CDPR has repeatedly been called and voted “the best developer”  in recent years and it’s sad to witness the complete evaporation of all that goodwill on every single front within the course of a single week.

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