NetEase Delays Game After China Censor Uproar

Shares in Chinese internet and gaming giant NetEase slid more than 9 percent on Monday after the company announced a delay to the release of Diablo Immortal in China.

The move came after a post on the game’s official Weibo account fell afoul of China’s censors, who banned the account from publishint new posts.

Diablo Immortal, developed by NetEase and Activision Blizzard, is one of the year’s most anticipated releases, and was scheduled for release in China on 23 June.

NetEase said on Sunday it was pushing back the release to an unspecified date to “optimise the gaming experience”.

Diablo Immortal is one of the most anticipated games of the year. Image credit NetEase

Social media ban

The company did not mention the social media ban, but reports indicated a post had been suspected of alluding to Winnie the Pooh, a popular way of derisively referring to President Xi Jinping.

A screenshot had circulated online of a post dated 22 May that read “Why hasn’t the bear stepped down”.

The words were interpreted as an allusion to Winnie the Pooh and in turn to Jinping.
The cartoon bear has been blacklisted by China’s censors for years and is often used to portray Jinping in a derogatory light.

Discussions related to the bear comment were erased from social media by censors.

Tech crackdown

Nationalists also took issue on social media with a Saturday press release from NetEase announcing the game’s new release date in the Asia-Pacific region as “Taiwan-time 8 July”.

China rejects Taiwan’s independence.

The moves come against a backdrop of heightened tensions with regulators in China’s tech sector following crackdowns that have had a particularly severe effect on gaming companies.

Regulators halted approvals for new games in July of last year over concerns children were addicted to them, and only resumed issuing licences for new online games in April after a nine-month pause.

In the meantime las August regulators banned Chinese children from playing video games for more than three hours a week in a move that hit share prices of companies including NetEase and slowed revenue growth.

Economic drive

NetEase had obtained a licence for the game in February of last year.

Diablo Immortal was released outside of Asia on 2 June, but China is expected to be the game’s biggest market worldwide.

The game earned more than $24 million in its first two weeks of release, according to App Magic, and recorded pre-registrations from more than 15 million users last week, NetEase said.

Microsoft reached a deal earlier this year to acquire Activision Blizzard for $68.7bn, the largest buyout in gaming industry history.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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