Diablo Immortal has been one of the more hotly contested releases of 2022, receiving the lowest ever user score on Metacritic, while simultaneously receiving eight million downloads and making over $24,000,000 in its first two weeks. However, according to a report by Reuters, the announcement of an eleventh-hour delayed launch in China has seen co-developer NetEast’s shares tumbling. Right after Blizzard’s Weibo account was allegedly banned for making comments critical of the country’s regime.
The postponement of Diablo Immortal was announced in China on Sunday June 19, which then saw a 10% drop in NetEase’s stock during Monday morning trading in Hong Kong. This comes three days before the game’s intended Chinese release, and just a few days after the game’s official Weibo account was suspended from being allowed to post.
While there is no official reason given for the Weibo suspension, outlets are reporting that it could have to do with the official Diablo Immortal account making a reference to A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. A peculiar sentence to type, but references to the cute little bear have come to be a popular way to be critical of China’s delicate, honey-loving leader, Xi Ping. For an excellent primer on this matter, check out this video.
A screenshot circulating around the internet purports to show the Blizzard account having sent a message that references “the bear,” with some like the Financial Times translating it as, “Why hasn’t the bear stepped down?” A contact of Kotaku’s translates the line as, “What do you think about the bear?” but says it’s written to be idiomatic. Either way, if real, it seems an extraordinary thing to have posted on an official account in the country.
According to a press release posted on Blizzard’s Chinese website, the reason for this very last-minute delay is a need to make “a number of optimization adjustments to the game,” (translated via Google), including improving model rendering, support for a wider range of devices, and “network and performance optimizations.” The statement doesn’t mention the social media incident at all.
Of course, it’s hard to take these comments entirely at face value, given the game’s enormously successful launch everywhere else in the world a fortnight ago. It seems odd the the Blizzard and NetEase co-developed mobile game would have rendering issues that only affected China, for instance. It’s easier to believe that it would be more difficult to successfully launch your pivotal product in the country while unable to access social media accounts, and having just rather upset the government. We have of course reached out to NetEase to ask about this, and will update you should they reply.
Things are pretty tense for games companies in China at the moment, with crackdowns on children’s access to gaming, and long stretches between government regulators allowing releases. For NetEase, if not so much Activision-Blizzard, the Chinese release of Diablo Immortal is a pretty important tentpole. 70% of the company’s income comes from its games.
The game has received an incredible 15 million pre-registrations in China, and NetEase’s CFO Charles Zhaoxuan Yang told investors last month, “We consider the debut of Diablo Immortal a huge opportunity to show the world, particularly the Western gaming community, about NetEase’s strong...capability.”