Diablo Immortal is one of the more hotly contested releases of 2022, receiving the lowest user score ever on Metacriticwhile simultaneously receiving eight million downloads and earn more than $24,000,000 in the first two weeks. However, according to a report by Reuters, the announcement of a delayed 11th hour launch in China has sent shares of co-developer NetEast tumbling. Right after Blizzard’s Weibo account allegedly prohibited from expressing criticism 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 shares in 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 posting.
While no official reason has been given for the Weibo suspension, outlets are reporting that it may be related to the official Diablo Immortal account with a reference to AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. A quirky sentence to type, but references to the cute little bear have become a popular way to criticize China’s delicate, honey-loving leader, Xi Ping. For an excellent introduction to this matter, watch this video†
A screenshot circulating on the internet claims that the Blizzard account sent a message referring to “the bear”, with some like the Financial times translate as, “Why hasn’t the bear resigned?” a contact from Kotaku‘s translates the line as, “What do you think of the bear?” but says it is written idiomatically. Anyway, if it’s real, it seems like something out of the ordinary to have posted on an official account in the country.
According to a press release posted on Blizzard’s Chinese websitethe reason for this very last moment delay is a necessity to make “some optimization tweaks to the game” (translated via Google), including improving model rendering, support for a wider range of devices, and “network and performance optimizations”. The statement does not mention the social media incident at all.
Of course, it’s hard to take these comments completely at face value, given the wildly successful launch of the game two weeks ago around the world. It seems strange that the mobile game jointly developed by Blizzard and NetEase would have display problems that only affected China, for example. It’s easier to believe that it would be harder to successfully launch your flagship product in the country when you don’t have access to social media accounts and have quite upset the government† We’ve, of course, contacted NetEase to ask about this, and we’ll update you when they answer.
Things are pretty tense for games companies in China right now, with crackdown on children’s access to gamingand long routes between government regulators that allow releases† For Netease, if not so much Activision-Blizzard, the Chinese release of Diablo Immortal is a fairly important tent pole. 70% of the company’s revenue 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, especially the western gaming community, how strong NetEase is…’.