Review bombs are stale beyond being cliché but here’s one with a novel twist: A game included a mocking reference to China’s president got review bombed on Steam by Chinese gamers, and the Taiwan-based developer has apologized.
The game in question is Devotion, a horror game that launched on Steam on Feb. 19. The Verge wrote about it shortly after its premiere, noting how its setting and mechanisms are familiar to the dear departed P.T. It has a substantial following on Twitch.
Count some Chinese players as not big fans, though. Germany’s Spiel Times noted that the interior decorating of Devotion’s apartment includes a poster that says “Xi Jinping Winnie-the-Pooh moron.” This is a big no-no. Xi is notoriously self-conscious about comparisons to Pooh Bear, to the point that China’s super-chill censors sometimes crack down on just the image of Pooh, whether or not it accompanies POTPROC. It was enough to worry folks about the Chinese launch of Kingdom Hearts 3, which features the character.
Devotion’s jab is a lot more overt. It probably does not help that the game is set in Taiwan, either. In 570 reviews in English, the game has a mostly positive reception. There are 18,380 reviews overall, however, a majority of them bad (9,015 thumbs down, versus 5,841 up). That gives it a super-accurate mixed reputation on the Steam storefront page.
Red Candle Games posted an apology which said the inclusion of the poster was a “purely an accident.” Apparently it had been some kind of a placeholder asset and a “version synchronizing problem” left it in by mistake. “As a game company, Red Candle Games has immense room for improvement,” the studio said. “We are deeply sorry for the trouble it caused to everyone, and that we sincerely ask for the forgiveness of our players.”
A ResetEra user (via Eurogamer) noted, however, that most Chinese gamers’ ire drew not from the mockery of Xi, but rather, they felt like the game was mocking mainlanders for being tricked into buying something that makes fun of him.
The user noted that a scan of social media channels for Red Candle Games’ founder and lead designer turned up several posts showing his political views, including support for Taiwanese independence and recognition, an extremely controversial and antagonistic stance to mainland China.
Review bombs on Steam are a time-tested way of registering disapproval or protest for reasons that usually have little to do with the game’s artistic merit or value as a consumer product. Steam has tried countermeasures to limit their impact in the past, to little meaningful end. The Epic Games Store, which launched in December, does not yet feature user reviews; review bombs are a big reason why, and the company says it wants to have controls to prevent them.