The original title of the Taiwanese horror game Devotion means "to fulfil a vow made to a deity" in Mandarin. And in their own way, the developers of Red Candle Games have been working hard at fulfilling their promise to their audience as well: to re-release the beloved game when circumstances would allow it.
Ever since the controversy in early 2019—in which an unflattering but biting reference to China’s president, Xi Jinping, was discovered hidden inside Devotion, leading to its removal from Steam—the studio had been quietly working on its third game. After more than a year, they also announced that they were releasing Devotion in a limited physical edition. It's the first time Devotion has been available since it was pulled from the internet. Unfortunately for the international community, the release is restricted to Taiwan; overseas fans are out of luck, at least for now.
"There are many reasons that brought the physical format of Devotion to life, the main reason being that our team wanted to do something special for the local players in response to their continuous support," said Tiff Liu, the PR Director of Red Candle Games. Not only is this physical edition one of the very few ways players can legally get hold of the game, it also comes with items inspired by nostalgic paraphernalia from 1980s Taiwan—a goldmine of collectibles for fans.
This includes a thumb drive designed as a children’s talent show logo, a children’s book that’s prominently featured in the game, and its original soundtrack—all of which are encased in a box that resembles a VHS cassette, in a sleeve that harkens back to the pastel-hued East Asian album covers of yesteryear.
But why limit the distribution of the game in Taiwan? Despite the politically fraught climate between Taiwan and China, Liu insisted that this limited release has nothing to do with this current situation or past events. Instead, the studio simply wanted to minimize the risks involved with producing and distributing physical versions of their game. "For our team, this is the first time we commercialise our game into physical format. It is an unknown territory for all of us. Hence, by limiting the scale of sales to Taiwan, it reduces the potential risks involved," said Liu.
While they seemed hesitant to elaborate more on why they are limiting their physical releases to Taiwan—if there are any—I could sense that Red Candle Games is deliberating over its next steps carefully, wary about making another misstep.
In the wake of the controversy, Devotion was quickly dropped by its publishers: Indievent, a Chinese company which eventually got its license revoked by the Chinese government due to the incident, and Winking Entertainment, a Taiwanese-based studio that’s employed to distribute the game outside China. Then there was the caustic backlash that took place online, particularly among mainland China players, resulting in the game being taken down on Steam.
"To be honest, we were a bit unsure about how the public would react to it in the beginning. For one, we know that a limited period of release in Taiwan is not ideal for all our players. Additionally, it has been over a year since the initial release," said Liu. "But when we saw the positive feedback from our fans, we felt much relieved." Sharing that the studio had received plenty of support from the international community, they said that Red Candle Games is, as of yet, unable to respond to requests for publishing Devotion on a larger scale.
Even though it’s been a year since Devotion’s original release, there's still a growing demand for the game worldwide, with fans delighted to see Devotion resurface after the incident.
"I want this set so bad.... I suspect that if this ever gets an international release it won't have the same items as this," said one Redditor from r/Games, with others hoping to secure pre-orders for the game via shopping concierge services or through friends living in Taiwan. Ryan Aston, a contributor for Slant Magazine, shared that he was overjoyed to see the game’s re-release. "At the time of playing it I was incredibly depressed that so few people could get to play it, it was not just a stellar horror outing but a game that was important, with a narrative that more people should experience, and for such a petty, frustrating reason."
Another fan, composer and game designer Jason Yu, also told me that he would have gotten a copy of the game if he could find some way to navigate the store page. "I’d get it for my parents and convince them to play it," he added. Although I'm Chinese-American and can speak Mandarin, I can’t actually read or write [in the language] so I would have a hard time getting my hands on the game without someone's help. It's really a travesty that the game was taken down for so long and they've missed out sales they would have gotten from the initial buzz."
"I’ve been keeping tabs on the physical release which would be a day one purchase for me if it was ever sold in the States," Toby Do, a game design student from New York University, told me. "As someone who has days where they listen to Lady of the Pier (a song heavily featured in Devotion) on repeat, the physical album that comes with it really tempted me to seek out someone in my circle from Taiwan that might be able to order it for me... but I ended up not wanting to be a bother!"
Liu acknowledged the strong show of support from the community. "We really appreciate the support of our international players. Currently, the team is working our best effort to seek chances and possibilities to fulfill international fans’ anticipation."
At the same time, they're still exploring options, such as working with a western publisher, to release Devotion on digital stores. "We are always open to any sort of cooperation. As long as the cooperation is rewarding for both parties and that the end result is satisfying for our players, we are willing to explore all kinds of possibilities."
I don't know if Devotion will see a worldwide release in the coming months. Liu added that the Red Candle developers are currently focusing on both the physical release of Devotion and the development of their next game, which they plan to release online internationally. "Please give us some time and patience. It’s definitely our hope that Devotion may one day return to the global market and be enjoyed by players worldwide," added Liu.