Diablo Immortal delayed in China just days ahead of launch

Diablo Immortal
(Image credit: Activision-Blizzard/NetEase)

Just a few days before it was due to release, Diablo Immortal has been delayed in China. According to a Reuters report, word of the delay came shortly after the official Diablo Immortal account on Chinese social network Weibo was suspended.

A reason for the account suspension wasn't provided, but a Financial Times report points the finger at a post that made critical comments about "the bear," which was apparently interpreted as a reference to Winnie the Pooh. Pooh Bear has for years been used to criticize or mock Chinese president Xi Jinping because of purported physical similarities between them, and it's pretty clearly a sore point for Xi: China banned the 2018 release of the Disney film Christopher Robin, and a year later revoked the business license of the Chinese publisher of Devotion, a horror game that also contained an image of Pooh. The Weibo account of developer Red Candles was also shut down in that case, and the game was ultimately removed from Steam.

There's not a direct connection cited between the Weibo account suspension and the game delay, but it would be an awfully big coincidence if the two events were completely unconnected. NetEase, which co-developed Diablo Immortal with Activision Blizzard, made no reference to the account on the Chinese Diablo Immortal website (Google translated), saying only that it wanted to make "optimization adjustments" ahead of launch, including support for "a wider range of models and devices," and "experience, network, and performance optimizations."

Another possible point of contention is Diablo Immortal's free-to-play monetization, which has been very successful out of the gate but also the focus of strong criticism over its aggressive approach to in-game item sales. Free-to-play games are far more common and popular in China than they are in the West, but the past couple of years has seen the Chinese government crack down on gaming by imposing time limits and streaming restrictions for minors, and pausing approvals for new game releases for almost a year. NetEase may be reluctant to try its luck with a game perceived by many as predatory right now, especially if it's already in the doghouse over the Winnie the Pooh business.

A new release date for Diablo Immortal in China hasn't been set, but NetEase said in the delay announcement that it's putting together a "thank-you package" with legendary equipment and materials as an apology for the delay. The package will be available to all players once the game goes live. I've reached out to Activision Blizzard for more information and will update if I receive a reply.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.