Just three days away from its big release in China on June 23rd, Diablo Immortal has been postponed without an expected date in sight.
To the shock of many in the gaming world, NetEase, a China-based company that partnered with Blizzard, had made the tough call to delay the release date indefinitely.
Many expect that such a delay for arguably one of their biggest target markets would cause catastrophic economic consequences to those involved. So far this has been true, with companies such as NetEase feeling the brunt of it.
What exactly caused them to make this sort of sudden decision with so much on the line? Here is what we know:
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The “Reason” behind the Postponement
On June 20th, NetEase made a shocking announcement. They had made a blog post to announce that the release of Diablo Immortal was officially postponed. They had also given their reasons for their sudden decision days before their awaited release date. The Chinese blog post when roughly translated says this:
We are sorry to inform you that the launch of Diablo: Immortal, originally scheduled for June 23rd, will be delayed.
The development team is making several optimization adjustments to the game: support for a wider range of models and devices, the highest quality rendering on more models, a lot of experience, network and performance optimizations, and more. We believe that the game experience in the official online version will become smoother and bring better game content to everyone.
To thank all adventurers for their patience, we have specially prepared an exclusive thank-you package containing legendary equipment and rich props and materials. After the official launch of “Diablo: Immortal”, all adventurers can receive the above rewards through the in-game mailbox after registering their characters in the game. In addition, we will also add more welfare activities and generous rewards to the game.
Thank you for your support and understanding, we are doing our best and look forward to seeing you in Sanctuary soon!“
According to the post, the NetEase team made the delay to improve the game with additional optimization adjustments. What was missing however was how long the delay would take. It isn’t surprising of course that there would be a strong negative reaction from the public.
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Had they posted this under any normal circumstances, it would have been an acceptable and admirable reason. However, leading up to the release of Diablo Immortal something had occurred on the Chinese forums that potentially put all this into motion.
The Real Reason behind the Postponement
What many believe to be the real reason behind the postponement decision of NetEase is a controversial post made by the official Diablo Immortal Weibo account.
Weibo, one of the leading social media services in China, deleted the post and account but the aftermath remains. Currently, NetEase, and Blizzard by extension, are still in hot water with the Chinese censors due to the post.
The Diablo Immortal account post referenced a bear, with the exact words being “Why hasn’t the bear stepped down?”. After posting, the online moderators swiftly deleted it. Furthermore, they had also wiped clean any follow-up threads made to discuss the deleted posts. They had interpreted the original post to be a reference to Winnie the Pooh and the Chinese President, Xi Jinping.
Many critics and online opposers of Xi Jinping use the character Winnie the Pooh to mock and criticize Xi Jinping. What was a joke pointing out physical similarities between the President and the bear had gained a deeper meaning over time. The use of the image has become a sore spot for the President.
He has gone as far as to ban images and related material to Winnie the Pooh. This action goes back as far as 2018. To this day, Chinese censors have become increasingly strict and punishing on social media.
It is no surprise that the reaction from the Chinese audience was so scalding. While it may not be the solid evidence to prove the reason NetEase had decided to delay, it does provide a very good idea of the current situation of Diablo Immortal in China. Either way, it is likely that there is a connection between the two.
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The Future of Blizzard and China
Even after being postponed, Blizzard and NetEase are still very much confident about releasing the Diablo Immortal in China and expecting a big market for it there. Diablo is one of Blizzard’s most well-known and biggest franchises under its belt.
Despite the negative reactions of the public, the game still made a whopping $24 Million in the first two weeks. This is due to the aggressive use of in-game monetization to progress in-game, a common tactic for most modern mobile games.
While controversial, it isn’t a new marketing strategy in China, especially with how common mobile games are in the region. Even more so with it being arguably the fastest growing mobile gaming hub in the world.
China boasts over 600+ million players, and in Blizzard’s eyes, that is 600+ million players to potentially spend on their product, Diablo Immortal.
If two weeks garnered over $24 million of profit, what more with a bigger pool of players willing to spend?
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From the looks of it, Blizzard is in the long con, with the expectation of opening up their game to the immense gaming audience in China. Blizzard expected to make huge profits through a Chinese player base. If they fail to cash in, they will miss a huge opportunity.
The delay with likely slow down any potential revenue growth for NetEase and Blizzard for the rest of the year.
At the moment, Blizzard has yet to make any definitive comments on what the next step is for Diablo Immortal in China after being postponed.
While the current timeline may still be indefinite, the NetEase team has already announced that it plans to include a “thank you package” as an apology for the delays. The package, containing legendary items and materials, is expected to be available to all players when officially released. So for now we can only wait and see how this situation unfolds.
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