By Michelle Toh and CNN’s Beijing bureau
NetEase appears to be in hot water.
The Chinese gaming company delayed the launch of a widely anticipated video game in mainland China this week after one of its social media accounts was blocked for allegedly making a politically sensitive comment.
“Diablo Immortal,” which was slated to be released on Thursday, has been postponed until further notice, according to an announcement on NetEase’s Chinese website on Sunday. The title was co-created by NetEase and Blizzard Entertainment, a division of Activision Blizzard.
NetEase did not provide a reason for the last-minute delay, but suggested in its statement that it was making technical updates to the game. The company did not share a new release date, and declined to comment further on the matter.
Some online users this week speculated that the company had gotten into political trouble.
Users on Twitter shared screenshots purporting to show that the game’s official account on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, had posted a comment in May which translated to “why does the bear still not step down?”
The reported post was seen by critics as a potential reference to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has been compared to the cartoon character Winnie the Pooh.
CNN Business was not able to immediately verify the authenticity of the screenshots. NetEase declined to comment on the matter, referring to CNN Business to its original statement.
Cheeky netizens in China have often linked Pooh to Xi, claiming there is an uncanny resemblance between the two and provoking the wrath of Chinese censors.
A notice on the Weibo account for “Diablo Immortal” said that it was currently suspended from posting, citing a “violation of relevant laws and regulations.” Weibo did not respond to a request for further information.
Some users on Chinese social media suggested that creators of game may have “insulted” China.
“Diablo Immortal,” a multiplayer game that allows users to slay demons in an ancient world, had received approval for its Chinese release by the country’s media watchdog, the National Press and Publication Administration, last year.
The title had already received 10 million installations ahead of its China launch, as of June 10, developers said on its official Twitter account.
News of the delayed China launch shock investors. NetEase stock tanked 7.8% in New York and 6.7% in Hong Kong on Monday immediately following the announcement, before rebounding the next day. Its shares closed up 1.2% in Hong Kong on Tuesday, and were last down 1.5% in US premarket trade.
Chinese authorities have clamped down heavily on video games in recent months, with the government introducing strict time limits for minors last summer. Those rules stipulated that users under the age of 18 should be allowed only an hour of play time between 8 pm and 9 pm on Friday, weekends and public holidays.
The country’s state-owned media called out titles that were popular among young people, suggesting that they were having effects on players and describing gaming as a form of “spiritual opium.”
NetEase, an industry leader in China, has been no stranger to the crackdown, with officials telling the company and fellow Chinese behemoth Tencent last September to focus less on profit and more on discouraging any potential “addictions” to their games.
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