NetEase apologises for 'bad experiences' after fans of Harry Potter game revolt over Lunar New Year campaign

·3 min read

Chinese players of a video game based on the Harry Potter series of books by J.K. Rowling have staged an online revolt against NetEase, with their complaints about unfair game terms forcing the developer to apologise

NetEase, China's second-biggest gaming company, posted an apology on social media platform Weibo on Thursday for bringing "bad experiences" to players of Harry Potter: Magic Awakened, a mobile game it launched last September.

NetEase said it will cancel part of a Lunar New Year campaign for the game, which was originally scheduled to start next Wednesday, after receiving complaints. Some gamers alleged that it was easy to be tricked into spending too much money and time on the game. NetEase now says it will distribute free gaming equipment and outfits to players of the game.

Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.

The saga comes at a time of heightened regulatory scrutiny of the video gaming industry by the government, which has suspended new game approvals since last July and restricted the time that minors can spend on gaming. With game pipelines on hold, many developers have focused on how to extract more revenue from existing titles.

The original terms of NetEase's campaign for Harry Potter: Magic Awakened were criticised as unfair by many players and an online petition calling for the resignation of the game's designer received 380 million views on social media platform Weibo.

The game traditionally releases two new outfits each month - one is directly sold to users at a price of around 68 yuan (US10.70), with the other obtained through a paid lottery function. The New Year campaign, however, put both outfits into the lottery and many players said that in-game tasks to gain access to the lottery function took too long to complete.

"I don't want to keep working on the game even after I'm off duty," said one user named "Maozhe" on Weibo. Meanwhile, costs to obtain an outfit through the lottery could run as high as 1,000 yuan, said another player called "Yumiii" in a Weibo post.

Images from Harry Potter video game. Photo: Weibo

NetEase declined to comment beyond the apology it issued on Weibo.

This is not the first time that a player backlash has prompted NetEase to issue an apology in relation to Harry Potter: Magic Awakened.

Last November, NetEase apologised and promised amendments after complaints that the facial expressions of a female character during a fight scene in the game appeared similar to the sexually exaggerated reactions in anime pornography.

The mobile role-playing game, based around collectible gaming cards, was developed by NetEase's Zen Studio. Despite a gaming crackdown in the second half of 2021, it has proved a hit.

It topped the list of iOS game downloads and revenue charts for a week after its September debut, becoming the first mobile game to beat Tencent since 2016. Zen Studio was promoted to NetEase's first-level division after the success. It is also responsible for Onmyoji, a hit anime-style game series from NetEase.

Chinese regulators approved Harry Potter: Magic Awakened in August 2020, but it was only licensed as a mobile game. NetEase was set to release a PC version of the game, but the launch was suspended last November, with the company citing technical upgrades.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.