The saga from Metro Exodus' exclusivity on the Epic Games Store continued over the weekend, with the developer and publisher struggling to contain the PR fallout. The latest pile atop the smouldering nightmare of messaging: a remark from a 4A Games developer warning that any boycotts against the PC version of Exodus could result in future iterations not launching on the PC at all.
The post from the supposed 4A developer was in Russian on Gameru.net, under the account "scynet". (The validity of the account was later confirmed in a follow-up statement by Exodus publisher Deep Silver, who remarked that they were a "member of the 4A Games development team".)
An automated translation of the post notes that while some of the backlash is understandable: Exodus's withdrawal from Steam was ambiguous and sudden, so a degree of whiplash from that is to be expected. But the remainder of the post questions whether if some of the criticism against Exodus is genuine, and not the byproduct of a small segment of users airing criticism without considering the time and effort from the developers.
It then contained this line which circulated far and wide:
To this I can answer that in a pinch, if at all all the PC players announce a boycott of the Metro, then the next Metro, if it does, is definitely not on the PC.
Again, it's worth stressing that this isn't an official translation. But the intent wasn't hard to miss, and inevitably the backlash was instant. Gamers and gamer communities generally don't take demands well. And given that much of the Exodus debate has pitched the Epic Games Store, and Deep Silver/Koch Media's decision, as anti-consumer at worst and inadequate at best, social media treated the response like blackmail.
Given the torrent of backlash that Exodus and its publishers were already getting from the Epic/Steam decision, this was an unwelcome addition to the fire. Deep Silver posted a statement through the official Metro Exodus Twitter account - although it wasn't clear initially that Deep Silver were the authors - saying that the comments "do reflect the hurt and disappointment of a passionate individual" but were not reflective of the publisher or 4A Games on future Metro titles.
The recent decision to move Metro Exodus from Steam to the Epic Game Store was made by Koch Media / Deep Silver alone.
The recent comments made by a member of the 4A Games development team do not reflect Deep Silver’s or 4A Games’ view on the future of the franchise. They do reflect the hurt and disappointment of a passionate individual who has seen what was previously nothing but positive goodwill towards his work turn to controversy due to a business decision he had no control over. We respectfully ask that any and all valid feedback over this decision is directed at Koch Media / Deep Silver, and not the developers at 4A Games.
The future release strategy of the Metro series lies with Koch Media / Deep Silver. Our decision to partner with Epic Games was based on the goal of investing in the future of the series and our development partner at 4A Games. We have every intention of continuing this franchise, and a PC version will always be at the heart of our plans.
With the publisher has owned the statement to a degree - rather than simply ignoring it, or denying it and the validity of the account - I'm reminded a little of the argument that cropped up around Red Dead Redemption 2 after Kotaku reported on the working conditions within Rockstar Games. Those conditions included mandatory overtime at Rockstar's Lincoln studio, with many other staffers working a minimum of 55 to 60 hour weeks over six days.
Rockstar Lincoln, a UK-based studio that has been handling a lot of the quality assurance testing for Red Dead Redemption 2, is swearing off an approach that many employees say they had interpreted as mandatory overtime.
In the final year of development on Red Dead Redemption 2, the upcoming Western game, the top directors decided to add black bars to the top and bottom of every non-interactive cutscene in hopes of making those scenes feel more cinematic, like an old-school cowboy film. Everyone agreed it was the right creative move, but there was a catch: It would add weeks of work to many people’s schedules.
The public response to the crunch for Red Dead Redemption 2 elicited genuine confusion: People didn't want to support unsustainable working conditions, but the likely fallout from a successful boycott would only hurt the developers on the ground floor most.
And part of that dilemma through in the response from the Exodus developer. It's highly personal. It's asking why gamers are punishing people like him for a decision that was out of their control. But there's that, and then there's challenging gamers' interest in Metro Exodus at all, and once any part of the latter hit the internet the response was always going to be a nightmare.
For a game that was pretty enjoyable from its Gamescom build, it's unfortunate to see a game embroiled in controversy over everything but the game itself. And the whole PR debacle has come before anyone has even had the opportunity to get hands on with final code, with reviewers expected to receive builds over the next fortnight. Hopefully, for 4A Games' sake, Exodus's gameplay will have far fewer bumps than the PR messaging.