By now, you probably know the drill: A developer announces that it will sell the PC version of its game exclusively through the Epic Games Store. Cue wailing, gnashing of teeth, and increasingly, harassment from folks used to smashing that “buy” button on Steam.
The latest target of Epic exclusivity ire? The developers of Ooblets, who tried to get out in front of the inevitable stampede of rage by snarkily putting the situation in perspective. Coordinated harassment followed, prompting a statement from Epic on what it’s now deeming a “disturbing” trend.
Last week, Ooblets designer Ben Wasser wrote a post explaining why he and his development partner, programmer and artist Rebecca Cordingley, decided to take Epic’s deal. Wasser said that the publisher offered the duo a minimum guarantee on sales that matched what they were hoping to make on other stores, thus securing their future as a studio. He also addressed people’s concerns about Epic’s store in a half-joking tone, concluding that “this is all low-stakes video game stuff we’re dealing with here” and “nothing to get worked up about.”
But people got very worked up indeed about both the exclusivity deal and the “tone” of Wasser’s post, which did not treat the subject of a video game moving to a different, free platform with the funereal somberness it apparently deserves. Over the weekend, Wasser tweeted about some of what he was dealing with.
“Gotta quickly address the faked screenshot going around of me supposedly saying ‘gamers would be better off in gas chambers,’” he wrote. “Obviously never said that, and as a Jewish person, this one really hurt to see being spread around.”
The next day, Wasser said the crowd trying to defame him had taken things a step further, creating a fake video of him posting the fake message.
In a message to Patreon supporters (reprinted on GamesIndustry.biz), Wasser and Cordingley discussed the full scope of the problem, saying that they’ve received “thousands if not tens of thousands of hateful, threatening messages across every possible platform nonstop.”
This cut deep, they said, because of the otherwise “positive, supportive relationship” they’ve had with their audience throughout development.
The two-person studio went on to say that despite having previously felt empathy for targets of coordination internet offensives and trying to address “that kind of thinking” in their exclusivity announcement, they “couldn’t have guessed the scale of what it would feel like to be the target of an internet hate mob.”
“I have been crying nonstop for the last two days and feeling like the world has collapsed around me,” reads the studio’s Patreon post.
It was in response to all of this that Epic released its statement.
“The announcement of Ooblets highlighted a disturbing trend which is growing and undermining healthy public discourse, and that’s the coordinated and deliberate creation and promotion of false information, including fake screenshots, videos, and technical analysis, accompanied by harassment of partners, promotion of hateful themes, and intimidation of those with opposing views,” the company wrote.
It noted that it fully supports people’s “right to speak freely and critically” about the Epic store’s failings, but this isn’t that. This is abuse. Epic intends to “steadfastly support our partners throughout these challenges.” It concluded by thanking people who don’t bully developers and “continue to promote and advocate for healthy, truthful discussion about the games business and stand up to all manners of abuse.”