Now Game Developers Have To Ask Fans Not To Harass Them Over The Epic Store

Image: Oddworld Inhabitants

One of the easiest bits of news to miss on Monday’s Gamescom Opening Night Live show was tucked away in an ad for the Epic Games Store. A simple sizzle reel that showcased a number of games exclusive to the controversial digital PC game storefront included an upcoming indie that previously wasn’t in Epic’s roster: Oddworld Soulstorm. Shortly after, Oddworld creator Lorne Lanning posted a message via the Oddworld Twitter account.

“What I would like to do is provide you with the reasoning that went into bringing the PC version of Soulstorm to the Epic Games store as an exclusive because you deserve to know,” Lanning wrote. He noted that Soulstorm had previously been “100%” self-financed, but “to create the version of soul storm [sic] we want, and you deserve, we needed additional financial assistance.”

On its own, the message might read like any communiqué from a developer to fans eager for an update. But coupled with recent events, it feels like the next step in the slow breakdown in the relationship between the people who make games and the fans who interact with them online.

Let’s summarise, one more time. It’s hard to pick a starting point for this phenomenon, but the current era of malcontent is most neatly demarcated by the launch of the Epic Games Store in December, a storefront that at this point, a vocal group of PC games fans object to on principle.

As the store began to lock down highly-anticipated games as exclusives, those objections — which range from concerns about security and business practices, to annoyance at perceived inconveniences, to outright conspiracy theories — began to find targets outside of Epic Games.

After widespread rage and review bombs targeting Metro Exodus developer 4A Games and Borderlands 3 developer Gearbox Software, a pattern emerged: Announcing that your previously-announced game is an Epic Games Store exclusive is a pretty good way to get harassed.

This is why an indie studio like Ooblets’ developer Glumberland would choose to write a lengthy blog post detailing their rationale in an attempt to head off the storm that seems to be part and parcel with the words “Epic Game Store exclusive.”

It proved to be a futile effort, as post from Ben Wasser — one of Glumberland’s two members — detailed the deluge of harassment he received for choosing to sell his game in the way that he wished. Among the usual complaints was a new one: Wasser was rude for calling the mob of harassers toxic and entitled, and that the glibness of his initial post was disrespectful.

Echoes of this can be felt in this week’s much-publicised scuffle between members of Respawn Entertainment and the Apex Legends online community. While not directly related to the Epic Games Store, ire over the — legitimately egregious — pricing of in-game cosmetics available during the game’s Iron Crown event devolved to full-on flame war when a Respawn developer, in an attempt to explain a change to the pricing, expressed frustration with the community’’s hostility towards the developers of a free video game, calling said people “arse-hats.”

That brief flash of humanity sent the community into an uproar that you can still see on the game’s subreddit todayhow dare you, seems to be the message fired back from first-person shooter fans.

This is the context in which Lorne Lanning’s statement enters the world of gaming, and in this context, the language starts to make a damning sort of sense. It’s a note of supplication, a plea for an unseen, but felt, mob to realise that the decision to put Oddworld: Soulstorm on the Epic Games Store is a decision made for them.

It should not escape anyone how absolutely broken a scene must be if this is how a community must be addressed: with utmost reverence, lest an indignant storm of harassment descend on your head. It’s telling that the responses to Lanning’s message, while full of the usual ire, commend him for being “classy” and “respectful.”

In covering the Epic Games Store, Kotaku has written about how the consistent, perpetual rage over its mere existence has gotten out of hand. This is the result of the current state of affairs, a world where the realities of economics are so lopsided that an internet commenter who might buy a game is under the currently-validated delusion that they lord indiscriminate power over developers.

It is absurd. And what’s even more ridiculous is the fact that this is just the latest version of what’s always been understood about gaming communities: They inevitably are marred by a loud, toxic group of people who ruin things for everyone else... Developers regularly lament the attacks from fans, credibly citing it as the reason they don’t interact with them online.

They’ve done this for years. It is, by virtue of its persistence, a reality of the video game world. It is allowed and permitted by platform makers and publishers, rewarded by algorithms and metrics of attention, a rule by Reddit upvote. And I can’t help but wonder about all the potential games and game developers this climate has ultimately prematurely snuffed out of existence, because an incredibly loud minority has demanded that an industry bow in service to their own petulance, instead of the intelligence and heart of a world that loves games. 


Comments

    They made a decision, now they can deal with the repercussions of that

    It's probably worth mentioning here that the developer of DARQ rejected Epic's offer and wrote a pretty solid article on it a few days ago here. The standout part for me was when he said Epic refused to sell DARQ on their store unless it was exclusive. This single thing should put to bed any false notions that Epic is in it to help indies and developers, because that's bullshit. Helping indies would include letting choose to sell their game wherever they can. Epic's strategy is to strong-arm developers onto the platform by giving them only one deal - come to us exclusively for a sales floor guarantee, or fuck off.

      Preach it! Epic doesn't care about anything but money!

        Just like publishers and developers. Gaming is a BUSINESS. What's good for business is rarely good for the consumer as business treats consumers as walking wallets, not people.

      You're reading waaaaaay too much into what is just Epic curating their store. They've said countless times that they're opening it up like steam in the future. Until then they're focusing on exclusives to drive store adoption. Can't help anyone if nobody uses their store.

        It's not curation; if the game is good enough to be on the store exclusively, then it's good enough to be on the store non-exclusively too. Rejecting appealing titles does nothing to improve customer adoption either.

          I get what he's saying, though. As unpleasant as it is, one of the factors behind curation is not just 'is it high enough quality'. There are other criteria as well, and, "Did they agree to being an exclusive," is one of them.

          They're deciding, 'We have a limited number of slots on our store for upcoming cool new games; Y of them are reserved for exclusives, Z for non-exclusives, X is the shortlist of titles which could fit within Y, if they agree."

          Darq obviously met the curation criteria for X, but because they didn't agree, they didn't make it through to Y. They were probably never in the running for Z at all, which has different assessment criteria. (I assume one of which is, "Are they so big they can tell us to fuck off and it'll hurt us if they do?" Eg: Cyberpunk, Bloodlines 2, etc.)

            In a curated store, the number of products is what really matters. Customers don't care what percentage of them are exclusive or non-exclusive, they care about how easy it is to find games they like. Rejecting a game that has proven customer interest and was otherwise worthy of filling one of those slots because it isn't exclusive tells me they'd rather hurt an indie developer than share with Steam. That doesn't exactly fit their "pro developer" narrative.

            I think there's a sad truth in the last bit you said too. They don't serve a shit sandwich to the big players because the big ones have enough clout to tell them to fuck off with it, but they'll serve it to the indies because they know the indies can't be as picky about what they get.

          You're confusing curation with quality control.
          Epic doesn't owe store presence to "good enough" games. Epic wants games that will drive store adoption. Right now for them they think it's exclusives, later when the store has more features and can compete on its own it'll be a wider range of non-exclusives.

            In common useage 'curation' is used more or less synonymously with 'quality control'. It's the main justification people make as to why they personally prefer curated stores to open platforms.

            If curation just means store owners picking and chosing games that suit them regardless of quality it defeats the main argument in favour of curation.

            Whether or not curation suits Epic, specifically, is irrelevant since nobody is arguing about what's good for Epic, they're arguing about whether Epic's closed shop is good for consumers.

            Me thinks you're just playing semantic games here for the sake of an argument.

            I'm not conflating them, I'm separating them. Curation in this context doesn't simply mean selection on the basis of any arbitrary criteria, because if it were then Steam is also curated and it wouldn't be a selling point for Epic. When EGS launched, Sweeney specifically called out quality in describing how the store would be curated. He did it again at GDC. Quality has been part of their curation narrative from the start.

            I'm satisfied with my position on this. If the game meets all other necessary standards for selection (which aren't just about quality) but is refused because they didn't agree to exclusivity, then that rejection is on business grounds, not curatorial ones.

            This is a flawed argument in and of itself. To establish store adoption, they need to become the platform that can host your game library, just as steam did to become the ubiquitous behemoth we know today. By rejecting games that refuse the exclusivity deal, they are hurting their own goals as players will go elsewhere for those games instead, potentially decreasing retention of players they drew in using the exclusives. Its not enough to just draw customers in, you have to keep them coming back too, you have to make them WANT to come to you for their game purchases, and that wont happen if they become just another in the long list of platforms you can only buy certain games from, because why buy from them if you can have the convenience of having all the games on another unified platform.

            Just to add without editing:

            Epic wants games that will drive store adoption

            Accepting DARQ onto the store would have contributed to store adoption, whether it was exclusive or not. Why would they reject a title that would help accomplish that goal?

      Except that they already admitted to doing that and said they'd stop pushing exclusivity like that if Steam fixes their royalties.

      Can still call Epic greedy for using Steam as an excuse if you like but it is worth at least mentioning their side before just condemning them...

        It's worth a mention, sure. I didn't here because I've commented on that before, I guarantee Sweeney was lying. If they ever stop, it'll be because the store reached a consecutive profit target, not because of anything Steam does or doesn't do.

        "I swear I'll change guys, right after they do!" is an easy thing to run around claiming when the other side is not expected to cave to your specific demands.

        And should we ignore how fucked up a claim like that actually is to start with?
        Claiming you'll change for the better, but ONLY when someone else does first, is not something deserving of any praise whatsoever.

        Excusing someone's shitty behaviour because someone else is being shitty is insane.

        Epic like to pretend they're the good guys with their "oh, we're just getting exclusives to make steam be less terrible towards other companies (developers)" while they themselves are screwing over other companies (retailers) with their exclusivity contracts. Ask GoG and GamersGate and all the little stores out there how Epic's practices are helping them.

    I’d put it further back, to the ridiculous backlash to the Mass Effect 3 ending, the final result being the community forums being closed completely.

    Honestly, if I was in these developers positions, I wouldn't explain the decision. It seems like the people who are going to be angry at games being Epic Games exclusive are going to be mad no matter the explanation given, so why even bother trying to explain it at all?

    Just announce it and be unapologetic about it.

    It might be the wrong decision, but I'm not a PR person, so that's purely my thoughts about it.

      Being honest, thats mostly been the issue, with many devs trying to coat it as something good for the consumer, that immediately raises heckles.

      Devs like Lorne stating bluntly, its for the cash advance don't tend to attract much ire (which this article doesn't mention, at all). Sure, people will still go, I'm sorry, I still won't buy your game / pirate it, but at least they can empathise with the developer, rather than devs trying to glitter a turd.

        His announcement was the best he could have done with the decision he made. The tone of responses so far is also completely different to Ooblets, most of them are along the lines of "I'm sorry I won't be buying the game because of this, but I respect your honesty".

        I've always said as long as the dev is honest and says they did it for the money ill respect it. I won't agree but ill still respect it.

        However, These actions won't be respected:

        1. Initially promising a steam launch but then switching to Epic exclusive. Especially worse if it was kickstarted on being on steam
        2. Insulting/ Accusing your potential customers of being entitled for disliking the move.
        3. Lying and acting like the money had nothing to do with it and proclaiming epic is the superior store when it isn't
        4. Telling your customers its not big deal, Just download another client

        People respect people who tell the truth, they don't respect people who insult us or use PR double-speak.

      That right there is it.

      Just announce the store you're launching on and don't apologise.

      Especially don't pre-emptively apologise because you come off to people like you think you have something to be sorry for and at that point the mob will latch onto that... And definitely don't acknowledge any 'disappointment' or other nonsense that might still result after.

    This is the result of the current state of affairs, a world where the realities of economics are so lopsided that an internet commenter who might buy a game is under the currently-validated delusion that they lord indiscriminate power over developers.

    So, there are too many games?

    And I can’t help but wonder about all the potential games and game developers this climate has ultimately prematurely snuffed out of existence

    There are... not enough games?

    I know, that's not really fair. There are not enough of certain types of games, there are too many of certain types, etc, etc. Not exactly apples and oranges.

    Still... this is an absurdly one-sided article that utterly ignores if not absolves publishers and developers of their responsibility in creating the situation they find themselves in.

    The 'realities of economics' are far from being the only driving force behind the rise of consumer vitriol, but rather the fact that when consumers have been abused, consumer vitriol has been the only thing that has worked to wind back the abuse. The author disdainfully points to the rule by Reddit upvote, apparently forgetting that this was the ultimate result of exploitative lootbox mechanics, most spectacularly exploding with the Battlefront 2 breaking downvote history and generating an industry-wide re-evaluation of crass, manipulative, abusive practices that had been picking up pace.

    Consumers in this scenario are like an abused dog that reacts violently to certain related stimulus.

    If calm, reasoned, rational discussion is desired, then it has to be rewarded, not ignored.
    But developers and publishers themselves created the environment where calm, reasoned, rational discussion went ignored, and only rewarded the noisiest of voices with positive change.

    If you only stop abusing the dog when it growls and bites, it's going to fucking growl and bite.

    Consumers have become absurdly, irrationally 'passionate' on the subject of their favourite franchises. Deeply-involved out of pure emotion that goes to extremes. This is a state of affairs actively cultivated by publishers because it leads to more invested customers, more likely to spend. The industry is perfectly happy to whip customers up into a frenzy when it means more sales, but balk at the other side of that exact same coin, where their abuse of customers means that passion can turn nasty.

    They shat the 'discourse' bed and now they don't want to lie in it. This was highlighted in absurd self-satire when journalists took to their keyboards in their droves to exclaim, "Isn't it weird that fans reacted so emotionally when attending an ANNUAL FAN CONVENTION THAT COSTS HUNDREDS TO ATTEND." Apparently unaware of the irony.

    The lack of self-awareness in this industry just boggles the mind. Or they are aware of the hypocrisy, but not ashamed of it and want to try and gaslight consumers into only being passionate fans when things are good, and just sucking it up dispassionately when things are bad.

      Note: I'm not apologizing for the overreactions and especially the death threats, that's fucking insane.

      I'm just expressing disapproval that this is being expressed in the article as the fault of 'self-entitled, grotesquely hysterical customers' without any reflection on the role publishers and developers have directly, deliberately played in creating this state of affairs.

      We should all just ignore and/or grumble at the things that annoy us and express our consumer power by not buying what we don't agree with, and making our stance clear in a reasonable but still vocal way, so that the manipulative powers with agendas can't write off our objections as, "The game wasn't good enough," or, "Marketing wasn't good enough," or whatever.

      This way we can all focus on the things that make us happiest, which are the really good games that continue to come out. When I think of things which are 'so close, yet so far' or straight up egregiously offensive, I only have to look at my 'must haves for 2019' and realize that I'll never even be able to play them all, and there's so much great stuff to enjoy that I'm seriously not missing anything through whatever bullshit the bastards have done today.

        Agree with this sentiment completely. It's ignorant to discount the cause of the consumer dissatisfaction being a result of shit products, predatory practices that publishers and developers (not all) try to push on consumers.

        I completely disagree with consumers being to blame for the situation that developers/publishers find themselves in now. From their bait and switch tactics (eg ACM, Athem). To dodgy loot box scams (eg Destiny 2, Battlefront). To this exclusive dealing BS, which is straight up anti-consumer third line forcing. Consumers are rightfully angry by this behaviour which has largely gone unchecked by regulators, hell they have only just caught up with refund consumer rights.

        Epic's hypocrisy is just another example of the industries inability to self regulate.

    Backlash is gonna happen and that sucks, but I think the backlash for this will be far less than that of Ooblets, simply because they wrote it in a way that makes sense rather than being condescending.

    Now if they just leave it at that, they're golden, which is the other mistake the Ooblets people made because they chose to come back again and again and try to fight fire with fire.

    But the issue I see is this... who gave Epic the right to announce Oddworld?

    Shouldn't that be the perogitive of the Developer/Publisher to announce? Why is the first thing we are hearing is a formal press release explaining there position (which is valid). Why not a release trailer with the developer talking to camera explaining the exclusive deal. Its "oh shit Epic showed what at Gamescon, quick break out the emergency tweet". Epic should not be announcing games they did are not developing in house... cause their PR department and CEO have no friggin clue how to manage community.

    Also... I would like to see Steam release dates on these timed exclusives. Is it 3 months, 6 months, a year.

      I'm pretty sure Oddworld Soulstorm had been known about for a while now. I heard of it back at E3

    Developers and Publishers are going to do what is best for THEM. They need money to get the game out there and unfortunately EPIC is giving them the best deal that is going to help their bottom line or Profit Margins. We need to start accepting that gaming is a BUSINESS, and the idea behind business is to MAKE MONEY, not satisfy the consumer base. As consumers, we are nothing more than walking wallets to be emptied when these companies want to lift profits or produce product. If a company is demanding something like exclusive rights to distribute for enough money to finish a project, then of course they'll sign on the bottom line to keep going.

    As consumers, we have the right to vote with our wallets and NOT BUY THE GAME. The problem is that we want to have the game and will compromise our personal principles in order to get the game and justify that want. We're sheep... Walking wallet sheep.

      Which is a pretty one-dimensional view of the universe - consumers are just suckers and businesses are there to exploit them, and the more cash a business can suck out of the suckers the better they are at their jobs.

      Your argument completely ignores issues such as the gross power imbalance between an individual consumer and large corporations, particularly in situations where a company wields effective monopoly power over a well definied set of goods.

      There is a reason why pretty much every country in the world has consumer protection and anti-monopoly legislation.

      It's also why it's perfectly reasonable to discuss whether we should just be sheep and let Epic walk all over us, or whether perhaps a bunch of Kotaku readers as a group might indeed come to the conclusion as a result of sharing opinions on the issue "to vote with our wallets and NOT BUY THE GAME".

      The underlying implication of your argument appears to be that we should all either stop talking about the problem, roll over, and tell Epic "thank you sir, can I have another", or alternatively, we should just slink off and feel grumpy about the situation in the privacy of our own bedrooms.

        How is epic walking all over you?

        I play games on Xbox mostly, is PlayStation walking all over me when they released Bloodborne, a game designed to appeal to Dark Souls fans?

        Did they walk over me when they released Spiderman exclusive to their store after I ensured so many shitty Spiderman games on my platform of choice?

        The Kickstarter people have a legitimate gripe everyone else should chill out!

          I have an idea.

          Let us all find a post or article we disagree with, then chose a single phrase from that post or article no matter how tangental to the primary point being made and take it out of context.

          Now let's draft a passionate response to our personal interpretation of what that single phrase means instead of endeavouring to engage with the original argument.

          #strawman #theinternet

          Actually, I will respond to your straw man because it amuses me.

          Epic is "epic walking all over" potential customers by being anti-consumer, and most particularly but not limited to, deliberately stifling competition. Competition being generally more friendly to the consumer and monopolies being generally more friendly to monopolists.

          But in any case, if you don't see monopolies as anti-consumer then any position I take is obviously going to fail at your first hurdle.

          Regardless, your examples are all flawed. You may as well argue that Tolkein might be walking over me if his novels aren't available on my e-reader, or on radio. You're talking about completely different platforms, and further in fact, in most cases the software distributed on those platforms can be purchased from a wide variety of retail outlets and online.

            Look at it another way - I didn't see people getting this upset when Origin came out years ago and became the only place on PC that you could buy EA brand games.

            To call the Epic game store a monopoly is drawing a long bow.

            Aldi is not considered a monopoly in the supermarket sector, however there are numerous brands that I can only buy from their store.

            Aldi has the best (and cheapest) blended butter spread for instance - I can't but that brand from any other store - but I can still but similar products from other stores - just not the exact one I want.

            That doesn't make Aldi a monopoly. If EGS was the only place you could go on your PC to get video games then you'd have a point.

            Disclaimer: I loaded EGS onto my PC to claim all those free games, I'm yet to actually play one though

              I think you will find that there were many threads complaining about Origin when it came out. If the heat has died down a little since then it's because it's a client that has turned out to be relatively trivial in the scheme of things, primarily sells its own products, and shows little sign of getting any bigger.

              You example remains flawed. You may personally prefer the Aldi spread, but it's one of dozens of functionally identical products available at a range of price points from many different suppliers. Should the Aldi product be unavailable for any reason the vast majority of people will happily get an alternative and barely notice the difference.

              Computer games are not functionally identical commodities.

              You are just playing semantic games by simultaneously defining 'monopoly' both absurdly narrowly (a particular brand of spread) and absurdly widely (all PC computer games) and then claiming that the entire argument is absurd. Well, durr.

              I get it, you don't have a problem with monopolies.

      CONSUME PRODUCT
      DO NOT QUESTION COMPANIES
      REPEAT.

      I SMART

      How is ignoring potentially 80% of their market good for business? You a) have the fallout for that title, and b) potential fallout for future releases, so you better hope Epic's bribe is enough to cover that.

      This is what I dont understand with Epic supporters. The developers are blocking out the biggest market out there just to get a guaranteed amount up front. Which from what I understand might just be an advance on sales anyway.

      So how is it good for business when it so clearly pisses off their customer base? You know, the same people they're trying to make the money from for their business to operate.

    I’m pretty sure all of this is going to backfire in the long run. These developers and publishers are going to shut down their communication platforms because they’ll be fed up of the harassment of being open on Twitter, Facebook, Steam forums or Reddit etc. They’ll keep making the games and doing the best they can to make as much money as they can from them and we’ll lose the communication (which I’m personally fine with). Yes they’ll lose some sales from the reddit mob, but they aren’t the majority of people buying the games. We get sucked into thinking everyone thinks like we do, and most people don’t. They don’t read Kotaku articles and comments, they aren’t hitting subreddits every spare moment, they might finish playing a few rounds of Fortnite, have a browse through the story and buy a game their Discord buddies are playing and they like the look off. They don’t care what deal the dev/publisher did to get it into a particular store, they just want to play the game their mates are playing. When people are reffering to “gamers” being toxic and ass-hats, they aren’t talking about the average Joe in the street playing FIFA and Fortnite. They’re talking about the online commentators and reddit users who generally are a bunch of fuckin’ ass-hats, constantly complaining and whinging and wanting their own way. “Anti-consumer” comes up constantly, and I’m sure most people don’t even understand what it actually means. I miss the days off liking the look of a game from a preview, waiting for reviews to say it’s what I thought it was then just buying it.

    Maybe part of the problem is that games journalism sites, like Kotaku, constantly portray the concerns of consumers as petty grievances against something new and different. That we are all just tilting at windmills in an effort to have things the way we want them. Perhaps instead of constantly painting a picture where the backlash is unjustified and just "That darn internet community actin' up again", maybe start investigating and writing about the reality of what Epic is doing. I think that if people's concerns were acknowledged and addressed in a fair and factual manner it might help ease frustrations and let them know how to constructively channel them.

    For a start, let's see some articles about:
    - How Epic's actions have already had negative consequences on GOG who had to let staff go and cancel consumer benefit schemes just to stay competitive on the developer front.
    - How Epic is literally holding games to ransom with the attitude that they will immediately stop all exclusives if Steam meets their demands.
    - How Epic will not deal with anyone who does not want to exclusively sign on with them.
    - How Epic has touted exclusivity but then does side deals with places like Fanatical and Humble Bundle which don't actually pass money directly to Epic.
    - How Epic is directly targeting the big name and popular games in an effort to starve out the competition who are left with the dregs once the critical sales period is over.

      You wouldn't need to search for more than a few minutes to find articles about all of these issues, and more, on both Kotaku and many other sites.

      One presumes that this is how you found out about these issues in the first place, unless you work for GOG, or Epic? For heaven's sake, the context you describe is included in many points in the article above.

      None of which should prevent Kotaku from also posting articles about how a bunch of people on the internet are being dicks about the whole situation.

    The main reason the epic games store is controversial is because Gamers are whiny assholes

      Would you like to know the actual reasons EGS is controversial, or was that just a "the reasons aren't real because I don't agree with them" thing?

    In comparison to the Mechwarrior 5 bullshit this is reasonable. I hope they don't cop too much shit over it.

      I like their simple and to the point explanation. If put in a situation where you are guaranteed financial stability, at least for the near future (something that most indie games don't have the luxury of) it would be hard deal not to take. It's really a situation of hate the game not the player, essentially.

    Ooohh, and don't forget people review bombing Ion Fury. Nasty business.

    You want GoT now, get it on Foxtel....or wait. You wanted God of War at launch? Get a PlayStation...or wait for PC. You want Stranger Things? Get Netflix...or wait for the DVD. You want ? Get or wait.

    The Epic store is no different to MS, Sony, Coles, Foxtel, Ticketek or any one of a 1,000 other companies that are run to make a profit. PC gamers whinging because they have to go to a different website to buy the game they want? Grow up.

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