Eagerly-anticipated farming game Ooblets will be released on the Epic Games Store as a timed-exclusive PC release, developer Glumberland announced last week. The video game, which doesn't yet have a release date, will launch on Xbox One—the timed-exclusivity is only for PC. And eventually, after "a pretty long while," Ooblets will be available via other PC storefronts, like Steam. Glumberland, comprised of Rebecca Cordingley and her husband Ben Wasser, received "a minimum guarantee" on sales—money upfront—that totals the amount the team wanted to reach if they were to sell on all online storefronts.
Basically, Rather than release the game on all platforms and hope that it meets their sales expectations, Epic Games offered to pay them that money upfront in exchange for making it exclusive to the growing storefront for a time. That's a hard offer to refuse.
And yet, gamers are mad—in particular, this is a group of gamers that has been mad for months about Epic Games Store exclusives. One of the more common complaints is that the Epic Games Store is anti-gamer or anti-consumer, snapping up exclusives and forcing people to use the platform. On August 6, Wasser posted an update to Medium to describe the ongoing harassment, which he's been documenting on Twitter since the announcement last week. Wasser said that he and Cordingley have received "tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands" of messages across multiple platforms. Many of the messages "cross multiple lines into the realm of harassment," he said. (A quick scroll through mentions for the developers personal accounts and Ooblets account shows a lot of that harassment. After today's blog post, there has also been an influx of support.)
A sampling of the messages posted to Medium range include racism, misogyny, homophobia, and threats of violence.
"A game being available on one platform or the other, someone’s tone, or them calling you entitled is not enough to justify a harassment campaign targeting two indie game developers, or anyone for that matter. In fact, there’s little justification to ever participate in that kind of movement," Wasser wrote. "These mobs represent the worst manifestation of human psychology and social behavior: Our urge to attack weaker outgroups, to let group mentality justify our actions, and to delight in violence and anger."
Wasser's mention of tone-policing is in reference to the Ooblets announcement—gamers were mad not only that the game would be a timed-exclusive, but have criticized the "tone" of the post, which included sarcasm and jokes about gamers upset about other developers launching their games on the Epic Games Store. He noted in today's post that it's not an "apology in any way that a lot of the mob is trying to obtain, and that's by design." He did, however, say that it was not his intention to "alienate or antagonize" any community members who are not toxic.
The Epic Games Store launched in December 2018 as a Steam competitor. It offers a better revenue split for developers—taking only 12 percent per sale rather than Steam’s usual 30 percent (there are exceptions)—but it's faced criticism from players for the company's decision to release timed-exclusives on the platform and Epic’s relationship with multinational conglomerate Tencent. Back in February, developer 4A Games' Metro Exodus was one of the first games to sign on as an exclusive; publisher Deep Silver pulled the game from Steam pre-sale two weeks before its release date. As other games signed on for exclusivity rights, rage at the system continued. The Ooblets developer poked fun at this rage in its Epic Games Store announcement, a nod to the way they've always communicated with fans: "Our devlogs, newsletters, and social media have always had a specific tone to them (reflected in the game as well); we don't take ourselves too seriously and maintained that throughout our multiple communication channels," Wasser wrote.
Wasser said he knew that "a small percentage" of people outside its dedicated fan base would read the announcement, but was surprised by the attention it got from the "broader gaming/internet community," that harassment "fueled by a deep misunderstanding of the tongue-in-cheek tone as condescending and patronizing."
Through the abuse, Epic Games has supported Glumberland. The company released a statement yesterday, noting that the player base has a right to speak freely and criticize the company and its store. However, the response to the Ooblets announcement went well beyond criticism.
"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," an Epic spokesperson wrote.
After all, Cordingley put it succinctly in her original announcement: "So let's remember that this is all low-stakes video game stuff we're dealing with here," she wrote. "Nothing to get worked up about."
Glumberland did not respond to VICE Games by publication time.