Content warning for the included screenshots involving graphic language including racist/ethnic/homophobic slurs, threats, violence, rape, suicide, self-harm, and other stuff.
Hey, this is Ben. My wife Rebecca and I have been the target of a pretty big internet storm for the last five days following our Epic Games Store timed-exclusive announcement for Ooblets. We’ve been trying to make ourselves as available as possible to maintain an open discourse with newcomers — some friendly, some extremely aggressive — and unfortunately quite a number of them have decided to cross multiple lines into the realm of harassment. We wanted to take the time to put together an official statement in regard to all that.
For the past three years, I’ve been interacting with an audience that has always been understanding, friendly, and appreciative of our very open and transparent style. 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. It’s been that way for as long as we’ve been around.
That’s why we were totally unprepared for the attention we got from the broader gaming/internet community, which was fueled by a deep misunderstanding of the tongue-in-cheek tone as condescending and patronizing.
I did expect a small percentage of that outside group to read our announcement, and I very naively thought what we were saying might get them to see the whole EGS debate as lightheartedly as we did. By engaging directly with that crowd, I mistakenly thought I could have some impact on their opinions and emotions and defuse the situation with some lighthearted criticism of the main things that drove them to attack people. You can see how well that went. It was a stupid miscalculation on my part.
Our decision and announcement were immediately picked up by extremely polarized people on certain subreddits who began to flood our Discord and expand out across the internet. This further generated confusion and misunderstanding around our tone.
As new users streamed into our Discord — hurling insults, accusations, and demanding satisfaction over a game they’d never heard of — our community, with me leading the tone, wasn’t very welcoming to their behavior.
I very foolishly engaged with these people, sometimes just answering them, sometimes making jokes, and often saying things in exasperation. It was obviously a mistake to engage in that way. I unintentionally threw a lot of fuel on the fire because my messages were screenshotted without any of that context (and sometimes specifically rearranged to change the context or outrightly fabricated) and shared back amongst where the hate mobs were mobilizing.
To try to re-inject a little context into how you might conceptualize this situation, note that we’ve gotten literally tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of messages on every conceivable platform. We see a lot more than you ever could looking in from outside, and the worst of it usually gets deleted or is sent to us privately. Here’s a quick, very brief sampler for taste:
(Again, serious content warning, and apologies for not censoring these but this is the reality of the situation)
(And this is just a sample of the stuff sent only directly to us, as we weren’t keeping track of the 4chan, Reddit, and other threads about us)
I’d challenge anyone to be on the receiving end of this for a few minutes/hours/days to not come to the conclusion that a huge segment of the broader gaming community is toxic. People are upset that I’ve said that word. Now imagine someone getting offended by me using the word “toxic” in the context of what this group has been saying and doing to us.
I’m not a PR company representing some megacorp, just a dude talking to people like a human. Our audience has always appreciated that we talk to them on that level and not treated them like we’re offering press releases to an alien customer base. Just people talking to people, as people.
There’s a strange relationship a segment of the gaming community has with game developers. I think their extreme passion for games has made them perceive the people who provide those games as some sort of mystical “other”, an outgroup that’s held to a whole set of weird expectations. These folks believe they hold the magic power of the wallet over developers who should cower before them and capitulate to any of their demands. You can see this evidenced by the massive number of angry people threatening to pirate our game in retaliation to any perceived slight.
We’ve been told nonstop throughout this about how we must treat “consumers” or “potential customers” a certain way. I understand the relationship people think they might be owed when they exchange money for goods or services, but the people using the terms consumers and potential customers here are doing so specifically because we’ve never actually sold them anything and don’t owe them anything at all. And if they choose to not buy the game when it’s released, that’s totally fine with us.
Whenever I’ve mentioned that we, as random people happening to be making a game, don’t owe these other random people anything, they become absolutely enraged. Some of the most apparently incendiary screenshots of things I’ve said are all along these lines.
What’s amazing to me is that the other screenshots and parts of our post that have been enraging people are the ones where I called out how entitled these people are.
“Entitled” isn’t a meaningless insult I was throwing around. It’s a description of people who feel owed something from us just because they are potential customers or that they really wanted the game. They can’t seem to comprehend that there is no difference between someone making a game and anyone else. Strangers don’t owe you anything, regardless of whether they’ve spent $200 to register an LLC or not.
We absolutely appreciate the support of fans and especially all our Patreon supporters, who we’ve been in communication with throughout all of this. I’ve never made any statements that were unappreciative of them at all, and mischaracterizations of my messages are not very convincing. We have a relationship with patrons that has expectations laid out up front. We definitely owe them in relation to all they’ve done for us and what we’ve promised them, and we try really hard to honor all of that. Our announcement went to them first with a message about what it would mean for patrons (namely that we were no longer financially dependent on their support and wanted them to be aware so they could feel free to cancel or lower their pledges) and asking what they thought we should do with the Patreon in general, given all that.
At the same time, our detractors were using the fact that we had a Patreon as a core argument for how we were supposedly double-crossing people. We’ve been getting nonstop questions about whether patrons will still get Steam keys or not, despite none of our Patreon tiers offering the game at all. Maybe these folks don’t know what Patreon is and think it’s the same thing as Kickstarter, or maybe they’re just trying to cover their undue entitlement in the trappings of concern on behalf of patrons.
It’s hard to see the effects or scope of what a massive mob of online harassment is doing to someone until you’re on the receiving end of it. It’s also really hard to realize when you’re unwittingly part of a harassment group because you’ve been so convinced by the mob mentality that your anger and target are justified.
And if you think it’s proportional to be a part of all this just to police some random person’s tone while ignoring everyone else’s, you’re still a part of it.
When presented with the reality of the damage inflicted, we’ve seen countless people effectively say “you were asking for it”. According to that logic, anything anyone says that could rub someone the wrong way is cause for the internet to try to ruin their life. Either that, or our role as two people who had the nerve to make a video game made us valid targets in their minds.
I recognize that none of this post equates to an apology in any way that a lot of the mob is trying to obtain, and that’s by design. While some of what I’ve said was definitely bad for PR, I stand behind it. A portion of the gaming community is indeed horrendously toxic, entitled, immature, irrationally-angry, and prone to joining hate mobs over any inconsequential issue they can cook up. That was proven again through this entire experience. It was never my intention to alienate or antagonize anyone in our community who does not fit that description, and I hope that you can see my tone and pointed comments were not directed at you.
I obviously do not stand behind the mischaracterizations of my messages taken out of context to insinuate I don’t care about our patrons/fans nor the completely fabricated anti-Semitic message attributed to me (along with a few other fabricated messages). It was truly disgusting the lengths someone went to fabricate evidence that I said anything with any anti-Semitic themes or content. To be as clear as possible, the video and associated screenshot were doctored. As a Jewish person myself, and given the ample evidence refuting the fabrications, it’s hurtful to imagine anyone would believe it.
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. 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.
I hope that laying all this out helps in some way to lessen what pain is brought against whoever the next targets are, because we sadly know there will be many. You should have opinions, disagree with things, make arguments, but don’t try to ruin people’s lives or jump on the bandwagon when it’s happening.
What happened to us is the result of people forgetting their humanity for the sake of participating in video game drama. Please have a little perspective before letting your mild annoyance lead to deeply hurting a fellow human being.
To everyone who has publicly and privately supported and defended us, I don’t know whether we would have gotten through any of this without you. We’ve all got a lot of power to counter hatred and pain, but it takes a truly strong person to act on it. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
The support we’ve gotten from our community, friends, and people in the industry has personally made me way more emotional than the tens of thousands of attacks. There are a lot of disincentives to sticking your neck out to defend someone who is being attacked by overwhelming numbers, so I think it says a lot about the character of each individual who has gone out of their way to do so.
I’m so incredibly thankful to our friends who volunteered to moderate our Discord throughout all this. The amount of effort and patience they put in to it blew my mind. I will never be able to thank them enough.
And a final thanks to our friends at Epic, who are not only giving us the resources to make the game even better than we could have ever hoped, but are also showing us unwavering support. A lot of companies would’ve left us to deal with all of this on our own, but Epic has been by our side as our world has gone sideways. The fact that they care so much about a team and game as small as us proves to us that we made the right call in working with them, and we couldn’t be more thankful.