Ooblets and The Epic Games Store
Dissecting a wholly unnecessary controversy
Recently, the developers of the indie game Ooblets announced that they would release their game exclusively on the Epic Games Store. What followed was an old-school internet harassment campaign directed at the developers. What is interesting about this event is how it took place, why a group of anonymous folks have threatened some game developers, and the surrounding conversation of ‘Entitled Gamer Culture’ and the Epic Games Store.
So, let’s start at the beginning. On July 31, the team behind Ooblets made an announcement on their website. In it, they laid out their reasoning for signing a deal with Epic Games for PC launch exclusivity. This is a very good thing for the developers; as they say in their post: “they offered us a minimum guarantee on sales that would match what we’d be wanting to earn if we were just selling Ooblets across all the stores.” Basically, Ooblets’ developers secured themselves. However, the broader gaming community was just picking up on what they had done.
Just a few days ago the designer of Ooblets, Ben Wasser, posted about the situation and what’s been going on. Apparently a lot of people joined their Discord server and have been disrupting and harassing the local community. There were of course many other discussions taking place that were far worse on other websites and message boards.
The original announcement was full of weird jokes — and, quite frankly, this may have made Ooblets seem like an easy target, at least from the perspective of an outsider. It’s important to remember that the developers on this small team are both writing the blog posts and making the game. As Ben always said, the development blogs were written from the perspective of “just a dude talking to people like a human.” This, unfortunately, is one of the reasons why the internet was quick to target Ooblets and Ben himself.
“Whenever I’ve mentioned that we, as random people happening to be making a game, don’t owe these other random people anything, they became absolutely enraged.”
When Ninja, the former popular Twitch streamer, announced that he would be switching exclusively to Mixer, many people were incredibly supportive of him. But it is revealed that Ooblets, a product that has yet to be confirmed for any distributor, will exclusively launch on the Epic Games Store, the internet immediately launches into Death Threat Mode.
There has been quite a discussion around this, but to understand it we first need to know why people dislike the Epic Games Store.
Epic Games is responsible for many of the hit games we know today. Gears of War, Borderlands, and Fortnite are some of the best-known games in the industry right now, and they all belong to Epic Games. That isn’t necessarily the issue, though.
The problem has to do with how many PC gamers perceive the PC games market. For many years, if you were a PC gamer, there was only one serious digital storefront in town — Steam, created by Valve Software. Steam has pretty much been a monopoly for most of its lifetime. Origin, Uplay, Battle.net, GoG, itch.io, the Epic Games Store, and Steam, all are digital distribution platforms for games, owned by various companies. Now, there are plenty of exclusives on all of these platforms — but the Epic Games Store has been an especially prominent target, with many gamers upset that certain titles would require them to go through a platform other than Steam.
You see, the supposed argument against an exclusive for the Epic Games Store, is the exclusive part. It’s likened to a product being on sale at Target, or Walmart, or BestBuy. But this reasoning is flawed, because there are plenty of exclusive deals for these stores as well — product exclusives for particular stores (whether physical or digital) is nothing new.
There are plenty of people boycotting the Epic Games Store for a variety of other reasons. Epic is owned by Tencent (the Chinese conglomerate that owns a lot of things). Some liken the Epic Games Store to malware (at least from the perspective that it’s mining your data, and that it would be unwise to willingly share your data with Epic — and therefore, Tencent). And yes, these are perfectly valid reasons to not have an Epic Games Store account if these things are important to you. Of course, it’s likely that Steam collects much the same data and in the same way — but Steam has been around for so long, and most PC gamers already have a steam account with an established library and friends list.
Now let’s get back to Ooblets, does this justify the death threats made to the developers?
Does the money they got from Epic justify their exclusive deal to release Ooblets on PC on the Epic Store?
Absolutely, they can do whatever they want with their game.
This is what Ben meant when he said ‘we don’t owe these random people anything.’ And it’s this that is really at the crux of the argument. Because it seems that in engaging with these enraged people, he became an even bigger target.
In the context of a “customer is always right” mentality, it seems obvious that the Ooblets team have successfully alienated at least some gamers, however unwittingly. It’s arguable whether or not any of these folks were genuine ‘potential customers’, but sadly, the die has been cast and the internet never forgets.
The whole episode is unfortunate, to say the least. Thankfully nobody did die, despite the threats. Ooblets obviously strikes a chord with people, which is enough for them to care — even though, perhaps, some care a little too much. There are legitimate conversations to be had around online distribution systems, privacy, and whether or not consumers are truly getting value for money. But ultimately, everyone — in this case, creators in particular — deserve respect.