I know this has been done to death at this point, but for this article, we’re going to talk about my take on the Ooblets and Epic contingency.
I feel like I need to get this off my chest, after spending hours on and off reading the conversations in le Epic Chat of the Ooblets official Discord.
I was once incredibly interested in Ooblets. My significant other pointed it out to me a few years ago during my stint at Equity Arcade (which is sadly gone now) and I was speaking to one of the developers, Rebecca Cordingly, regarding an interview before I was subsequently laid off.
Well, it has been a few years and I’ve since followed their development on and off by following their emails. And then, it happened.
On August 1, 2019, I received an email from Ooblets PR (or well the co-developer of Ooblets) stating they were going Epic Exclusive. I didn’t think too much of it honestly. I read the email and thought – yeah, okay they were trying to defend themselves first and foremost before a deluge of insults were flung at them, and while the tone was abnormally condescending (as if to protect themselves from the onslaught), they had a point. They were finally given money to stabilize and improve their product.
I understand that.
Hell, I would do the same if I were struggling to make ends meet.
But the developers’ tone in the article, as well as the subsequent events, really turned me off from not only the developers but from the entire game.
And we’re going to go into how. But before that, I would like to talk about Ooblets. What is it even?
What is Ooblets?
Ooblets is a cute farming lifestyle-simulator featuring creatures that you can befriend a la Pokemon style. That… is really all you need to know about it. Well, here are a couple of videos to give you a better idea.
Are you well acquainted now? Looks charming, right?
How I feel regarding the Epic exclusivity announcement
So, for my take, which I won’t spend an eternity on, is that Ooblets looks to be a game with great potential. I’ve been following this game for months – no, years. Yeah, I’ve been keeping tabs on this title since 2016, ever since working for EquityArcade. I remember wanting to interview Rebecca Cordingly, the woman who is the other half of the husband and wife team of developers for Ooblets, but right before we had a meeting set up, I was laid off from the Editor-in-Chief position. That was a major disappointment, and I never was able to interview the developer, but I shrugged it off and moved on with my life. About a year later, I tumbled into Ooblets again.
I recognized the game from my stint with EquityArcade, but little did I know that these devs had made a name, albeit minor, for themselves. Their development was steadily gaining steam, and they had much to show for it.
I was proud of them; excited. Next act? Signing up for their newsletters and following their progress. I was excited for their release on Steam/GOG/Humble/whatever storefront, but my heart sank when I received an update via email – Ooblets was heading to Epic as a timed exclusive.
Reading the Ooblets release at the beginning of August 2019 (you should seriously read it for yourself), I could understand the reasoning. Wads of cash were being offered to the developers for this exclusivity. When you’re on a shoestring budget, even with Patreon money, you struggled with not only life’s expenses but also your dream of creating the game. You want to deliver an experience that is worth every dollar. So, again, I don’t blame them in the slightest for accepting the money. It is supportive of their efforts, after all.
However, I would like to say that the tone was a little different from the usual emails I received. This was clearly intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but it certainly did not come off that way. It seemed condescending.
What also is disappointing is how the exclusivity occurred. This is not the first time Epic snatched up a game for a disclosed amount of time, right when developers/publishers made it clear that the game would still come to Steam/GOG/etc.
Exclusives are okay except…
Yeah, that was NOT the case. Instead, these companies misled consumers, developers (sometimes), and storefronts, all while promoting marketing materials on their storefronts. A move uncalled for, in my honest opinion. So yeah, it isn’t exactly the fact they went exclusive, it’s the fact they went exclusive at the very last minute (or without warning). If anything, Epic needs to snatch these titles before they are posted onto or announced for other storefronts. Otherwise, it is just a little unfair to the consumer and the storefront.
Oh, and in case I hear, “but Half Life was Steam exclusive and forced people to use Steam,” that is because Valve created Half Life with the efforts of Gearbox and others. Just like I had no issue with Fortnite being on Epic. Or Forza Horizon 4 being on the Microsoft Store. And yes, that was one argument used. Poaching games to make them timed exclusives (or permanently) when they are already on the storefronts, prepped for launch, is just… no.
However, I have to say that Ubisoft is the clear winner of this entire debacle when they announced their games would be “Epic exclusive” (except on Uplay), as people either dislike Epic to the point they would purchase the game on Uplay – granting Ubisoft 100 percent of the profits – or Ubisoft would gain a higher amount of revenue anyway.
I’m not 100% Pro-Steam
So I want to get this out of the way. I am not entirely pro-Steam. I am in favor of storefronts who provide not only the best customer service but also does what is ethically right. While Steam offers great incentives for consumers and developers (we will get into that in a little bit), there are still some flaws. For instance, the curation issues are a little bit – no, still a big problem. To this day, there are plenty of shovelware titles lingering on the storefront – we’re talking about:
- Hentai Petting Simulator
- Forbidden Punch
- Angry Girl
- Jaxon the Thief
- Seven: Reboot
- Trump vs Rocketman
Yeah, I can go on and on – and I refuse to link these – really, but I’d rather not considering I feel awfully offended seeing all of these and I don’t want to delve further into the rabbit hole. So, Steam really needs to pick up its slack in regards to these shovelware titles. Or at least have the community put in a vote to ban them, or what have you. Couldn’t they hire some actual humans to curate this stuff?
I don’t know what the solution is.
It just seems like the obvious solution is right in front of our faces but nothing is being done about it for unknown reasons. But because of shovelware and the general deluge of titles flowing into the store, a lot of indie titles won’t get recognized. But at the same time, not only is Steam attempting to combat this (with their Steamlabs curation), but it isn’t 100 percent Valve’s responsibility to make developers’ content appear on the storefront. There are simply too many games out there (which, again, need to be whittled down). Valve is certainly responsible, however, for increased visibility and the omittance of quality games on their store. Hands-off isn’t always the best approach, is what I’m getting at.
The indie games that do stand out are not only quality but they tend to utilize marketing tactics, whether it is viral marketing, progress reports, social media posts, blog posts, Patreon posts, YouTube videos, streaming, or more. These games wholly embrace marketing, which typically allows them to stand out a little bit. But, again, there are some issues that even affect consumers, such as asset flips, Trojan Horses, and cryptocurrency mining apps.
Overall, I like Steam’s store. I love GOG’s 2.0 store. I wholeheartedly support Itch.io too, which takes only a 10 percent cut! I am even alright with Microsoft’s store. However, I am not okay with Epic’s store, being incredibly barebones and missing lots of features, including a shopping cart, which is easily programmable, by the way, but there is some reason as to why Epic hasn’t implemented it.
Wait, what does Steam do right for developers?
Alright, so Valve offers a 70/30 split for developers, and while that is high (with some exceptions, which I will get into in a moment), with Epic offering 88/12 to developers (but you must be selected, keep that in mind), there are a lot of perks you receive. Let’s refer to the actual Steamworks website. Perks featured are:
- Access to a global audience (with support for over 25 languages and over 35 currencies)
- Implementation of over 80 payment methods
- Easy sign-up and distribution
- Access to over 400 distribution servers and a 1TB fiber backbone
- Real-time sales data reports
- Fraud preventions
- Piracy/DRM options
- Steam Keys (that you can generate at no charge)
- Coming Soon pages
- Automated build processes
- Featured Broadcasts
- Custom Store page content
- Ability to update whenever you please
- Incorporated wishlists
- Steam early access option
- Ability to participate in discounts and sale events
- Announcements hub
- Community hub
- Curator connect
- Access to reviews hub
- Steam overlay options
- Instant screenshots
- Cloud saves
- Live streams
- Game statistics
- Game servers
- Game notifications
- Steam Voice
- DDoS protection
- Steam workshop
- Steam Input
- Inventory service
- Matchmaking and lobbies
It starts to seem like it’s worth the 30 percent Steam takes from developers. For all of that? Potentially. It seems that, while Valve has gotten some flak in the past year over how it coordinated with developers – no personal assistance, no marketing assistance, poor handling of reviews, etc. – it seems to be improving.
And what does Epic offer besides 88/12 revenue split? Okay, so they offer a wad of cash equal to the number of copies they would predict would sell.
Furthermore, developers have full control over their store page from top to bottom – no suggestions for other games (which honestly having ads that suggest other games I’ve never heard of is a good thing and promotes a group mindset, etc.
The issue with Epic Games
Unfortunately, there are no forums, no reviews (which can be argued that it actually would hurt game sales), no straight advertisement from Epic, etc. All games are handpicked by Epic. So even if a game looks to hit all the right notes with consumers, it may not be picked up by Epic. There is still a very slim chance your title will be visible to Epic Games – not so different from Steam’s current curation visibility.
On the consumer end, it is far more insidious – sure, Epic Games users receive free games every couple of weeks, but at the same time, they are opening themselves to a host of issues, mostly security-based. The number of times I’ve heard from friends that their account has been hacked by someone from the other side of the planet never ceases to amaze me.
The revenue argument
Oh, but on the offchance you are considerably salty with Steam and its ethics towards developers (which, again, aren’t 100 percent the best ever, but bear with me here), you have to also take into account the following:
- The generation of Steam keys is free
- As long as the keys are sold on your own store, you can sell Steam keys for 100 percent of the profits
- The more successful a game is, the better: before $50 million, 30 percent cut, $10 million – $50 million, 25 percent cut, and over $50 million, 20 percent cut
Of course, what I’m not saying is that go use Steam right now because there are plenty of legitimate reasons to dislike Steam. But going so far as to say they are cruel in this current day and age (maybe in the past, but history shouldn’t be repeated by anyone) can be refuted.
But seriously, support indie developers by seeking them out on other storefronts, not just Epic or Steam. There is Itch.io, Discord, GMG (which I believe also takes a higher revenue split of revenue compared to Epic; ironic how Epic Games store titles are on there), GOG (also takes 30 percent), etc.
Let’s just say that Epic is targeting Steam and only Steam because of Tim Sweeney. It seems noble at first glance, except…
Tim Sweeney is kind of a villain
As much as I admire his conservation efforts of forests, he rubs me the wrong way. From the getgo, it seemed as if his vendetta was against Steam and ONLY Steam. It could have been because he left the PC industry some time ago thinking it wouldn’t be viable as piracy used to run rampant and Valve actually eliminated a good chunk of piracy thanks to its tactical implementations. It could have been because he was poked fun of as a kid. I have no clue, but he is essentially a child in a middle-aged man’s body.
Here is one such example of his behavior in regards to the event:
What the hell, Tim? While these developers are being torn to shreds by cruel people, you’re out here egging everyone on, pissing off more people and delighting in the drama, popcorn in hand. The lack of empathy is staggering.
Ooblets PR isn’t great, but many reactions aren’t either
Let’s take a look at this article from Gamesindustry.biz, “Ooblets dev received thousands of ‘hateful, threatening messages’ over Epic exclusivity.”
Unfortunately, Rebecca Cordingly and Ben Wasser did not realize the extent of the vitriol on the internet in response to the announcement of being exclusive on the Epic Games Store. According to the Ooblets Patreon announcement:
“We really misjudged how angry so many people would be. This whole thing has just devastated us. We’ve been getting thousands if not tens of thousands of hateful, threatening messages across every possible platform nonstop. It’s especially hurtful since we’ve had such a positive, supportive relationship with our audience throughout development.”
To further iterate:
“I have been crying nonstop for the last two days and feeling like the world has collapsed around me.”
“I couldn’t have guessed the scale of what it would feel like to be a target of an internet hate mob. I already had a lot of empathy for other targets of previous hate mobs, which is why we wanted to address that sort of thinking in our announcement, but I had no idea it was this bad.”
While I understand their plight – I truly do. I wouldn’t wish death threats on my worst enemy. It’s destructive and can cause mental/physical harm.
I do feel for them. I wish them the best of luck, but all the while, after seeing the responses from other developers when facing backlash from announcing Epic exclusivity, how was it not expected?
The mob mentality cranked to maximum
Gamers can be incredibly spiteful and cruel – on a level I can’t comprehend. Many feel anger over the announcement while other gamers are more understanding. Some wish death threats while others continue to pour support into the developers. Some pledge to wait a year before buying the game, others plan to purchase it day one on Epic Games Store. Others have voiced their legitimate concerns for the game.
Overall, outside of the death threats, it was relatively civil and understood. Until developers lashed out in response. Then a storm brewed. People were threatening murder and rape, creating videos and screenshots stuffed with lies. It was uncalled for. Obscene. To see what an angry mob can do… it’s messed up.
But, as I mentioned earlier, what disturbs me is the fact that while the developers are crying over this mess, you have Tim Sweeney screaming, “It was awesome!” On Twitter. Negative emotions are pouring in from both ends and we have Sweeney here doing what he does best: troll.
Yes, the responses from the developers have been uncalled for, but at the same time, they under a lot of stress. They are suffering under the raging torment of vicious people. Passionate wouldn’t even describe these people.
The word is bullying.
Sweeney, however, is here just stoking the flames – no, not even that. He has tossed a gallon of pure gasoline into the fire. As much as I support developers and want them to properly earn their keep, this is not the way to go about it.
I do hope this mess clears up soon, and the devs can create a work they can be proud of. I will not be buying Ooblets personally any longer due to this whole happenstance, but I do wish them luck in the future. This just left a bad taste in my mouth.
What can be done to save face?
Ignore the flinging. The Ooblets devs should take a break from everything.
Hire a PR Rep. They have the experience to break the news and handle any issues that may result from that.
Take a vacation. Really, they need it.
I could go on an on, but truly, I hope Rebecca and Ben are able to release Ooblets game and be successful with consumers down the line. So far, matters seemed to have cleared up. They have promised refunds for anyone disappointed by this announcement. They have been quiet and lying low.
Insults aren’t the way to go. Threats sure as hell aren’t. They are doing what they can, going so far as to clear the air with everyone, and while I do not support Epic, Epic is still helping these guys out.