Ooblets devs reveal threats of violence and racist abuse following Epic Store announcement

(Image credit: Glumberland)

Epic Games Store exclusivity deals have typically been met with unhappiness from a vocal contingent of the gaming community, but last week's Ooblets announcement has been particularly ugly. In a new statement released today, developers Ben Wasser and Rebecca Cordingley, collectively known as indie dev Glumberland, offered a look at just how ugly it's gotten, but said that they have no regrets about opting to go with Epic.

Much of the outrage was sparked by the tone of the exclusivity announcement, which some readers labeled as condescending or outright insulting. Wasser said that tone arose from years spent with the Ooblets audience, which "has always been understanding, friendly, and appreciative of our very open and transparent style," and is also familiar with how the duo operates.

(Image credit: Glumberland)

There’s a strange relationship a segment of the gaming community has with game developers.

—Ben Wasser, Glumberland

"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," Wasser wrote in a lengthy message on Medium. "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."

After the announcement went live, Wasser says that the Ooblets Discord was quickly flooded by "extremely polarized people" from "certain subreddits." Wasser acknowledged that attempting to engage with the newcomers was a mistake, as his responses were captured and shared in out-of-context portions, or sometimes completely fabricated, such as one claiming that he'd said "gamers would be better off in gas chambers."

Wasser also shared a small but harrowing sample of some of the messages he and Cordingley received following the EGS announcement, which include horrific racism and threats of violence: In other words, precisely the sort of toxicity that Wasser referenced in his initial announcement.

"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," Wasser writes. "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."

The statement addresses other specific complaints that have arisen in the aftermath of the EGS announcement, including Wasser's use of the word "entitled" to describe people acting in an entitled fashion, and claims that they were ripping off supporters of the Ooblets Patreon—which, he pointed out, doesn't offer a copy of Ooblets to backers anyway. And in case there was any question, he also made it very clear that despite the PR nightmare, he stands behind his original statements.

"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," he wrote. "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."

Wasser thanked the Ooblets community and supporters, especially those who have helped to moderate the Discord through the uproar. He also expressed particular gratitude to Epic for its "unwavering support" throughout the ordeal: Yesterday Epic released a "statement on misinformation and abuse," decrying 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," and pledging to "steadfastly support our partners throughout these challenges."

"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," Wasser wrote. "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."

Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, many of the comments on Wasser's post and the Ooblets Twitter feed continue to attempt to justify the abuse as fully deserved.

Andy covers the day-to-day happenings in the big, wide world of PC gaming—the stuff we call "news." In his off hours, he wishes he had time to play the 80-hour RPGs and immersive sims he used to love so much.