In the wake of the recent Shenmue III debacle, publisher Epic Games has announced that, going forward, it will stump up the coffers for any and all refunds pertaining to a crowdfunding game choosing to become an Epic Games Store exclusive release.
As a slight refresher, developer Ys Net and publisher Deep Silver upset a lot of fans with the announcement that crowd-funded sequel Shenmue III was to be an Epic Games Store exclusive title, with many backers believing that they would be able to purchase the game for PC on Steam day one. It was then announced this week that any backers who did not wish to purchase Shenmue III via Epic Games Store could either wait a year for the exclusivity to end, change their order to a PS4 copy of the game, or receive a refund for their original dividend.
Clearly anticipating the possibility for this situation to rise again in future, Epic Games has pulled what can arguably be seen as a bold move. From Shenmue III forward, any crowdfunded title that chooses to go with Epic Games Store can be safe in the knowledge that Epic guarantee to pay for all refunds that may arise from potentially disgruntled consumers, should key availability not be an option.
This move immediately takes the concern from a financial standpoint off of the game’s publisher should they be handed the opportunity to go with the digital sales platform. Of course, it doesn’t change any potential backlash on a conceptual level, as many fans have made it adamantly clear that they simply don’t want games to be an Epic Games Store exclusive in the first place, regardless of whether they can get their money back. This new offer, in my opinion, puts publishers in a tough spot where the security of going with Epic is sweetened by the removal of refund concerns, but still leaves behind the potential for angry consumers regardless.
For many crowdfunded games, often made by young, independently-financed outfits, it’s a decision that brings about a clash in security/financial stability vs. the subjective concept of “selling out”, or alienating buyers who simply do not wish to use the Epic Games Store. On an indie level, where every single sale counts, I’m not particularly envious of any team having to make that choice that could prove pragmatic and financially secure for their future, but simultaneously runs the risk of upsetting potential customers.