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Shenmue III Developers Offer Refunds To Kickstarter Backers Angry About Epic Store Exclusivity

Illustration for article titled iShenmue III /iDevelopers Offer Refunds To Kickstarter Backers Angry About Epic Store Exclusivity

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Fans are upset that an upcoming new game is an Epic Games Store exclusive, and the developers have to react. This time it’s Shenmue III, whose creators said today that any Kickstarter backers displeased with the state of things will be able to get a refund.

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Last month, the makers of Shenmue III announced that the game will be a timed exclusive to the Epic Store on PC, a move that angered quite a few people who had helped crowdfund the game. After all, when Shenmue III first launched on Kickstarter in June 2015, the developers had offered Steam keys as a reward option. When the game comes out in November of this year, however, Steam keys won’t actually be available. It’ll be on Steam in November 2020.

Steam, of course, is the ubiquitous store-slash-platform that hosts the majority of games you can play on your computer. The Epic Store, which launched last year, has been racking up exclusives thanks to lucrative deals for publishers and a developer-friendly revenue split. Epic only takes 12%, while Steam takes 30%. It’s an ecosystem that has led to lots and lots of vitriol, sparked by the Epic Store’s lack of features among other fan concerns (and occasional conspiracy theories). There’s no extra cost associated with switching between the two PC launchers, so for those who are upset, this appears to be about convenience and principles.

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Those who backed Shenmue III in 2015 and wanted Steam keys for their efforts have a few options. One is to take an Epic Store key. Another is to switch platforms. A third is to get a Steam key one year after launch, once the exclusivity window is up. And a fourth, the developers said today, is to get a refund.

“In response to backers who have requested Steam keys for their rewards, we discussed offering the keys on the day of release,” the developers said in a Kickstarter update today. “However, coordination with the sales policies of the involved companies was untenable, and as a result we are not able to make a day one distribution option for Steam keys available. That we are not able to offer Steam keys for Kickstarter rewards at the time of the game’s release is a great disappointed and inconvenience for those backers who were expecting to receive them. We deeply apologize for the unrest caused by the announcement... Along with Deep Silver and Epic Games, we have agreed that should the above proposal not be acceptable to backers, refund requests will be honored.”

More details on how to get a refund “will be announced in a following update,” the developers said, although they also warned backers that if they picked one of the tiers including in-game content that’s already been implemented into the game, a full refund won’t be available.

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Meanwhile, you can expect these Epic Store controversies to continue at least until Valve relents on that 70-30% split, which might affect their yearly company-wide Hawaii vacations but would probably make game developers’ lives a whole lot better.

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DISCUSSION

It definitely seems like Valve, by way of Steam, is faced with a choice: change their cut, or find their business slowly eroded by a competitor that’s willing to take a smaller percentage of the profits in exchange for a larger chunk of exclusivity.

I’m not a big fan of the Epic Store—I’ve only ever purchased Metro Exodus from them, and that’s because I’m an unabashed Metro fanboy who didn’t want to wait a goddamned year to play the game. Epic’s exclusivity strategy trades on the “gotta have it now” purchases like mine—and while I might only have been willing to dip in for one game, there are plenty of other gamers out there who will make the decision to have a game now as opposed to enduring a twelve-month wait for a bunch of high-profile titles.

Valve has to know this.

And they have to know that—long term—the damage to their bottom line from these exclusivity deals is likely to be much greater than reducing their cut would be.

The vocally anti-Epic crowd on Steam and in other corners of the internet is certainly loud, but it probably also represents a minority of consumers, so whatever “resistance” is being fomented here is likely to be both short-lived and ineffectual.

Personally, I’m all for Valve reducing the cut Steam takes from developers; it’ll be better, in the long run, for game development itself, and it’ll definitely be a huge help to the smaller indie teams that are currently competing on the platform. Smaller initial revenues may seem like a non-starter, but companies like Valve have both the funds and the wherewithal to play the long game—and in consumer-facing relationships, the long game is really the only game, if you plan to stay in business for long.

TL;DR: The developers of Shenmue III are doing the right thing by offering refunds to backers who wanted a Steam key, as the initially offered delivery method won’t be available for a full year after release—but Valve could rectify this whole situation today by reevaluating their cut of products they’re only serving as the middleman on in the first place.