Game studio Ys Net, its publishing partner Deep Silver, and distributor Epic Games have come to a solution to appease angry fans over the PC exclusivity of upcoming, Kickstarter-backed game Shenmue III.
In an upcoming survey, the trio plan to offer refunds to any backers upset the game won’t be available on Valve’s Steam storefront at launch, after Epic secured exclusivity of the PC version of the game for its own marketplace. You’ll also be able to transfer your PC version to a PS4 one if you so choose instead, while those who want Steam keys one year after release, once the exclusivity window closes, can request them in the survey.
Epic CEO Tim Sweeney also says his company will be covering the costs of these refunds, so as not to deprive Ys Net of development funds it raised via Kickstarter to help complete the game. Sweeney also says that this situation shouldn’t occur again in the future, as Epic plans to communicate refund and Steam key policies upfront to avoid these late-stage predicaments.
A long-awaited third game in Yu Suzuki’s venerated classic Dreamcast series, Shenmue III launched its Kickstarter campaign four years ago, promising PC availability on Steam and earning more than $6 million to deliver the game by December 2017. That delivery window was ultimately pushed to November 2019 after a series of delays, and last month at E3, Suzuki’s company Ys Net announced that its publishing partner Deep Silver had struck a deal with Epic to bring the PC version of the game exclusively to Epic’s PC storefront.
That frustrated some backers expecting a Steam release, as well as members of the broader PC gaming community that continue to push back against Epic’s strategy of securing exclusivity to help bolster the popularity of its game store, which has a more generous 88 / 12 percent revenue cut over Steam’s industry 70 / 30.
On the surface, the controversy sounds trivial; PC gamers are generally upset they have to use a different app to launch games on Epic’s platform, unlike the exclusivity arrangement on consoles that stipulates consumers own an entirely different piece of hardware. But the PC gaming community has also expressed general distaste with exclusivity as a concept, rather than the actual inconveniences it generates. A number of pro-Steam contingents of the community also consider Epic’s store an inferior product to Steam, with the Epic Game Store still missing some key features that have existed for years on Steam.
That said, it doesn’t look like Epic’s strategy of securing exclusivity on popular titles is winding down any time soon. Following comments made by Epic Games Store chief Steve Allison during the Game Developers Conference in March that suggested Epic might wind down the approach, Sweeney later clarified that the company took time to think it over and decided it would continue securing deals so long as publishers and developers appreciated the terms.
Deep Silver, which also had a rocky launch controversy earlier this year when it had to honor Steam preorders after Epic secured exclusivity on 4A Games’ Metro Exodus, is clearly interested in such deals. So is publisher 2K Games, which kicked off perhaps the most heated chapter in this controversy by signing over launch exclusivity of Gearbox Software’s much-anticipated Borderlands 3 to Epic. (Like every other Epic-exclusive title, Borderlands 3 will also come to Steam at a later date.) Numerous other developers this year have released or plan to release Epic-exclusive games on PC.
Thanks to the success of Fortnite and Epic’s Unreal Engine 4, the company has a significant amount of resources to spend on competing with Steam and, in Sweeney’s eyes, shifting the platform arrangement toward a more developer-friendly revenue split. Sweeney has been outspoken about the strategy in press interviews and on Twitter. Just last week, he wrote in response to a Twitter user, “We believe exclusives are the only strategy that will change the 70/30 status quo at a large enough scale to permanently affect the whole game industry.” And he claims it’s working, as evidenced by the studios and publishers willing to work with Epic and the resulting sales and revenue metrics from Epic’s store.
In the case of Shenmue III, it’s clear the empty promise of a Steam launch version and the resulting refunds Epic will have to fork over are just another bump in the road.
“I believe this approach passes the test of ultimately benefitting gamers after game storefronts have rebalanced and developers have reinvested more of their fruits of their labor into creation rather than taxation,” Sweeney wrote in conclusion of his defense of exclusivity last week. “Of course, there are lots of challenges along the way, and Epic is fully committed to solving all problems that arise for gamers [and] for our partners as the Epic Games store grows.”