Back at E3, Shenmue III developer Ys Net and publisher Deep Silver revealed that the PC version of the long-awaited sequel would be available exclusively on the Epic Games Store. That upset many of the game’s Kickstarter backers, who were promised during the 2015 Kickstarter funding effort that the game would be available via Steam (they were also promised a “December 2017” estimated delivery, but at this point we all know what Kickstarter promises tend to be worth).
After initial reports that Ys Net was denying refund requests following the move, the company announced in a Kickstarter update today that it will indeed offer refunds to affected backers who request one. The developer writes that it was originally still planning to offer a Steam key option to satisfy those backers, but “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 [disappointment]and inconvenience for those backers who were expecting to receive them,” the update continues. “We deeply apologize for the unrest caused by the announcement.”
Epic CEO Tim Sweeney chimed in on Twitter to note that Epic will be providing funds to cover all requested refunds, so they “won’t reduce Ys Net’s development funding.” Sweeney also promised that “when future games go Epic-exclusive after offering crowdfunding rewards on other PC stores, we’ll either coordinate with colleagues at the other stores to ensure key availability in advance, or guarantee refunds at announcement time.”
A temporary issue?
Shenmue III isn’t the first game to go through the awkward process of transitioning from Steam pre-sales to an exclusive Epic Game Store release. Deep Silver itself encountered almost the exact same issue in January when it announced that Metro Exodus would be moving to the Epic Game Store after months of pre-order availability on Steam. In that case, Deep Silver delivered a Steam version of the game to those pre-orderers and promised that future DLC for the game will also be available on Steam.
Ubisoft never offered pre-orders for The Division 2 on Steam, but it did post an info page for the game on that platform way back in June 2018. That page came down when The Division 2 officially became an Epic Game Store exclusive in January, though.
With time moving on, and the Epic Game Store seemingly established as a viable and long-lasting competitor to Steam, developers and publishers are increasingly avoiding this kind of awkwardness by simply picking a platform and sticking with it from the moment they go public with their plans. Shenmue III is, in this case, hampered by the long lead time between its public crowdfunding launch in 2015—when the Epic Game Store was likely barely even an idea—and its expected release later this year.
With the Epic Game Store barely six months old, we’re still in this weird period where some publishers decide to publicly change their PC release plans away from Steam in light of Epic’s monetary inducements. Going forward, these decisions will likely take place behind the scenes, without any public backtracking or second-guessing.