Anger surrounding Epic’s new digital distribution platform is again reaching a fever pitch in the wake of Take Two’s announcement that Borderlands 3 will be exclusive to the Epic Games Store for the first six months of its release. The latest in a long line of AAA games made artificially exclusive thanks to the Fortnite developer’s controversial practices, it’s safe to say that Epic has a major public relations problem on their hands. That, of course, says nothing of the various allegations of Epic’s launcher doubling as malicious spyware, a claim which Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney has recently taken to Twitter to denounce.
“I support everyone’s right to complain about tech industry stuff,” Sweeny posted to the social media platform, “but please help separate facts and opinions from the lies about spyware and foreign control.” Sweeney is primarily referring to the Chinese gaming company Tencent, the League of Legends-owning industry titan which also happens to own a massive stake in Epic. As with many major corporations from that region, Tencent is thought to work closely with the Chinese government, and many gamers are concerned that Epic’s privacy issues may stem from the regime’s interest in collecting data.
A USGamer article was quick to cry fowl in regard to these concerns, citing recent anti-Chinese sentiment among gamers as the cause for this apparently biased outcry. While there may be some truth to this, there’s no doubt that the Epic Games launcher is, at the very least, relatively consumer unfriendly. The service, which released back in December of 2018, lacked extremely basic features like a shopping cart or search bar when it first debuted, and it has struggled defy the consensus that it was a rushed, poorly planned program.
While Sweeney has yet to comment on the state of the Epic Store in his recent batch of tweets, he continued to affirm his belief that these widespread security concerns are unfounded. Among his recent posts is a short history of Epic’s relations with Tencent as well as an affirmation that the developer has always maintained positive relations with their Chinese investors. What’s more, his most recent Tweet stated that, despite claims that Tencent has a major say in Epic’s dealings, all of Epic’s major decisions are made in the United States, and, as CEO, he has the power to either confirm or refute all of them, regardless of what their minority shareholders may think.
Of course, it would also be prudent to point out that Epic Games is far from the only studio in which Tencent has a hand. They own portions of high-profile publishers and studios like Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft, and yet few level similar accusations at Battle.net or Uplay (though those services still manage to draw criticism for other reasons). Plus, while a post made by an investigative Redditor objected to a ton of things the Epic Games launcher does in the background, it’s important to note that even respected services like Steam and Gog Galaxy run similar processes, and yet nobody accuses them of selling data to the Chinese government.
While typical user data is likely about as safe as it would normally be on the web when transferred through the Epic Games Store, it’s not entirely fair to blame customer’s distrust of the service mostly on xenophobia. Sweeney recently commented on what he considered to be “anti-China rage” on twitter, and the aforementioned USGamer article explicitly called out both consumers and the United States government for being too quick to condemn the actions of the Eastern superpower. While it may be a bit ridiculous to immediately assume that all data being trafficked through Epic’s store is being sold to the Chinese government, it’s equally ridiculous to pin the vitriol directed at the publisher on those who resent Tencent’s involvement. The Chinese government certainly didn’t mandate Epic to launch their store in a broken, almost customer-hostile state—Epic themselves did, and gamers have a right to take issue with that.
I’ve never regretted it, and the recent anti-China rage doesn’t change that even slightly, as its completely unfounded. Epic has only had positive interactions with Tencent at all levels.— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) April 5, 2019
At the end of the day, competition among the PC gaming market can only help encourage all competitors to optimize their services, and even Steam was met with a considerable amount of push-back when it was first launched well over a decade ago. The heart of the issue here seems to be the fact that Epic is angering gamers by introducing the concept of game exclusivity to a market unfamiliar with these practices. Epic needs to swing customers to its side by providing a better service than Steam rather than simply stealing games in order to falsely inflate user numbers.