This past week has been quite eventful, to say the least, for Rebecca and Ben, a team of two developers who’ve been crafting an indie game called Ooblets. The game, featuring cutesy graphics and artsy design, was influenced by Stardew Valley and Pokémon. Originally supported on Patreon, Ooblets was recently announced as an Epic exclusive. Not only that, but the developers’ announcement on their Patreon earned the ire of certain folks on the internet. You can view their original blog post to see for yourself.
What followed were several days of brigading and inciting an internet mob to swarm their communities, along with several screenshots that were faked or taken out-of-context. Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube joined in on the dogpile. The Ooblets developers received thousands of “hateful and threatening messages” due to Epic exclusivity and how they worded their post.
The couple have also recently shared an article via Medium containing examples of the death threats, rape threats, racist remarks, and hateful responses they’ve received from faceless, anonymous users on various websites and social media.
This is “The Story So Far…”
Okay, so we did the thing!
The thing people get angry about.
But maybe don't get angry about it? pic.twitter.com/hZR9rTZVvP
— Ooblets (@ooblets) August 1, 2019
Epic exclusives: The story back then
There have been a number of Epic exclusives that led certain users to feel concerned – or worse, angry – because of the fact that they’ve become, well, launcher exclusives. In some ways, Epic is seen as the “anti-consumer” newcomer bullying its way to counter Steam. There have also been a number of misinformation campaigns and misleading topics regarding the launcher that made it hard for some people to discern fact from fiction. Remember that time when Epic stole a DeviantArt creation? How about when “someone got screwed over” not knowing they were logging on the wrong account? Oh, and there was that whole “Chinese spyware” thing, too.
Whatever the case may be, people were concerned that Epic was providing a subpar experience as a launcher and was taking games away from another store that people preferred.
What about Ooblets? Well, Ooblets is an indie game with a small community. It has had roughly 1,100 Patreon supporters throughout its couple of years in development. Its Discord is fairly quiet with mostly lighthearted banter. People had been in close communication with the developers all throughout.
That all changed late last week when the Epic exclusivity was announced. Their Patreon and website post addressed how, hopefully, their supporters would continue to stand by their decision. But at the same time, the post also made snide remarks about “toxic” people, “immature” behavior, and “extremely angry” reactions. They ended the post by joking that people should worry about “climate change” or “Game of Thrones season 8.”
Tim Sweeney himself commented later that it was “awesome,” which, naturally, pissed off even more people.
IT WAS AWESOME!
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) August 3, 2019
Epic has since offered an official statement regarding what had occurred these past few days.
As I kept reading and re-reading the Ooblets blog post, I saw nothing wrong with the message in itself. Sure, the wording dripped with criticisms that were too on-the-nose, even “troll bait” to a certain degree. But the expression was correct.
At no point in time did the Ooblets post state that “everyone” or “all gamers” were acting the same way. At no point in time did the post state that all of those who had concerns about Epic’s launcher were acting in an extreme fashion.
In fact, it provided a distinction. It noted that Ooblets’ intended audience was the people who merely focused on the game, and not the controversy surrounding it. It also noted how they’re in need of financial support that Epic provided, and that their supporters would’ve been quite understanding. And it implied that, even though you’re frustrated or concerned by Epic, you don’t have to be “toxic,” “immature,” or “extremely angry,” especially if that’s not how you express yourself.
Unfortunately, this went over the heads of some internet users. The interpretation of some was that “developers hate gamers,” or that “everyone who felt bad about exclusives acted that way.” This was never expressed at all in the Ooblets blog post because clear distinctions were made. They made a clear difference between saying “toxic people” exist, as opposed to “All people are toxic.”
What happened further?
Because of how poorly that was communicated (and this was the fault of the Ooblets developers), people became even more upset. Some might’ve been wondering:
- Why are we being called “toxic” when we just have legitimate concerns about the launcher?
- Why are we being called “immature babies” when we have complaints about exclusives?
- Why are we being “mocked” and “demeaned” just because we’re gamers?
The distinction was already lost on some folks because they assumed, incorrectly, that a wide net was being cast and that they were all part of it.
It seems the Ooblets developers have struck a nerve that actually led to a self-fulfilling prophecy of negative reactions. Why? Because the original message had already been lost, and interpretations spread all over the internet to fan the flames.
Due to these assumptions, people began seeking answers from the Ooblets developers. By seeking answers, I mean dogpiling all over them like a tide. For instance, the Ooblets subreddit was swarmed by numerous new topics from random users. The same happened to the Ooblets Discord that even Rebecca, aka “Nonplayercat,” had to mention:
The Ooblets subreddit got invaded
The mob didn’t stop there, though. When the Ooblets subreddit got brigaded and it had to be locked down, people twisted the narrative by claiming that it became about “censorship” and “vote manipulation” — not knowing that it made no sense for a small subreddit with a handful of people posting fan art and cat pics to suddenly have an influx of random angry commenters.
The screenshot below is taken directly by simply changing “Reddit” in the URL to “Ceddit.” Watch the topics these past few days:
Colored notation has been added to the images to indicate topics:
- The thick lines are spam, obviously.
- The blue circles represent those who’ve claimed to be Ooblets supporters or those who’ve had at least a post or two prior to the exclusivity announcement.
- Meanwhile, the purple circles were topics from random users who popped up out of thin air. They had never posted in the subreddit before, and they never claimed to have been part of the community. Some were from subreddits with video game memes, or political memes; some were even using Reddit accounts that only posted once every two or three weeks (lurkers or throwaway accounts).
- The red circles were the most egregious. The seven topics that popped up there were from users from a subreddit called r/Fuckepic (this will come up later too). The r/Fuckepic subreddit’s aim is to criticize’s Epic’s business practices.. This shouldn’t be a problem at first glance, until you realize how vastly skewed the narrative can be. You’ll see topics about how the Ooblets devs were “abrasive monkeys,” and even topics talking about “Communist China’s involvement!”
Remember, r/Ooblets is a small subreddit community that had lighthearted conversations. It suddenly had an influx of so many random people within a short time frame. The theme in those new topics was to circulate some misleading information that included out-of-context screenshots. Since the subreddit had to be locked down for a time (due to the sheer number of new people), we saw another spin where the developers were “censoring” their community’s concerns (even though many who started fanning the flames weren’t even part of their community).
The fake and out-of-context screenshots
People also began to circulate fake or out-of-context screenshots using the Ooblets Discord. To be fair, some of Ben’s responses (under the username Perplamps) were too snarky or even “too defensive.” That no doubt rubbed some people the wrong way. However, in several other cases, people posted images that either lacked the full context or were outright fabricated.
A conversation that was circulating involved a Patreon supporter and Discord user named “Deadly Penguin.” In his case, he had received a curt response from Perplamps that was worded poorly. However, he also understood what was meant.
Via PMs, I spoke with Deadly Penguin about how he felt regarding the answer from Ben/Perplamps. I also asked further regarding how the Ooblets Discord community was flooded, and how he felt when people used his conversations in various screenshots that were taken out of context:
I didn’t feel offended nor mistreated in any way […] It’s weird to have people offended on your behalf – Deadly Penguin
I was also able to speak to another Ooblets supporter, a Discord user by the name of Raekai. Perplamps’ reply to Raekai was also used in the circulating screenshots, and so I asked if Raekai considered himself mistreated by the developer’s response:
Raekai acknowledges that Perplamps’ reply did look bad, but he was also surprised that random internet users were spreading that conversation. There are many, like him, who do have legitimate concerns about Ooblets, but, sadly as he noted, those concerns are being drowned out by trolls who started flooding their community.
You might also see another Discord user named “Iota.” The user had legitimate concerns at the start. Although many of Iota’s comments are now deleted, we can see that he received answers to his queries last Friday. Much like Deadly Penguin, some of these answers weren’t enough. The difference is how this user reacted.
According to other users (when you search for any mention of “Iota”), it seems that the person in question had become troublesome. After receiving replies last Friday, he continued to pester the developers aggressively until around Saturday. Eventually, he started advocating for piracy while also making transphobic statements.
He’s since become a “meme” of sorts in the Ooblets community due to how he had acted for the past couple of days. Some of Ooblets‘ members called him out to stop what he was doing since it wasn’t conducive to the discussion anymore:
Another narrative that was spun was how the Ooblets developers waited until the first of the month to announce their exclusivity, just so they can snatch some more cash away from Patreon supporters. That was also misleading because many Ooblets supporters would know that the major announcements or dev blogs were always posted on the first of the month.
Other examples might even include those who felt they were maligned, even though there were clear distinctions between how they presented themselves versus the actual criticisms levied in the blog post. For instance, if Perplamps commented (in a crass way) about “baby gamers,” it never meant that the Discord user was the target of that insult. It meant that he was addressing those who were already “too extreme” leading them to act that way, that no explanation or end result would suffice.
There were some examples of users who’ve made sound arguments and criticisms, which were all well and good but, if you cannot get the answer that you wanted (or if you did not like the tone of the response) what’ll happen next? You can see one example of a dishonest argument below from a Discord user known as Mashuu:
Mashuu was, supposedly, only looking out for gamers everywhere because he thought “people who liked video games were being attacked” by the Ooblets developers. Just an honest concern, right? It turns out that Mashuu was actually repeatedly insinuating that Rebecca and Ben were Chinese spies.
The Malaysian Patreon supporter: Crusism
This was one of the most widely circulated screenshots. It involves a Discord user named “Crusism” and Ben/Perplamps’ apparent dismissal of his entire personal story. This screenshot is right below:
That gets your blood boiling, right? That makes you even angrier at how Crusism was mistreated despite providing a heartfelt concern! Imagine a single parent whose wife had died at childbirth, looking for a game for his kid, only to receive that kind of remark! How dare they treat one of their Patreon supporters that way?
But, if you look closer, you’ll probably notice something that’s very obvious: A seven-hour gap in the timestamps from when Crusism made that comment and from Perplamps’ own reply. The image was clearly edited.
Most people on the internet had reacted already with hostility without knowing that. In fact, you can see this Reddit post from user “Slawrfp” in r/pcgaming:
- Take a look at the narrative being presented about how Patreon supporters were “being mistreated.”
- Take a look at this comment chain from r/pcgaming where the developers were considered “human garbage,” “disgusting,” “treating people like sh*t,” “scumbags,” and more.
- Barely anyone had even looked at the timestamps to see that the screenshot was edited to make it look like a direct reply. My comment, roughly five days ago, did make note of how people were using misleading narratives based on screenshots.
Note: It seems my comment was secretly removed by the moderators in r/pcgaming and it now appears as a deleted message. This was the comment in full posted five days ago.
Some people would later justify this reaction by using another screenshot, one that shows Perplamps and several users replying in a different context (piracy), and a random user providing a link to Crusism’s older comment. Again, the narrative is that Ben/Perplamps replied to Crusism’s concerns in an indirect way, but that was also taken out of context.
Talking to Ben/Perplamps
So, naturally, I decided to get to the bottom of it. I emailed Ooblets developer Ben/Perplamps and asked him about the situation. As Ben noted (in verbatim via email):
The user Crusism posted a message that I didn’t get a chance to read (I’ve been getting a LOT of messages). I’ve been informed that the issue he brought up was actually not accurate in regards to how the Epic Game Store works and his problem was solved a while ago through changes to the store. I don’t know if he was aware of this or not, and although I believe he was repeatedly posting the same message, I can’t speak as to whether it was a legitimate misunderstanding on his part and he was simply venting his emotions or whether it was a bad faith attempt to foment further anger at us from the hate mob.
At one point hours after his posts, I responded to users in the chat who were trolling and asking about all the hypothetical reasons why they might be justified in pirating the game. That is what my reply was that got screenshotted.
Regardless, due to Crusism being a Patreon supporter who was upset with us, we proactively refunded him as much of his past pledges as we could through Patreon’s limited refund systems and reached out to offer him a further refund of his full lifetime pledge amount through a direct payment. He did not seem to be aware of why we would be refunding him and he did not want any further refunds, and in fact is still a Patreon supporter of Ooblets.
I pressed further for more details:
I never deleted his posts and I assume he did it once he realized what it had led to (or the fact that it was factually incorrect). When we spoke with him later, he seemed unaware that he had been a part of all this trouble for us, so that would make sense.
I think the whole ordeal really hurt Rebecca and she decided to proactively refund him because of that. I don’t know if he was aware of what his posts had led to until that point and wasn’t expecting or wanting a refund so he didn’t share a way we could pay him back the full amount (beyond the 3 months Patreon’s systems allow). Like I said, he didn’t cancel his pledge, either.
If you check past Discord comments, you’ll notice users asking about the Malaysian user. (One even thought that Ben was being “racist” towards Malaysians for Christ’s sake!) That’s because, again, Crusism’s conversation was the one that was the most widely circulated.
I tried to look for this particular user. I searched for his username and any phrase from his comment, only to turn up no such results. So, given that Crusism’s concerns were about the Malaysian ringgit (MYR) conversion to the US dollar (USD), I searched for anyone who might’ve been talking about “MYR.” Who would’ve thunk it, but these were the results I found:
Yes, there was indeed a Malaysian “single parent,” and he “wanted to buy Ooblets for his kid,” and he was also concerned about “the MYR conversion and currency issues” when using Epic’s store. He’s also a long-time supporter, he mentioned Animal Crossing, and he posted last Friday just around the same time that Crusism’s comment popped up.
The username was “—–” which I presume to be someone who had deleted their account/had left the group completely. Can this be Crusism himself? I’m not sure, but, the sentiments did align. I was also unable to PM the user “—–” at all.
You’ll also notice the timestamps that he started discussing the exclusivity last Thursday, and he had been receiving helpful answers until Friday as well. There’s even a late reply last Sunday:
Perhaps the most telling part? This Malaysian Patreon supporter of Ooblets was, eventually, able to understand the answers that were given. He was also able to share that the Ooblets community was “calm, chill, and funsies,” and that he felt the devs “shouldn’t be shouted at” for their decision to take the exclusive deal. Everything was resolved already within that time frame, well before any screenshot circulated and well before the matter escalated around the internet.
The funniest part about all of this? The Epic Games Store already has regional pricing support for Malaysia. Being Filipino myself, the first thing I’d like to know is if video games are affordable for my Southeast Asian brothers. For instance, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 has a similar price range for both Steam and Epic. As for the recently released Oxygen Not Included, that’s actually cheaper on Epic when looking at converted prices. Yes, for all the talk about Southeast Asian gamers not being able to buy, very few were even aware that regional pricing (for Malaysia, at least) was already in place. It’s as easy as changing your Epic Games account’s country to Malaysia and comparing it with Steamdb’s listing!
Rather than actually doing their due diligence to find out what had happened about Ooblets and Epic Games, easily outraged internet people decided to base their “hot takes” on a handful of screenshots, farming and milking it for the clicks and the engagement.
More fake and misreported interactions
It doesn’t stop there. It got even worse the more people started dogpiling, from YouTubers to Twitter users, to those whose agendas were about how “devs hated gamers” for no discernible reason. Oddly enough, what most of these pundits did was to use various screenshots on the internet, and I’m not even sure if they had researched, checked the Discord, or interviewed any of those who were involved.
In fact, there were even those who attempted to double-down on the controversy. During the weekend, I joined the subreddit called r/Fuckepic. The moderators in r/Fuckepic already had a very clear announcement warning its users not to post or link to Ooblets‘ communities because of brigading and inciting rules. Naturally, I tried to clarify a few things about the misinformation going on.
Within the same day, I encountered this gem from an r/Fuckepic user called RhinoInAHat. The submission was already highly upvoted and people believed it to be factual. It tells the false narrative of how a Discord user’s comment was deleted simply because he asked about currency issues, and that Perplamps, once again, chimed in about how he might be “entitled.” That just makes your blood boil once more, correct?
The user RhinoInAHat claimed that it was a mistake and he didn’t really know why the comment was deleted. I actually spoke to Rhino publicly in his topic (seen in the above link), and told him that he was lying because he was part of that conversation on Discord… hours before he posted his topic.
The title of the post is at the top of this image and his public interactions on the Ooblets Discord are below it:
He knew that the conversation regarding “being entitled to information” was because people were asking about “funding, living conditions, and developmental processes.” He even got the answer directly that the deletion was due to the username violating “pg rules.”
So, how does one go from, “The comment was deleted because it was a bannable username?” to, “Hey, subreddit, look at the Ooblets devs deleting someone’s concern about currencies and how he was asked if he was entitled!”
That can only happen if someone was lying and misleading people in order to incite them against others. As mentioned, the topic was already upvoted at the time and people believed it to be factual. The moment I provided the Reddit user his own Discord conversation to show he was blatantly lying, that was when he deleted the post.
Likewise, the Crusism conversation also made the rounds in that subreddit. The only reason it was locked hours later was because I pointed out how people had been using it to spread misinformation.
Here are two more examples where users attempted to incite the subreddit against the Ooblets developers using another fake screenshot. This time, it was an edited screenshot where Perplamps made jokes about “gas chambers.” That was a fake, and the only reason it didn’t gain traction was that another r/Fuckepic user, responsibly, pointed out that people were lying.
The strange oddity was that every time I pointed out that people were spreading or believing in misinformation in this subreddit, I was the one getting downvoted for it.
Remember, many users in this subreddit were disgruntled because the Ooblets developers used terms like “toxic” and “immature,” so I thought I could see if people acted in an opposite manner. After all, if you’re someone who doesn’t like to be called “toxic” or “immature,” it follows that those terms shouldn’t apply to you, or at the least that they should direct you to behave differently.
Unfortunately, these were also some responses I’ve received in the past couple of days while joining topics in that subreddit, responses that people upvoted and supported:
People supporting statements about “hatred due to subhumans,” jokes about “mental illness,” or immediate responses of “shill” or “bootlickers” — these are probably not the types of reactions that you would consider as “civil” or “mature.” They might be the types that are indicative of the very criticisms levied in the Ooblets blog post.
Ooblets: The story as it is
As noted above, the Ooblets dev couple and Epic Games have already released statements regarding the controversy, and things have been moving on. The Ooblets community, small as it may be, has had a lot of very understanding users who were all familiar with the developers.
- The blog post itself, crass and condescending as it may have been, was addressed to Ooblets supporters who, the devs had assumed correctly, would be more open to discussions.
- It was never meant for the eyes of the rest of the internet — from Reddit, 4chan, YouTube, or Twitter, especially when you have random people flocking in, many of whom might be more interested in the Epic Games controversy rather than the game.
- As Deadly Penguin noted, imagine what happens when you have a Discord group of roughly around 20 people who knew each other and the developers, and then suddenly you had so many random users who were angry about different things from the Epic launcher to the tone of the post.
- It was never to target all gamers or everyone who had concerns about Epic’s launcher, because it was meant to criticize a certain type of (extreme) behavior — one that can manifest in only a few people but is magnified by social media and internet anonymity.
The internet’s mob mentality and dogpile effect can be seen in the full view given the examples I’ve listed and shown above. It’s not that the Ooblets developers were completely in the right — they did botch their communication, after all. It’s that others could’ve seen where everything was headed, and they couldn’t resist because, most likely, they were already invested in the internet outrage due to Epic.
Even Jim Sterling, who initially published a video talking about the controversy criticizing the couple, noted that the mob might be spurred indirectly. After learning that the Ooblets developers were threatened and harassed, he set his video to private. Here’s his tweet regarding the matter:
In the wake of the Ooblets team being dogpiled, harassed, and threatened over their Epic exclusivity, I've made my video on the topic private for now. The harassment is not fucking on and I don't want to even indirectly encourage it.
— Sterling! (@JimSterling) August 6, 2019
Remember past examples of games becoming Epic exclusives? Ever since Metro Exodus, we’ve seen mountains of reactions that aren’t necessarily mountains, but more like volcanoes waiting to erupt. Some were justifiable, such as in Shenmue 3‘s case. Others had entire mobs being angry at smaller teams such as Satisfactory or The Outer Wilds. You’ll see calls to boycott games or to outright pirate them the moment they become exclusives. You’ll see developers being called “sellouts” and “scumbags,” or users being called “shills” and “bootlickers” if they so much as claim that they weren’t too angry. You’ll see accusations of Chinese spyware or a Chinese takeover. (I feel sorry for Tom Hanks’ Mr. Rogers film, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, given that it’s produced, in part, by Tencent Pictures.)
The point is that Epic Games’ launcher is subpar compared to many others, but there are so many wild accusations and frustrated narratives coming out of each story. It’s one of the most divisive topics in gaming forums when, realistically speaking, it wouldn’t be the case if cooler heads prevailed. Ooblets just happened to add fuel to the fire.
Mob mentality and internet outrage culture
The best example we can learn from would be this TED Talk from Jon Ronson. The speaker notes how one tweet can ruin someone’s life. No matter how crass or snarky you may be, there is absolutely no reason for thousands of people to start seething and surging towards you because of vindictiveness.
At no point in time will hundreds or thousands of faceless anonymous users swarming over and targeting two private individuals on social media ever be considered “in the right.” At no point in time will you think that this faceless mob is “the victim.” Mob mentality, when spurred on by outrage, anonymity, and misinformation, is never justifiable or correct.
Imagine all of that happening because of the Epic launcher, a blog post, and some screenshots. In some ways, those who did lash out in the extremes, those who helped spread misinformation, and those who eagerly became angry for the sake of being angry — all to target two people… Perhaps they justified the very words and criticisms that they claimed to be against.