Epic Games made a surprise announcement this week that they started a mega sale, and they were paying for it. All games over $14.99 would get a $10 discount. The problem is that evidence points to them not telling the publishers this.
According to PC Gamer, we saw two games being pulled right away, Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 and Oxygen Not Included, with Borderlands 3 following shortly after. Hades had the price first reduced in Europe below the discountable price, then increased worldwide to above the pre-discount price, then reset worldwide to its original price.
Epic Publishing Director Sergey Galyonkin made a comment on Russian gaming site DTF saying that Paradox, the publishers of Bloodlines 2, did not want to be part of the sale and therefore their game was temporarily pulled from the store and will be back after the sale is over next month. Paradox sent out a statement mirroring this sentiment, but did not give a reason, only that they would honour any purchases made before the game was pulled from the store.
Hades’ publisher Supergiant Games explained in a blog post that the price increase was planned, but not for that day. After seeing the surprise discount, they panicked and pushed the price raise early, without the promised advanced notice, which is why they eventually reset the price to the original release price. Their concern was that it would be unfair for those who bought the newly released game at full price to see the game getting a major discount this soon after. And since the game has gotten a fair amount of upgrades in this short time, a price increase is in order, not a discount.
All of this points to Epic not giving advance notice to their publishers and developers before the surprise sale. Many of these publishers are also publishing on other platforms, such as Steam, where there are strict rules about how the games are priced on competing platforms. A lot of these publishers also publish in Europe, where there are laws against unfair competition. Since Epic paid for the discounts, the publishers might not be able to afford taking such a big hit, up to 66%, on other platforms themselves and have no other choice but to pull the game entirely.
Though Epic did not break any laws in their own country, United States of America, their practices, if this is how they handled it, when it comes to this sale were certainly unethical. They put the publishers on the spot, and it’s these publishers that now take the brunt of the public anger. The reason why platforms like Steam only have sales on certain games at a time is because they have to have a dialogue with their publishers before hand, and the publisher’s approval before putting the game on sale. Not from a legal standpoint, but from an ethical one. Because the publisher needs to approve it from a legal standpoint, since they may be tied up in other legally binding contracts elsewhere.
Epic, who earned the majority of their fortune in a short amount of time through the extremely popular, multi-platform game Fortnite should know this. Fortnite is available on almost every platform imaginable, and they even had a run-in with Valve at one point, as Fortnite was looking at some Steam files on the user’s computer. So they know very well about the contracts involved when publishers are publishing on multiple platforms.