Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Epic Games Store. The company behind the one of the most popular games in the world, Fortnite, has changed the landscape of PC gaming at least for the near year or so.
Fortnite has taken the world by storm and is probably the first game to be so successful that it has forced every platform from all 3 rival consoles, PC and even phones to allow crossplay with one another. It has brought in record revenues and a new generation of players young and old to get into gaming; and Epic decided to capitalize on that by opening up their Game Store in an attempt to compete with Steam.
Steam has been the de facto PC game store for so long that it has changed people’s acceptance of an online/digital game library. So where is the place for Epic Games in all this? Is it really anti-consumer to get exclusive games in an attempt to compete with Steam? Is it better to continue to trust Valve for everything? Should we fear that Tencent owns a majority share of Epic Games?
There is so much talk and heated debate on the Epic Games Store that it feels like the actual conversations are drowned in vitriol and hate before giving it a chance. Before we dive into this, I have to put up a disclaimer that I am not paid for by Epic Games allegedly like the exclusives they acquired, nor am I completely buying into the Epic Games Store which I will get into later in this story. As for now let’s start with looking deeper into the footprints that the elephant in the room has left.
The “Anti-consumer” PC exclusive Library that Epic is rapidly growing
It’s been the long standard for many years that if you buy a PC game, 90% of them will be a code that’s activated on Steam, or you just purchase it from the store outright or even better, waiting for the sales that Gaben graces us with.
Is a monopoly really good for the market though? Whenever something disrupts an industry (Netflix, Spotify, Uber etc.), someone always rises up to compete and keep their balance in check. While these services initially only had a mere shot in the dark, having options have really opened up people’s choices and it has really pushed these already established companies to put out their best foot. The focus on Netflix’s original series and content is one good example of this.
In the case of PC gaming, Battle.net was always kind of there, but they weren’t really “competition”. It was always the only way you could buy Blizzard games such as Starcraft and World of Warcraft digitally – there was no uproar as it’s “only a few games that Blizzard made”. Origin came in 2011 and EA took their games off the Steam platform cause they weren’t happy with the 30% cut that Steam made off every sale on the platform; and much like the current situation with Epic Games, there was a massive uproar and I would say “demonizing” of Origin for taking games away from their beloved platform. This leap of faith seemed to have worked to least some success as it’s no coincidence that several other developers have started to follow suit. Bethesda launched their game store last year (which seems to have middling results), Activision-Blizzard started to take newer games exclusively to their own Battle.net, and now millions of players decided to hop on the Origin train just to play Apex Legends.
So now that we have established that there have always been huge exclusive and massively popular games that are not on Steam; and that this whole situation already happened with Origin some years back, is Epic Games Store really “anti-consumer”?
Most of the user base of Epic Games Store was built behind Unreal Engine and its free tools which every other modern game seems to be using, along with the games built on the said engine such as Fortnite – now with almost 250 million players.
When they announced that they would be taking Steam head on in late 2018, it made sense as a business – Fortnite has built a completely new user base that does not necessarily overlap with Steam. It doesn’t compete with Steam for these new users as they probably don’t even have it installed! According to Epic’s surveys (you can take it with a grain of salt or not) 40% of their users don’t even have Steam installed. That’s a really huge amount no matter how you bend it or what kind of perception you have about their numbers.
On the other hand, by acquiring all of these exclusives starting with Metro Exodus and now Outer Worlds, Control and former PS4 exclusives from Quantic Dream such as Detroit: Become Human, and probably even more come E3 2019, they are making it more attractive for Steam users to install their platform. Which is what any serious competitor to Steam’s monopoly is supposed to be doing in the first place! The first Playstation was built off third party exclusives against the established Nintendo and Sega, Steam was built off Half-life 2 in a really rough launch against the sea of Installer Wizards, the Xbox Live paid service was built because it was the only way you could play Halo online against the other competing consoles not even having competent online. Exclusives are what build a platform, what allows them to compete, and they are what made the industry evolve into what it is now.
There’s a simple reason that more and more developers and publishers are moving away from Steam to Epic and their own distribution platforms outside of Valve’s: They’re not happy with Steam’s 30% revenue cut. Valve doesn’t seem to be doing enough to stop this from happening either – they have the resources and the dominant position and they could be doing something about this, but they’re not making enough effort or moving fast enough to stop Epic from acquiring more exclusives. These exclusivity deals temporary or not are going to continue to happen and is honestly necessary for anyone who wants to compete with a juggernaut like Steam.
I Can’t Play it on my Platform of Choice so it’s Anti-consumer
Steam’s empire wasn’t built in a day, or even a year. In 2004, Steam had a really difficult time as the “DRM” for Half-life 2. Many people couldn’t even play the game on launch day. And it’s one of the biggest game launches of all time! It was a pioneer ahead of its time for sure, but it took many years to build Steam to what it is with the features, the game store and Counter-Strike (which Valve bought) to build the platform to what it is today. Was it anyone’s platform of choice? Would you not rather have bought it on CD and installed it the old school way that everyone preferred to do back then?
It takes time to build a platform like Steam, or Epic, or Origin, or even unicorns like Netflix. Besides, you’re installing it on a computer and you’re not locked to a particular game store like on Playstation or on a Nintendo Switch. Isn’t that the main advantage of a platform like the PC anyway?
A quick look at the top games being streamed and watched on Twitch tells an even better story: Fortnite, Apex Legends, League of Legends, Counter-strike Go, Dota 2, Overwatch, Hearthstone, Call of Duty, FIFA etc. These games are all on PC and you already need 5 or so different launchers/digital stores to play them. And that’s not even counting the top communication platform you’re probably using to game – Discord (Also partly owned by Tencent) which also has its own game store attempting to give developers a choice over Steam’s 30% cut.
The point is, you probably already have 2 or 3 of them on your computer anyway, and god forbid you bought Fallout 76 on launch day and you had to install the Bethesda Launcher before they announced that it’s coming to Steam. What if Epic Store eventually grows into an actual “must have” store? What if theoretically, other big releases like Red Dead Redemption 2 and additional PS4 exclusives went to the Epic store? I’m not saying it will happen, but you have to brace yourself with the reality that there’s actual competition for Steam now. It’s not really a novelty to click download and run another launcher to add to your list.
“But I’ll just pirate it” is something that short sighted, seething fans have been throwing around. And while piracy is an option just so you can avoid installing another game launcher, doesn’t it defeat the purpose? It usually takes more clicks to install a pirated game and probably even more effort to download it from shady sites. And besides, piracy was the main reason that the PC market was on a down period before Steam came out to combat it with insane sales and other sorts of DRM like Denuvo happened. Did you really want this to happen again?
But it lacks features that Steam has, how dare they launch like this?
While the Epic Games Store is very bare bones right now compared to Steam, it’s not like it’s going to last. To compete with Steam, they will have to work on their asses rapidly and quickly, and of course they are. However, people who just rage about it on forums won’t necessarily give them the benefit of the doubt when it’s easier to just do memes with checklists comparing both platforms.
One look at the Trello (https://trello.com/b/GXLc34hk/epic-games-store-roadmap) and the Roadmap which Epic announced right around when they launched the Store last year (which everyone conveniently ignores) and all of those comparison memes are rendered moot. They just launched Offline Functionality and Pre-loading and Regional pricing and with more of these features coming very soon, it’s a no brainer that it will be almost as feature packed as Steam and Origin in a few months time – at a faster pace than the other stores when they were still in development.
Fortnite is probably the most updated game across all platforms with weekly new content, so it’s not a stretch to see the Epic Store rapidly improving to get to the same level as Steam and Origin feature wise.
Is Epic Store snooping around on your PC?
While being owned by Tencent is something that even I am wary of, and even I personally avoid using Tencent products, it’s no secret that they have their hands on everything when it comes to gaming and technology.
Tencent has investments in Ubisoft, Activision-Blizzard, Riot games, Supercell, Discord, amongst others. When it comes to game development, they own and publish the biggest earning mobile game in the world – Honor of Kings (Arena of Valor internationally) and the massively growing PUBG Mobile along with Path of Exile. Have any of these games and companies and their software been accused of being “spyware” despite Tencent having their investments in them?
So far from what i’m seeing, these companies have pretty much remained independent outside of the China-only versions of the games they produce. Which I hope remains as it’s honestly quite worrying how much power they can potentially hold as their investments grow. Tencent so far seems content to be sitting back and enjoying profits from the efforts of these international companies instead of getting their hands dirty like what EA is doing, so why shouldn’t Epic Games Store get the same benefit of the doubt?
A Reddit thread claimed that the Epic Store was secretly mining Steam data and sending it to whoever knows; and In response, Epic Vice President claims that this only happens if the user opts-in to importing Steam friends and gathers your hardware survey data much like what every other game store already does. And while I don’t necessarily trust everything Epic does, I just feel that this is just more of the Steam fanbase just having an irrational hate boner and hurling more vitriol towards the Epic Games Store.
Would it kill for Steam to have some actual competition?
To conclude this piece, all I want to ask is if it’s wrong for Steam to have some actual competition. They have been the de-facto PC digital store for many years and we owe it to them for making digital game libraries more convenient and easier, and I am still a fan of Valve’s efforts especially when it comes to Dota 2.
Then again we have to look at the fact that Valve has been resting on their laurels for so long and Steam is now filled with unfinished games perpetually in Early Access, really bad Battle Royale clones and games that are allowed to be sold unpatched after many years. Developers and publishers have also been very vocal about not being happy with Valve’s 30% cut in sales; and there’s clearly a demand for an alternative if developers are cutting exclusivity contracts with Epic Games Store – whether you think they paid them whatever amount or not.
The fact is that on a computer there’s already room for several of these alternative launchers, and they have existed for years. You already probably have them installed if you play most of the biggest games on PC and use Discord on the side. The goal is not to replace Steam but to have an alternative with compelling games and features as well.
Never has Steam faced some actual competition as aggressive as what Epic is doing, but what choice did they really have if they wanted to compete? It was either attracting big game developers or undercutting Steam with better services and prices during sales, which will take a much longer time and probably not even feasible financially.
As long as many developers are using Unreal Engine and Fortnite maintains their ground, Epic will continue to try to compete. Whether you like it or not, whatever amount of hate or FUD is not gonna stop a juggernaut like this. Steam was hated in the first years, Origin was treated the same way as Epic store initially. Epic has the machine behind it and it seems that big developers also want it to happen.
As for this author, I want to see where Epic goes with their store and whether they build a proper platform for everyone. Valve to me, isn’t doing enough despite their massive advantage in terms of their service and fan opinions, and Epic has the tools and resources to actually build something that can compete with it. I am not completely in favor of Epic Store, but I am for someone disrupting the status quo and competing with Steam.
Despite my opinion, I am still not buying anything from Epic Games Store until the platform reaches a level of maturity that I am pleased with. And of course they will have to match Steam prices when it comes to sales before I fully invest my money into that as well. Until then, the Epic Store remains on my computer as a way to collect the pretty impressive amount of free games that they’re giving away, and as a way to play Fortnite on the rare occasion.