The Release of the Epic Games Store
Well, here we go again. As you probably already know by now, Epic Games is the latest to join the online digital game store party. Wonderful—yet another client for people to install, one trying to sell us even more games. What about this digital storefront is different than any of the others out there looking to take a chunk out of the hold Steam has over PC gaming? Oh, there are differences of course, but are there any that truly matter to you, the end user? We’ll get to that, but first, let’s take a short trip down memory lane.
The year is 2007. Steam had already been on the scene for a few years at this point, but much like Steam’s current competitors now, chances were that unless you were playing Valve’s own titles, Steam probably didn’t mean anything to you. What changed in 2007, however, were two big things: the addition of major third-party developer/publisher titles and The Orange Box. Having Capcom, id Software and Eidos Interactive sell their games on the platform greatly increased awareness among gamers. Then, of course, you have The Orange Box. For anyone unfamiliar with The Orange Box, it included Half-Life 2, HL2 Episode 1, HL2 Episode 2, Portal and Team Fortress 2. The last three were new—can you imagine that today? Getting new games of that magnitude all together for fifty dollars?
It was a big year for Steam, especially with the addition of community features, and it made it the year that brought the platform into the conscious of a wider audience of gamers. You might not have still had it at that point, but chances are by then you were at least aware of its existence. What does this have to do with the Epic Games store? Don’t worry, we’re getting there. While we’re back in 2007, though, let’s look at one more thing: one of the long-standing behemoths of PC gaming was in full swing back then. That’s right: World of Warcraft.
Déjà Vu, Blizzard
The parallel here is that 2007 WoW was just beginning to see real attempts to challenge its crown as the king of MMOs. Every new MMO was supposed to be “the WoW killer”. Guess how many of them were? Yup, none. It’s still alive and kicking today, yes, others have taken chunks, but even with an outdated subscription model it still has a user base now that most games would love to have. But WoW did see those competitors, just like Steam already has now. It’s not like they were the only games in town when they started, not by a long shot, but in the eyes of many, they were the one in their respective areas.
Much like nearly every MMO that tried to get a piece of the WoW pie, Steam competitors have tried to eat into the platform’s dominance, but the impact has been marginal at best. Let’s stick to those Steam competitors that most closely resemble the platform and don’t just simply exist to sell you their own key. We’re talking Origin and Uplay here. My own experiences with both consist entirely of using them only when it’s absolutely required. I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only one that has a similar relationship, only using them when I have to. The likelihood of me buying anything from either that I can get anywhere else is close to 0%.
So how is the Epic Games store going to be any different? For starters, there is their own massively popular game that forces you to use their own platform. Hey, Steam does that too, so that is entirely par for the course. The big difference then comes down to third-party titles. Epic’s angle here is to take a much smaller cut of the sale of others games. 12% with Epic vs 20-30% with Steam (depending who you are and how much you sell) seems like a great deal for developers. Especially if their game uses the Unreal 4 Engine as Epic will waive their usual 5% cut they take when they sell it elsewhere.
What difference does that make to you though? Pretty much none, for now. We could go the route of saying “by buying games where developers, specifically smaller, get a bigger cut of the pie we are helping support them.” That is technically true, but let’s be real here, if that was really your concern then you wouldn’t be buying from one of these platform’s stores in the first place. If given the option, then you’d buy direct from the developer—many sell their games from their own website.
So really, what is there to convince you to buy on the Epic store instead? Content creators and influencers can get money from sending you there. Although, the number of people that realistically can benefit from that financially is most likely to be minimal compared to the overall number of users. So still, nothing specifically that would tilt the scales in Epic’s favor for the consumers. Except: the dreaded exclusive.
Information is still trickling out a bit on this and things can change, but there were a few “exclusive” games to the store at launch. Right now the situation is probably still evolving as to whether some of these are timed exclusives or outright exclusive. It’s best to not jump to conclusions at this point, or at the very least not expect at least one or two developers to have a change of heart at some point. We are getting stories of some developers planning on forgoing Steam releases in favor of Epic Games store though.
Exclusives Make The Heart Grow…Fonder?
Really though, this might be the only way to get more people to use their store over anyone else, by having more and more exclusive games to their platform then just their own first party titles. They are also offering free games as well, but again, so is everyone else, although maybe not as blatantly advertised or as often. So, to truly take a bite out of Steam’s sales will require more games that can only be purchased on Epic instead (if the developers don’t offer them for sale themselves as well). But is that what PC gamers really want, console-style exclusives?
If the Epic Games store really wants to compete with Steam and not just exist in the same space, then it seems having those exclusives will be the one thing that may do it. Look, I’m not stumping for Steam here, just being realistic. If you want to compete you need to not just be the same, but better for everyone involved. If it does come down to exclusives being that nudge to get consumers over, there might not be the warmest of welcomes to that notion. Are there exclusives to other digital distribution platforms now? Yep, but this somehow feels different. It’s a definite shot across the bow of the Steam ship.
Just because Valve isn’t exactly known for making hasty decisions doesn’t mean that if the Epic Games store does really impact their business in a meaningful way that they won’t make changes. Time will tell. just like it did with all those supposed “WoW killers.” Many others have come for a piece of the PC gaming pie that Steam controls, but to date they’ve had minimal effect. Gaming has a long history of “next big things” that never actually became anything at all.