Epic Game Store is Around to Stay
For years, Steam has been synonymous with PC gaming. I have around 150 games in my Steam library, and I am certain someone reading this has a whole lot more than that. It’s amazing really. My PS4 sounds like a locomotive when you start it up, and I hardly ever use it to play my 35 or so games. I use Steam nearly every single day; I play new games, classic games, stupid games I got on a sale that I got way into.
Then along comes the Epic Game Store to shake things up. This has clearly been controversial for some people. You don’t have to look too far to find a story with a headline promising to explain the “Epic Game Store Controversy.” I’m not here to do that. I’m not here to argue about the economics of competition between wealthy companies. I’m not here to talk about the viability of internet boycotts and protest culture. I’m not here to talk about where trolls fit into all of this. But I do want to talk about my experience with the Epic Game Store itself.
I didn’t want another launcher, another store, another anything really. I was more or less satisfied with Steam. Sure, I followed their public gaffes with interest, but I was pretty much a happy customer. Steam workshop was a godsend, letting me mod PC games without resorting to complicated and occasionally buggy processes. I didn’t want another icon on my desktop. My hard drive was near full, and a 400 MB store that did the same thing as Steam was an unnecessary nuisance.
Competition is Good, Right?
There was though, the interesting bragging point that Epic would be taking around half the profit share of Steam. Epic takes 12%, Steam takes 30%. Shots fired, but nothing about that promised a better consumer experience. Still, it framed the debate was one about the health of game developers, which in turn made me think about the industry as a whole. It’s a competitive practice aimed at distribution, a powerful part of the media experience that often gets overlooked. It’s like how Netflix turned up the heat on movie theaters. It makes you wonder what would happen to the comic book industry if all books weren’t distributed by a ruthless monopoly.
What it does not do, is make me as a consumer particularly inclined to go in for the service. The promise of free games though? That’s hard to pass up…
Epic announced every two weeks (or every fortnight, I see you) users would receive one (1) free PC game. The first of these was Subnautica. I had been thinking of playing Subnautica but hadn’t yet purchased it. That was the clincher for me though. I wanted it, and free was a great price. I bit the bullet and downloaded the store.
I was surprised to learn that I didn’t need to set up any sort of account. That’s because I had signed up for Fortnite, played it for two weeks, and uninstalled it. But my account lingered, and within a few minutes, I had Subnautica. Have you played it? It’s a modern classic and the first game in my Epic library. I added a desktop shortcut so I didn’t have to boot up the launcher itself, and enjoyed a new favorite game.
Who Doesn’t Love Free?
Two weeks later, I got Super Meat Boy, another modern classic I had never had the chance to play. Then it was What Remains of Edith Finch. Soon, Jackbox became my game to play with non-gamer friends. I didn’t spend too much time with Axiom Verge, but I’m interested in returning to it. Thimbleweed Park was something I had never heard of, but I found it fascinating. Slime Rancher was never something that interested me, but I was happy to try it for the price of free. Same with Oxenfree, which had sort of been on the peripheries of my attention, but I had a good time with. I already owned The Witness, but for free, you bet I added it to my library again. Why not? Same goes for Transistor, a favorite of mine.
That’s an incredible library of 10 free games. The limited release windows to pick them up got me booting up the Epic Store every so often. And suddenly, I have a library that’s starting to catch up to my Steam collection. It’ll take a while to build up in quantity, but 10 good games is nothing to sneeze at. I don’t know how long this practice is going to continue, but as long as it does I am an ecstatic customer.
There’s no way to talk about the Epic Store without mentioning exclusivity. Upon launch, Supergiant Games’ newest, Hades was announced as a timed exclusive. Others followed including the hotly anticipated The Outer Worlds and huge sequels like Borderlands 3. It seems that Epic’s pro-developer stance is attracting major companies, even to the point they are willing to part with Valve entirely.
The Rage is Real and Ridiculous
There is nothing inherently customer focused about this development, but the vitriol seems a little overblown. Exclusives are a big part of the console world. I’ve been a loyal PlayStation buyer since forever, first because I wanted to play Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid, then to play Grand Theft Auto and more recently, second party exclusives like Uncharted and God of War.
I’m no stranger to purchasing Nintendo consoles, mostly because of my love of Super Smash Bros. Smash Bros is a veritable celebration of exclusivity. You can only play it on Nintendo consoles, and it is a game mostly made up of other Nintendo exclusive characters. And we love it! It’s a cultural moment for Nintendo fans to come together.
I’m not expecting Epic fans to get excited about an Epic Game Store release the way Nintendo fans do about Smash. But it’s something that has the potential to create a community. At worst, it’s sort of inconvenient, as inconvenient as installing a second launcher. At best, it can create a positive video game fan community, something that feels like it’s in short supply. But I believe that can happen, especially considering…
The main draw of the Epic Game Store is how they distinguish themselves from the competition. Steam is a platform with an attitude like a lot of big online services. It wants to be seen as ubiquitous and is happy to host nearly any game on the platform. Most of the time, this makes Steam your one-stop shop for PC games. Occasionally, this leads to controversies like the one Steam faced by selling a school shooter simulator, the inconsistent crackdown on games with sexual content, and the seemingly endless controversy surrounding the game Rape Day.
This Store Will Actually Be Managed
That’s not how Epic does things. The Epic Store doesn’t have a lot of games, but those it does are curated. Not every game is to everyone’s taste, but every game is of a minimum quality. Everything on the Epic Store would be among the most highly rated games on Steam. And that’s the entire philosophy in a nutshell. This is a place you go to get good quality games, your storefront for blockbuster PC games, and beloved cult classics. It’s not going to encourage indie developers to go for it in the same way, but it’s the right way to create a community of passionate PC gamers who are here because they want to play good games.
There are tons of features the Epic Store is still lacking. The interface is… flawed. But improving. User ratings, and community pages are nowhere to be found. Yet. But all of those things seem to be on the agenda. Which brings me to my final point.
Gaming news has been filled with unfortunate quotes from companies, executives, and PR officers who seem worse at speaking to the public than the average shmo. Not true with Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney, who has consistently been open, and relatable. I’m hesitant to call anyone I haven’t met honest, but he gives off good vibes. When accused of being a puppet of Chinese financial interests, Sweeney was good natured and even addressed some of the more substantive parts of the criticisms leveled at his company. “I support everyone’s right to complain about tech industry stuff,” Sweeney said. “Epic’s store, with exclusive games and a spartan feature set, is a fine target for ire. But please help separate facts and opinions from the lies about foreign control.” This is like, the bare minimum standard tech company statements should aspire to. Sadly, few do.
EGS is Far From Complete
It gives me confidence that Epic is serious. This isn’t a software billionaire chasing a fleeting dream, this is a real effort at shaking up the PC gaming landscape. That’s exactly what tech companies are constantly promising, and rarely delivering. Less than a year out, the Epic Game Store isn’t as good as Steam. But in six more months, a year or two? It’s going to be a strong competitor. And even if you never use it, competition is going to give Steam a reason to step it up. I think the Epic Store is here to stay and it is the rare tech enterprise that’s going to do exactly what it’s supposed to.