Experienced Points: Epic Has a Plan to Topple Steam

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Dec 19, 2018

Filed under: Column 87 comments

My column this week is about Epic’s new games store and how it’s already disrupting the industry. (In a good way.) To be clear, this doesn’t mean I think Epic’s store is flawless or that they’re guaranteed to take a huge bite out of Steam’s market share. I think they’re off to a great start, but a good start doesn’t win the race. Steam’s market lead is gargantuan and the network effect is a powerful force. My point here is that this sort of strong opening is what Origin, Uplay, and Bethesda should have done when they opened their stores.

But Shamus, maybe EA doesn’t want to compete with Steam! Maybe they just want to sell their own games?

Before I answer your objection, I want to point out that I also wrote a little something extra for the Escapist. They solicited opinions on interesting / favorite games this year. I didn’t want to spoil my entire end-of-year list, but I did want to make a big deal about this one because of how well it worked.

Anyway, getting back to your objection…

Let’s say I’m running a publisher. Don’t laugh. That nearly happened this year, remember?

We’re sick of paying 30% of our PC income to Steam. So we launch our own platform and make our biggest games exclusive to our own storefront.

That’s nice, but we still have two massive problems:

  1. Steam users aren’t going to show up out of the kindness of their hearts. If we make our games exclusive to our launcher, then we’ll lose sales. Either we pay the Steam tax, or we lose customers. Either way, that’s less money for us. That’s a bad thing.
  2. It’s a terrible idea to allow Valve to control this much of the PC market. Sure, in 2009 the PC wasn’t a big deal. Today sales of PC games is equal to all three of the other platforms combined. What if VR really takes off? Or some other new technology? This industry moves fast. All it takes is a new fad or a new invention to change the status quo. The last thing we want is to let Steam control the PC space. And the larger they get, the harder it will be to dislodge them. We should have been in full-on panic mode back in 2008. Even if all we want is to sell our own games from our own store, we need to treat Valve as a looming threat.

To solve problem #1, we should release our games on Steam after a timed exclusive on our own platform. If people won’t create an Origin account to play Titanfall 2, then they’ll need to wait X months for the game to release on Steam. Barring that, we need to be fighting for market share and trying to lure those complacent Steam users to our platform with good prices, a snappy client, good PR, and the occasional giveaway.

EA isn’t really doing either of these two things. Everyone complains about how greedy EA is, but even worse is how bad they are at it.

Epic has made one good move. That’s not remotely enough to threaten Steam, but it’s more than EA has done in the seven years since they launched their platform.

 


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87 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Epic Has a Plan to Topple Steam

  1. DTor214 says:

    Shamus, I think you left out the link to the article.

    1. Lino says:

      Yeah, and since it’s not on the front page of the Escapist yet, it was a bit of a hassle to find.

      Still, a very enjoyable read. Once I manage to free up some time, I’ll definitely be installing the Epic Games client – if only because I REALLY want to play SuperGiant’s new game (which looks AWESOME and has an AMAZING soundtrack).

  2. Redrock says:

    I have a number of misgivings about Epic’s store at this point. First off, I think the exclusivity is more of a risk than a way to draw new customers to the store. Even GOG and CD Projekt couldn’t pull off selling Thronebreaker exclusively on GOG and had to add Steam. Secondly, at least in my country, Epic Store seems to offer way smaller regional discounts for indies than Steam. Maybe that’s even fair, maybe indie developers should try to sell at higher prices in poorer countries. But I expect it will drive some customers away. Right now, Supergiant Games’ Hades, which is in early access, costs for Russian customers twice as much as Pyre, Transistor or Bastion on Steam or GOG. Hell, maybe I’ll shell out for it eventually, being a fan of Supergiant Games, but I know many people who won’t even consider getting an indie title for such a price.

    1. John says:

      Supergiant’s older games are, well, older games. It’s not too surprising that they’d sell at a discount relative to a newer or forthcoming game.

      1. Redrock says:

        Eh, it’s not that simple. See, they’re all the same 20$ in USD, it’s just that 20$ in the Epic Store translates into higher regional prices than on Steam. Also, Supergiant isn’t the only one. The Hello Neighbor sequel also seems to be overpriced in terms of regional prices. I’m not making a judgement about whether Steam’s lower regional prices are more fair – merely pointing out that Epic Store make indies much more expenisve for regional markets.

        1. Joe Informatico says:

          I remember Steam payments used to show up charged to an American corporation and converted to Canadian dollars on my credit card statements, and then a couple of years ago they changed over to a Canadian corporation with charges in Canadian dollars. I assumed Valve had finally set up proper branches in other countries or cut deals with local financial institutions to make things smoother on the legal and financial fronts.

          I’m wondering if those regional arrangements give Valve better currency conversion rates, or maybe transaction savings that they can pass along to their customers, and Epic doesn’t have similar arrangements in place yet and that’s why they can’t match Steam prices in foreign markets.

          1. Redrock says:

            As far as I know, it’s not nearly that complex. Valve allows developers to manually adjust their prices in local currencies to whatever they please. However, Valve also provides recommended “default” regiona; prices, and I’ve read somewhere that many indie developers never bother adjusting them. It would appear that Valve has a policy of aggressively discounting indie titles in certain regions – maybe they have data that supports that approach, can’t really say.

            1. CloverMan-88 says:

              The worst part is that they no longer provide default regional prices, so since Steam started converting U.S. prices to my regional currency I’m not able to buy some games AT ALL until the developer sets up a proper price, which didn’t happen for more than a year for some older games on my wishlist.

    2. Asdasd says:

      I have to agree that exclusives do not make me enthusiastic about getting on board with a platform. Though I would make a distinction when it comes to making your own games, or games you personally funded, exclusive to your platform. This doesn’t thrill me but it does seem like a fair use of your prerogative. Whereas bribing a third party to make their game exclusive to you, when it could otherwise reasonably have been expected to be available on multiple platforms, is something I believe in bird culture they call a dick move.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        I’d like exclusive games, and vendor-lock-in generally, to not be a thing anymore. It’s incredibly frustrating. :S

      2. Decius says:

        It’s one kind of dick move to bribe a developer with special treatment for making their game exclusive.

        It’s a different thing entirely to give everyone five bucks more when a customer pays $30 for a game on your platform than the other guy does.

        In the latter case, I feel like Steam could easily compete by cutting their take.

      3. Marr says:

        It’s not exactly platform exclusivity in the console sense, where you have to drop several hundred on a unique piece of hardware to gain access to the games. It’s just an application you have to run briefly on the same device that plays your Steam games, after which the game is installed and can be launched like any other standalone Windows program.

    3. Agammamon says:

      Exclusivity only works if you’ve got a game that everyone wants to play.

      I bit the bullet and bought FO76 from Bethesda’s store (and then refunded it a couple days later – god its bad). I haven’t even considered buying State of Decay 2 from the Windows store. It’ll be interesting to see how many ‘underperforming’ games (because they’re all underperforming every time according to the big publishers) are doing so not because the game isn’t any good but because no one wants to make an *another* account on a shitty storefront to get access to a single publisher’s games.

      1. Decius says:

        It also works if you’ve got a lot of games, such that everyone wants to play at least one of them.

    4. Decius says:

      Having a few months of exclusivity would pull me to the platform once something I was looking forward to made me aware of it. I can’t imagine that it would cost that much in total sales.

  3. Asdasd says:

    So here’s my (admittedly mild and more than a little selfish) concern: if being more generous with the store cut improves financial viability for the developer, doesn’t it also necessarily harm financial viability for the platform holder? Not that Steam or Epic are in danger of going out of business any time soon, but what if a smaller player, say Discord, then feels the need to get drawn into an arms race of offering developers ever increasing percentages from game sales? It isn’t possible that someone might get competed out of the market. What then for all their customers?

    I know that ethically I should be concerned for the financial well-being of the developers in this ruthless market environment, and of course I welcome changes that give them a greater share of their own success. But am I obliged to be okay with it even to the (theoretical) point where it puts a chunk of my library at risk?

    1. Asdasd says:

      *impossible. The daily reminder that messing around with your post is as likely to create typos as to fix them. ¬.¬

    2. Redrock says:

      It’s funny that most coverage of the Epic Store was focused on the developers’ perspective, and not the consumers’, even though adding games to Epic’s library is just half of the job. I have no dount that a number of developers would be interested in working with Epic, both exclusively and alongside other storefronts. But the Epic Store doesn’t look that attractive to consumers at this point.

    3. John says:

      I think it’s telling that all of the newer digital games platforms–Twitch, Discord, and now Epic–have branched into games sales from other, presumably profitable businesses. Even if they eventually decide to close down their stores, your games are probably going to be safe, at least for a little while.

      1. Kylroy says:

        Twitch and Discord also get around one of the biggest problems facing a new store – “Oh god, not another icon on my desktop”.

      2. sadfweqrfsdveartgd says:

        Discord is all VC money with no monetization plan as far as I can tell for their core product (voice/text chat). I would not consider them safe at all.

        Twitch probably is revenue positive though, and has a huge backer, so probably safe.

        1. Mechaninja says:

          Discord is free voice chat. From the perspective of a WoW raider, nearly everyone has abandoned Teamspeak, Mumble, Skype, and I forget the other one, to move to Discord. The ease of management, persistence, and channel stuff has even caused a significant number of guilds to abandon the idea of guild websites. I’m not kidding when I say nearly everyone: PVPers kept using skype until Discord happened, and even some scammers and goldfarmers are using Discord.

          Sometime last year, Discord Nitro became a thing, where you get a bunch of features like an animated avatar and more emojis.

          Now with the game store, they’re going to offer two tiers of Nitro: for $4.99, you get the old set of features, and for $9.99, you get those features plus a rotating set of free games from the game store.

          So, they’ve got a bunch of folks hooked on Discord for voice chat. You can friend people in Discord, including pulling Steam, Battlenet, and (I forget what other services) friends if you set it up.

          All of this adds up to a bunch of that overhead Shamus talked about being bypassed.

          Epic’s store looks fine, but this Discord thing looks to me a lot more like a serious move.

          VC or no (and no one is more down on VCs than me, I assure you), it looks like a safe bet to me.

    4. Agammamon says:

      . . . doesn’t it also necessarily harm financial viability for the platform holder?

      It can – but it often doesn’t.

      If you can cut your price by 10% but then sell 25% more you’re in a *better* financial position.

      In this case, Steam cutting its take may mean the difference between 10% of a lot of $60 dollar sales or no money at all.

    5. Echo Tango says:

      If you’re worried about games becoming unavailable because the company went bankrupt, while the game was otherwise technologically playable, then DRM-free games is the answer. Support GOG, and sign petitions for other platforms to do the same. Hell, even Apple changed to DRM-free music a while ago.

      1. Droid says:

        Hell, even Apple changed to DRM-free music a while ago.

        Huh? That’s great news! Last thing I heard was that their new music player or whatever was locking people out of their own files on their own computer because they did something stupid similar to YouTube’s Content ID system, but for music. Which worked especially great for people currently in the process of making new music…

        Now that I think about it, did that really happen? I’m trying to search for it, but come up empty right now (don’t know what to search for exactly).

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          I remember hearing about that too way back. At work so can’t do a proper search but rushing I found this although it dates back to 2016 so assuming the issue was resolved it would explain why it was somewhat buried. Searching for stuff like “itunes deletes music from hard drive” seems to give more results.

    6. Decius says:

      If a platform is about to go out of business, me, Jason Scott, and GoFundMe will buy it at the fire sale and put it back online, at least as a platform to deliver what has already been sold, long enough.

      (I haven’t actually checked with Jason Scott, it just sounds like that would be the kind of thing he does.)

    7. Richard says:

      Running an online storefront is really, really cheap.
      They’re commodity software, your only real cost to set one up is theming it and sorting out a payment processor.
      – If you’re someone like Epic, EA etc, you’ve already got entire departments dedicated creating and maintaining an online presence.

      So your only real cost is the payment processor. How much does that cost?

      One of the most expensive payment processors is Paypal, as it’s available to anyone, even a nobody like me.
      Paypal charge people like me 3.4% plus 20p.

      So on a £10 game, that’s a payment processor cut of 54 pence.
      You could have a storefront using Paypal and charge the developers a mere 7% and still make a really good margin.

      And remember, Paypal are expensive.
      Someone like EA or Epic is going to be able to get far better deals, likely direct with Visa, Mastercard etc.

  4. Dreadjaws says:

    I really don’t think Epic is off to a good start at all. See, the way to attract business is to offer convenience to the consumer. You can be as convenient to the developer all you want, if the client is not happy your business is bound to fail. Have you seen the Epic Store? It looks like a half-an-hour template work done by an amateur. The “They’re new” excuse doesn’t fly here: they’ve had years of examples, good and bad, to draw from.

    Here’s the thing: people hate exclusives. They were and still are a major point of contention with the release of Origin. They’re not gonna be happy that they’re now being forced to use yet another service if they want to play certain games. Granted, it’s still not as problematic as it is on consoles, where you have to spend $400 in new hardware to play exclusives, but still.

    Also important, AAA developers are going to be harder to lull into making exclusives, and like it or not, they’re going to be the ones shifting the tides. That’s why Steam is offering them the extra revenue and not the indies. The one thing that might work to attract AAA developers is the waiving of the Unreal Engine 4’s royalties (which you seem to have forgotten to mention in the article), but I don’t know, only time will tell.

    The real thing to remember is that Epic will only reach a competitor status if Valve decides to lie dormant and do nothing when they see their profits wither away. All Valve has to do is offer a bit more convenience to the users and that’s the end of it.

    Make no mistake, I think Steam definitely needs some competition, but as a consumer I still don’t see any reason to use the Epic Store over it. It’ll be a waiting game.

    1. Redrock says:

      Epic does have a great theoretical advantage: its Store is also the Fortnite launcher. What this means is that there are thousands of people who’ve maybe never used Steam before or at least aren’t heavily invested in any existing PC storefront, and Epic Launcher/Store becomes their gateway into PC gaming. Epic is obviously playing the long game here. It may very well be possible that they’re counting on Fortnite’s ability to usher in a whole new generation of initially very casual PC gamers for whom Epic Store would become the first major PC storefront. And if that’s not their intention, I don’t know what is.

      1. Tizzy says:

        Actually, I’ve been wondering if the store idea came about from brainstorming the future of Fortnite: as in, we have this ridiculously large and engaged user base, how can we leverage this into a next step before the wave collapses.

        1. eldomtom2 says:

          I have strong doubts about the abillity of the Fortnite audience to turn into one that buys indie games.

          1. Redrock says:

            Why? We all got into gaming somehow. And a lot of started with arcade games, platformers or whatever else, not Baldur’s Gate or Journey. Don’t see why a kid who started with Fortnite can’t be interested in a space sim or a cartoony hack’n’slash.

            1. eldomtom2 says:

              You probably didn’t go straight from Mario to Journey though. And you paid for Mario.

              1. Sleeping Dragon says:

                I’m not sure where to start because I don’t want to adress something that you didn’t explicitly say but on the one hand I wouldn’t dismiss Fornite players like that, on the other a lot of indie games have good production values and actiony appeal.

      2. Ronan says:

        A very important point not discussed by Shamus is that in addition to their store, Epic is opening their platform to developers regardless of wether their game is sold on the epic store. (Here is Kyle Orland’s paper on ars => https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2018/12/epic-offering-free-access-to-fortnites-cross-platform-infrastructure/ ).

        It is not there yet and according to the schedule it will not be before the end of 2019, but I think it could become a major selling point for them towards non-AAA developers.
        All developpers who don’t have their own achievements, cloud saves, friends list, and matchmaking infrastructure rely on steam’s, other store’s, and console makers platforms.

        But, if instead of implementing these features for each store and console that sells their games, they could just use Epic’s solution and have cross-platform everything built-in, why would they not ?

        Then players will begin to have several games for which their achievements, friends lists, etc are linked to epic and their store.
        If Epic plays its cards well it could be determining in making players see their store as a platform for any game (like they see steam today) instead of seeing it as another useless launcher (like origin and uplay)

    2. slug camargo says:

      I really don’t think Epic is off to a good start at all. See, the way to attract business is to offer convenience to the consumer. You can be as convenient to the developer all you want, if the client is not happy your business is bound to fail. Have you seen the Epic Store? It looks like a half-an-hour template work done by an amateur. The “They’re new” excuse doesn’t fly here: they’ve had years of examples, good and bad, to draw from.

      I’m pretty annoyed that not a single article about the Epic store mentions this point. As a potential customer, I find zero incentive to use the thing at this moment. “It’s not as bad as Uplay/Origin/Windows Store” is nowhere near enough. As I’ve been saying in every comment section I come across, the store doesn’t even have a wishlist! Fanatical actually synchronizes with my Steam wishlist and offers a browser plugin that keeps track of games I read about in pretty much any website!

      The one time I saw the point brought up in an article, Tim Sweeney sounded borderline dismissive:

      Q: From the gamer’s perspective, why should they shop at the Epic store as opposed to the marketplaces they already buy from?
      A: It’s a lightweight storefront that’s convenient to use, and gives developers a better deal.

      “Convenient to use” is about the only part of that sentence that carries any weight, and even that is arguable.

      I mean, good for the developers on the bigger cut, but quite frankly I’m much more concerned about my own convenience. I don’t care about their income any more than they care about how much impact in my own economy would mean to buy their games.

      1. Narkis says:

        Yeah, it seems their game plan is to be much worse to the consumer than Steam, draw developers by being more generous with them, and use exclusives to leave no choice but to use their store and make point #1 not count. From what I hear they are against any kind of community, having no forums, no user reviews, and a much more odious refund policy. Good on the developers, but I’m never going to support policies like these. I was looking forward to Rebel Galaxy, but I’d rather not play it at all than use the Epic store as it is.

        1. John says:

          I don’t consider a lack of forums or user reviews a serious negative. There are plenty of places to talk about games on the internet already. User reviews are very seldom helpful. They’re all too often either gushing or damning and content-lite. And sometimes, thanks to review bombing, they’re not even about the game.

          1. Redrock says:

            I agree that forums aren’t necessary, but I’ve found that on average Steam user reviews can be quite helpful. They’re generally better than Metactritic user reviews, and despite cases of review bombing I think that most Steam user scores end up being reflective of the game’s quality. And despite review bombings, Steam reviews are also one of the few places where you can get useful first-hand impressions of a game’s technical performance, common issues, etc. Yes, some of the complaints are along the lines of “doesn’t run at OVER 9000 FPS, LITERALLY UNPLAYABLE”, but that’s far from the norm.

          2. Moridin says:

            I usually find user reviews pretty helpful, as long as you ignore everyone who gives the product 5 stars. I certainly find them more trustworthy than most game journalists.

        2. Carlos García says:

          Yeah. I saw a video (by Forcegaming I think) explaining it. It struck me as the kind of evilness I’d expect from EA. Refunds will be done easy with no question asked! But they demand you to answer a number of questions on things that are a huge pain in the ass and that I doubt anyone ever checks. Not only it means you get to keep detailed logs on your IP at the moment of purchase and other such info for each purchase you make, but I also feel (may be wrong here) the suspicion it would be extremely easy for them to claim something doesn’t check to refuse refunds without the user having any chance to recheck and contest. For me that’s a big red flag, so I won’t be using it.

          I wouldn’t even be surprised (not that I bet on getting that far, mind you) if some time in the future a scandal surged that Epic Games had contracts with companies to manipulate in some way how they handle refunds. I get no extras from you? All refunds will be accepted, you’ll be the escape goat to show I do refunds. You give me some extra? Okay I’ll make sure refunds don’t exceed 5% or whatever of your sales. You give me a lot? Whooops, we got a glitch that corrupts the data on the sales of your games so won’t be able to fulfill refunds, perhaps a handful so we have some refunds to show. Screenshot of Joaquim Phoenix and the other two with tinfoil hats in the Signals movie.gif.

  5. John says:

    Rather than repeat the things I said about the Epic store and client on Monday, I will instead describe how I ended up with GOG, Steam, and Humble accounts. Epic, please take notes.

    GOG: Free Dungeon Keeper. I had a potato of a computer at the time, but it was more than enough to handle DOSBox. For that reason, GOG was much more appealing to me than Steam, which as far as I knew was where all the high-falutin’ fancy-pants games for non-potatos lived. I didn’t appreciate the lack of client or DRM until later. I thought both those things were normal. Silly me.

    Steam: The demo for Bastion. I forget exactly when or how or even why I checked the system requirements for Bastion and discovered it might run on my potato. I wasn’t completely confident that it would work and wasn’t in the mood to take any chances. I was thrilled to find that there was a demo if a little annoyed that the demo was only available on Steam, but, as the demo was free, I saw no harm in getting a Steam account. Bastion ran just fine on the potato as it turned out, so I bought it on GOG. But I had a Steam account now which means that I was susceptible to:

    Humble: The Humble Firaxis Bundle. Look, they were offering three Civilization games, Pirates!, XCOM and Enemy Within, and more besides for practically peanuts. I’m not made of stone. My potato couldn’t handle anything beyond Civilization IV, but even so it was still a bargain. I’ve got an all new, non-potato system now, so I’ve played just about everything in the bundle at this point and I can confidently state that the Humble Firaxis Bundle was the single best gaming purchase I have ever made.

    So what would it take to get me to open an Epic store account? If history is any guide, free games and low, low prices. They’re doing the free games. I’m not sure about the prices. The one little wrinkle is that I went pure-Linux a year or two after Microsoft discontinued support for Windows XP and the Epic store doesn’t support my OS. Some of the developers releasing games on the store do–all of Supergiant’s released games have Linux versions–so the store may get there eventually. I guess we’ll see.

  6. Profugo Barbatus says:

    Now I’m a sucker for convenience, but I also am willing to go to small ends to help out smaller devs. I couldn’t care less about how EA does, but I’ll gladly help the Rebel Galaxy guys make a bit extra. Plus the idea of an actually curated storefront has me hopeful that I can have a storefront where opening the ‘New’ tab on it won’t lead to garbage.

    I’ll probably buy the new Rebel Galaxy on this Epic launcher, and if it falls apart, I’ll just buy it on steam after the exclusivity window and abandon that mess. Worst case scenario, I bought a decent indie game twice. Best case scenario, the market gets some much needed competition.

    1. Redrock says:

      Yeah, Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is a major selling point for me as well. I’m really, really looking forward to that game.

    2. Marr says:

      I would be astounded if Double Damage allowed a hypothetical shutdown of the Epic store to render their game unplayable to their customers. They’d patch the problem out somehow.

  7. What Epic has done by only taking a 12% cut is good for the industry. Discord will only take 10%, but then they aren’t offering to waive the loyalty for a game engine.

    Clearly both Epic and Discord (and Epic states as much) that they can afford to maintain the platform and still make a good profit. I don’t recall if Epic gave a number on that, but let’s assume that 5% if pure profit and the rest is operational costs (although in Epics case the scale of it may make the operational cost even lower).

    Steam will have to reduce it’s percentage to retain developers. After all if a fame is good the players will come to the service(s) that has the game.

    Discord and Epic’s stores are close enough in cut that developers won’t feel they’ll get cheated on one platform vs the other.
    Also, Discord is highly curated (or stated to be) so it’s competing more with GOG that with Epic. I can’t recall what cut GOG takes but it’s probably lower than steam (but not as low as Discord).
    Personally I think anything above a 15% cut is too much (this leaves 85% to the developers); steam is like twice that. Steam should just slash their base/low sale number “cut” in half.

    1. Just did a quick peek at Steam and Discord and GOG and Epic stores.
      On Steam, DIscord and GOG the title “Darksiders III” costs 540 NOK (€ 54.36 EUR), while on Epic store it’s 595 NOK (€59,99 EUR).

      Not sure why it’s higher on Epic. But it’s nice to see price parity on the other stores as consumers won’t feel cheated and can just choose the store/service they prefer.

      As a developer though Discord gives the best profit margin and steam the least on Darksiders III, and Epic is just a higher price overall so obviously that will earn the most.

      It’s hard to do comparisons with Epic Store as the selection is too small to do a proper cross-store cost comparison.

  8. Alan says:

    About time we started seeing some competition on the platform cut. It sure was an amazing fucking coincidence that the market decided that the cut for doing digital delivery for video games, music, movies, and books was exactly 30%.

  9. Eigil says:

    The idea of competing on price (for the developer/publisher) is so braindead simple, it’s really astounding that no other digital distribution platform seems to have tried it.

    1. Matt Downie says:

      Let’s say you’re opening a new e-store, and a 30% cut is the standard. Do you take that cut, or do you take, say, 15% instead?

      If you take a 15% cut, the developers get 21% more income (because $85 is 21% more than $70). Which is good for them, but if your platform isn’t already popular, their sales on it will be so low it won’t help them much. Meanwhile, the customers aren’t any better off, since the savings aren’t passed on to them. And you? You’ve just agreed to throw away half your potential income forever.

      That’s a hard concept to sell to shareholders.

      1. Adam Souza says:

        That’s not what they’re doing. Epic has the single most popular game of the moment in Fortnite. Statistically speaking, if you’re into pc games there’s a fair chance you (the rhetorical “you”) already have the client on your PC. That means they already have an install base before you sell anyone anything. I now own subnautica and ashen because the former was free, the latter was cheap, and I didn’t have to download ANY new storefront software or make ANY new account because I took an afternoon to get Fortnite set up for the kids of a friend months ago. That’s something that not a lot of platforms can take advantage of.

        1. Matt Downie says:

          Whether your initial install base is high or low, sacrificing half of your income in the hope of attracting more developers is still a fairly bold idea. Even if it works out, and at some point in the future they’re making a billion dollars a year from their storefront, there’ll still be someone saying, “We could have been making two billion dollars a year! Your strategy cost us billions!”

          1. Sleeping Dragon says:

            …and if it goes belly up someone will say “if we had a bigger cut we’d profit from the store enough to keep it going”, and if it went belly up without lowering their cut someone would say “if we had a lower cut we’d attract more developers”, and if the storefront becomes sentient and takes over the world someone will say…

            What I’m saying is we should wait and see what happens to the store in a year and even then we probably won’t honestly know what the numbers looked like and what went right or wrong.

    2. John says:

      You might well think so, but that’s not always the case. Consider a market with a small number of sellers. For simplicity, let’s say that there are just two, A and B. How should B set prices relative to A? If B charges more than A, everyone buys from A. If B charges less than A, everyone buys from B. If they charge the same price, they split the market between them. It looks like B should charge less than A, but remember that if B can lower prices then so can A. If B charges less than A, it will start a race to the bottom and the two firms will end up splitting the market at a very low price. Neither A nor B wants that outcome, so neither tries very hard to undercut the other’s price. This sort of thing is referred to as “tacit collusion” because it results in collusion-like prices even though no actual collusion has occurred.

      1. ayegill says:

        This analogy just doesn’t seem to describe the current digital distribution market. If 95% of consumers choose A (because of network effects, say), then B should really be looking for some way of differentiating themselves. This is doubly true if every sale that A makes costs them money, e.g. Steam and EA.

        In fact, if Shamus is right that escaping from the Steam tax was the main motivation for creating Origin, if Valve cuts the steam tax down to operating costs, they’re giving EA exactly what they want. Who cares whether or not Origin is making a significant amount of money at that point – EA just increased the income of their PC titles by 30 / 70 = 43%.
        And that’s pure profit! (Assuming Origin at least breaks even – but even if it doesn’t, this outcome is great for EA)

        1. John says:

          I was speaking in a general sense about why we don’t see price wars as often as we might expect. I assumed a relatively stable market, one without much in the way of entry by new firms and exit by old ones. We are most likely to see price wars when a new firm enters the market. The new firm starts with zero market share and has less to lose from price competition than an incumbent firm, which seems to be what’s going on with Epic. There are non-price forms of competition as well, which is where things like wishlists, friends lists, forums, cloud saves, etc. come in.

  10. Joshua says:

    A nice side effect would Valve deciding to stop resting on their laurels and start making games instead. Yeah, I know they said that they were going to do that, but they’re obviously infamous for leaving a lot of well-developed IP stagnant, so more action and less promises would be good.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      I don’t know about making games but I’d appreciate if they maybe tried paying more attention to, you know, Steam. Though at this point I’m not sure that platform can improve without a major overhaul. That said, personally I think people are overstating the importance of Epic store launch for the overall situation on the video game market, but maybe this will be the proverbial straw.

  11. Darren says:

    I know there will be people furious at me for daring to consider it, but GOG has also had some PR blunders this year that made them seem to lean a bit towards some alt-right positions, and that has made me and some people I know a touch leery about supporting them. Public perception does matter, and all else being equal I’m going to fund the people who don’t send up red flags.

    And just to head off the people who will demand I cite my reasoning, here’s a round-up from Eurogamer:

    https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2018-12-05-troubling-gog-tweets-a-fired-cd-projekt-employee-and-the-spectre-of-gamergate

    1. Redrock says:

      I mean…it was one social media manager making a couple of bad jokes, who was since fired. The extent to which the jokes were “alt-right” or just in poor taste is, at least, debatable, but perhaps not here. I thought they were mostly just bad jokes that failed to grasp the American context for some memes and phrases. My point is that saying that this blunder made by a single person raises red flags about the company as a whole is a bit odd – nothing CD Projekt has ever said or done hints at them being “alt-right, or even, you know, regular vanilla right. Of course, the choice whom to support or not is entirely up to you, and if you feel uncomfortable purchasing CD Projekt products, you’re totally within your rights.

      1. Grimwear says:

        It’s actually worse than that. And what that eurogamer article does not mention is that once people found out he’d gotten a new job working for Exclusively Games (and ignoring what anyone thinks of Jeremy Hambly) people started a harassment campaign against him and even against his parents so we he was forced to quit. He’s straight up left the industry because mobs will just harass him for anything he does nowadays. McCarthyism 2.0 is going strong…hurray.

        1. Wiseman says:

          You may think he faces social consequences too harsh for what he has said, yet it is condemnable to compare this to government trials of perceived discidents without charge. This is McCarthyism in your head only.

          1. Grimwear says:

            I disagree. Instead of governments conducting the witch hunts we now get mob justice. I really am a big fan of this ted talk and recommend it to anyone to watch. I especially love the part where people who are on the “right” side of an argument can get away with worse deeds than those accused.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAIP6fI0NAI

            And I would disagree it’s in my head only, rather rude of you to say but heck even here in Canada we had a case going to court over one man’s tweets. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R_v_Elliott

            Not only did he lose his job since he could not touch a computer while the case was under way, but the group who brought the accusations forth even created a fake profile that made it seem like he spewed homophobic remarks and vitriol, they conducted a harassment campaign against a coffee shop that put up a piece of his artwork, and let’s not forget this whole thing started because he disagreed with them going around trying to make sure that a kid who made a punch em up flash game would never be able to find employment.

            I’ll admit we haven’t hit thousands of people being blacklisted or imprisoned but it’s dang scary when people are going through years of your online history in order to ruin your life because you disagree with what they say. So I’m sorry you don’t agree with my reference to McCarthyism but I maintain my position as valid.

    2. Narkis says:

      I really, really doubt anyone is going to be furious at you for anything like that. As a European I find this mindset very odd, making mountains out of molehills. But it is a discussion rightfully banned here. And you are certainly within your rights to spend your money however you wish.

    3. Distec says:

      I am seriously struggling to even fathom what exactly the ‘alt-right positions’ of a digital game storefront would manifest as.

      1. Viktor says:

        The storefront, not really*, but the games being sold(such as, say, Cyberpunk) are definitely going to take political positions, and many people aren’t going to want bigoted politics as a part of their leisure time. Add in a lot of people not wanting their money going to a company that makes a joke out of harassment etc and there’s definitely reason to avoid CD Projekt Red’s new venture.

        *though you’d be surprised how politics can inform things like accessibility features and user profile options

        1. Shamus says:

          Oh, look. A GamerGate thread. And here’s Viktor, jumping right into it. I realize it’s terribly important to investigate what companies might be secretly harboring people guilty of wrongthink, but do it on someone else’s site.

          Topic closed.

  12. Thomas says:

    I don’t think Steam is worth the three consoles combined. I picked what I thought would be a PC friendly game – Rainbow Six Siege – and the Ps4 Trophy leak says there are 15 million PS4 copies. Steam Spy estimates there are 5-10 million steam copies.

    The PC gaming market includes things like Facebook games, hidden adventure games, Korean free to play MMOs as well as the normal core games. Given that mobile gaming is much bigger than anything else, I could see that being a decent chunk.

    Fortnite, League of Legends and Minecraft are probably a sizeable other chunk and all are somewhat independent of Steam.

  13. Liessa says:

    I’m all for more competition between game stores, in theory. The problem is that that’s not what seems to be happening with Epic’s store – instead, they’re simply taking games that would otherwise have been Steam-exclusive and making them Epic-inclusive instead. This is the exact opposite of competition, and it’s in no way good for the consumer. They’re now stuck with paying the same price for games on a store with far fewer features – no forums, no user reviews or ratings, no wishlist, no community content, and yet another unwanted, unneeded launcher to grapple with.

    I can totally understand why devs would want to take a larger cut of the sale price, and I’m fine with that. The problem is that the advantages here are all on the developers’ side, not the customers’. If you want actual ‘competition’ between stores, what devs ought to be doing is offering their games for sale on both platforms (or preferably, lots of platforms) and giving customers some incentive to choose Epic over the others (lower prices would be the obvious choice, since they’ll be making a higher profit there anyway). But of course they’re not doing that, because they’re just as happy to support Epic having a monopoly over their games as they previously were with Steam. It’s actually a really worrying trend from a gamer’s perspective, and a handful of free games isn’t enough to make up for that.

    1. Thomas says:

      In the long-run there will be benefit. At the moment Steam have their audience _and_ developers locked in. A store could have the best customer service in the world, but it wouldn’t threaten Steam because supporting multiple stores is a pain and so the developers wouldn’t move over.

      If Epic manage to hatch the egg and get a significant enough number of developers on board to start capturing the audience, then you’ll see Steam and Epic begin to compete in other ways for the audience.

      Plus, diverting money from the stores to developers _is_ beneficial to gamers. Steam just uses that money to get rich because they don’t need to compete. But developers have to compete for gamers attention, so extra financial stability will end up getting put into making better games.

      1. Liessa says:

        I really hope you’re right (and that Epic’s store improves over time), but I’m not especially optimistic about the chances. I haven’t noticed the proliferation of other dev-exclusive stores such as Origin leading to improved customer service, or better games from those developers.

        1. Thomas says:

          The thing is, none of those stores have been successful. They have no customer base and no games library. If Epic isn’t successful it will just be another one of many. It’s when we get a successful store that Steam is going to have to step-up it’s game and we’ll see genuine competition.

      2. eldomtom2 says:

        If they have a bunch of developers making Epic-exclusive games, what incentive is there to improve things for the consumer?

  14. Kerning Chameleon says:

    One thing I don’t see talked about very much in all this is Epic’s mobile store.

    While the PC client might not be so bad, the infosec drone in me really despises Epic training kids to break good security practices on their parents’ phones and download dubiously secure third-party apps and app stores onto said phones just to play the games they want. That’s a recipe for security exploit and malware abuse if I ever heard one, and I imagine we’re going to hear all sorts of Epic app store horror stories in the coming months.

    I suppose it’s necessary to break Valve out of their lazy rut of playing PC games taxman without fulfilling the responsibilities of being a de facto government. I guess.

  15. Galenloke says:

    With more and more news of game storefronts appearing, I’m curious if anyone else here has come up with a way to consolidate their shopping. It’s a pain to manage wishlists on every site (for those that have them… looking at you discord) and comparison shop between the growing number of vendors. For my part I just stumbled upon cheapshark (most, but not all the popular digital stores), and generally just add all my non-steam games to my steam library to keep everything organized.

    More theoretically, how do you think multiplayer is going to be affected? One thing that is keeping me more loyal to steam is my friends list and the ease of connecting via steam. Even buying new games I have to stop and question who I know has the game on which service. I seriously doubt we’ll see steam playing nice this way, but other than messing with public IPs what’s the solution to breaking steam’s hold? Personally I’m hoping that if any of these storefronts starts to gain ground on steam one of them will make this a feature, maybe like a good version of hamachi.

    1. Liessa says:

      Re point 1: try gg.deals? Apparently it allows you to import wishlists from other sites. I haven’t tried it myself and don’t know what their TOS is like etc., but it does look useful.

  16. shoeboxjeddy says:

    “Today sales of PC games is equal to all three of the other platforms combined.” Wait… what? Where did this figure come from? As I understand it, this is not true at all?

    1. Matthew Downie says:

      Here’s a story backing up the claim:
      https://www.dsogaming.com/news/pc-games-sales-in-2017-are-almost-as-big-all-console-sales-combined/
      PC: 28%
      All consoles combined: 29%
      Mobile: 43%

      1. shoeboxjeddy says:

        This data is… mysterious. Like are they taking the sales figures of microtransactions from Fortnite and calling that PC revenue? Or does that not even factor and it’s all sales of games only? It’s very interesting to see digital vs physical sales as that data is almost always obscured from outsiders. This definitely does change my view on certain things and makes it confusing to me when PC versions of major games are ignored or held back for a long period of time.

    2. Shamus says:

      https://newzoo.com/insights/articles/global-games-market-reaches-137-9-billion-in-2018-mobile-games-take-half/

      Mobile games are 50%
      PC is 25%
      The other three platforms share the other 25%.

      Yes, it’s weird.

  17. Grimwear says:

    All these new storefronts are dumb when it comes to handling business. Having Origin give away old games to get people to show up doesn’t really do much when their library of games is so small. Anything you get is either really old and is no longer selling, or didn’t sell and is therefore not selling. I know day one dlc is crap and a terrible practice but let’s pretend this is the release of Mass Effect 3 again. Here’s what I would have done with Origin. You put up ME3 on steam and Origin. You have your 60 dollar base game and the 70 dollar deluxe that comes with the dlc attached, and then sell the 10 dollar dlc separate. Now for the first month of the game’s release you don’t have the deluxe available or the dlc available on ORIGIN. What you have instead is a “loyalty” bonus. If you buy ME3 on Origin you get that day 1 dlc for free. Your goal is to grow your platform, and giving people incentives is great. It’s best for the customer (if you really don’t want Origin and want it on Steam no matter what then you need to pay a small fee of 10 dollars for the content) since they have choice and best for Origin because if the customers buys on Origin they get 60 dollars and if they buy on steam they get 42/49 dollars which is better than the 0 they would from people who refuse to migrate no matter what. This isn’t even new. Cable and internet companies are constantly giving out free stuff and bonuses to get you to swap to their services. Yes you’ll have some angry people saying it’s unfair but it comes down to the customer refusing the deal just sitting there for anyone to take, it’s not EA’s fault that you’re too obstinate to switch. To be fair I’d be one of the people who would have bought it on steam because I refuse to download Origin but hey that would have given EA 49 more dollars in their pocket than what they did get from me for ME3 which was 0.

  18. adam says:

    Shamus, I think you may be misunderstanding EA’s Origin. With Origin Access, they’re clearly positioning it less as an alternative to Steam and more of a vehicle for a subscription to a large, curated game library.

    As of this writing they have about 170 games available, most of which can be played without limit for the equivalent of $2.50 per month, including a lot of flagship EA games and a ton of high quality indie games, and they add new ones regularly (I want to say they’ve added about 50 over the past year). The very newest EA games (about 10 of them, I think) can be accessed in the next subscription tier, which you can get for the equivalent of about $8 per month.

    I have no love for EA but by almost any measure it’s a pretty great value.

  19. Steve C says:

    I’m still right there at the opinion of STEAMing pile of filth. I’ve never moved from that opinion. The only thing that has changed since then is it is possible to use throwaway email addresses with Steam. This is what I do when I have no other choice.

    If Epic’s storefront is like Steam then I will consider it malware in the same way that I consider Steam malware. A storefront has to keep their hands off my computer. This is why I like GoG.

  20. Ivan says:

    Far as I understand it GOG has no real focus on retro games whatsoever anymore, they try (and often fail) to get basically every game they possibly can. Just, publishers are leery of their strict no-DRM stance, so modern AAA games come out less often there, or years later. Pity, really, i much prefer to buy from them for multiple reasons, compared to steam, not least being their games actually work, mostly.

    1. Steve C says:

      I have to disagree based on the GOG advertisements I get in my inbox. GOG still has a retro focus.

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