In my column this week, I circle back and talk about the Epic vs. Valve thing we discussed on the podcast a couple of weeks ago. For years I’ve wanted someone to come in and really stand up to Valve and give them a proper run for their money. Epic is finally doing it, and their approach is so frustrating that I just can’t cheer for them.
During my research for this column I ran into this gem. That’s apparently the feature roadmap for the Epic Games Store. It is simultaneously really ambitious and yet much too slow. If they keep this schedule, then the EGS team is going to be rolling out features at a really impressive rate. At the same time, I can’t believe we have to wait over half a year for friggin’ SHOPPING CARTS, and gifting is probably ~1 year away.
Like I’ve said in the past, I think Epic would be on much better footing if they’d just rolled out some of these features before they started with exclusives. Or, they could have taken what they paid for exclusives and used it to buy the rights to give away N copies on the EGS. While some people are opposed to the exclusives on principle, others would be willing to tolerate it if the platform itself wasn’t so barebones. Likewise, people who show up for a free copy of a game are less likely to complain about missing features because “Hey, you can’t complain about free things” is a common mindsetNot for me, though. I’ll complain about anything..
In any case, this is going to be a long process. Epic is clearly here for a fight and I don’t see them giving up anytime soon. It’s really hard to predict what will happen over the next couple of years. As Epic reaches approximate apparent feature parityGetting REAL feature parity with Steam will take years, because global networks and global transactions take time and expertise to set up. But the vast majority of people are looking for basic features like reviews and mod support. with Steam, will the public warm up to it? 18 months from now, will the general public still be holding a grudge over the Metro Exodus and Borderlands 3 exclusives, or will all be forgotten / forgiven once Epic feels like a proper games platform?
In the more immediate future: Is Epic going to continue signing exclusives? Sure, CEO Tim Sweeney seems fond of them, but there’s probably a diminishing returns effect going on here. If giving a million bucks to a team for a lifetime exclusive only results in a few thousand new users to EGS, then that’s a terrible investment. What would be the “worth it” threshold for Epic? What are they willing to pay per new user?
My guess is that Valve isn’t about to change their behavior. I know these exclusives are a big deal to us consumers, but to Valve? They’re nothing. The loss of Metro Exodus means so little to the Steam bottom line. Epic would have to become an immense threat before Valve would have an incentive to lower their cut. I can’t see that happening in the near-term.
You might argue that Epic’s antics could have an impact on Steam because Valve did eventually, grudgingly, introduce returns thanks to market pressure. That means it is possible to get this behemoth to move. Then again, returns seem very small compared to lowering the cutThen again, this article suggests that 8 to 9 percent of goods purchased at stores get returned and 25 to 30 percent of online goods are sent back. I don’t know if those numbers map cleanly to digital goods, but it’s easy to imagine how returns can eat into your bottom line. It’s possible that Valve already experienced a non-trivial reduction in income back when they began offering returns, and they seemed to survive just fine.. If Valve lowers their cut from 30% to 20% – which is still far more than EGS is taking – that would mean the company willingly giving up a thirdA THIRD!!!!Why, that’s almost as much as developers give to THEM. of their gross revenue. For a lot of companies, that kind of drop in income isn’t even survivable. Valve is a private company so we have no clue how the company’s financials work. But unless Gabe Newell is taking all the Steam profits and spending everything on fidget spinners, the company is probably using all of that money for something. Salaries? Infrastructure? R&D? It’s hard to say, but it’s easier to grow a company than to shrink it. Like I said in my Escapist article, Valve spends quite a bit on infrastructure.
It’s impossible to know what Valve might be thinking.
- Oh wow. We lost several high-profile titles to EGS in just a couple of months. If this trend continues, it could be ruinous. We need to lower our cut so that developers will continue to favor our platform.
- Epic is spending millions to gain exclusives that are not a serious threat to our platform. They’re clearly spending more on exclusives than those exclusives are earning. They can’t maintain this spending forever. We can safely ignore them for now.
- Epic who? You mean the Unreal guys? What are they up to these days? Are they still putting out Unreal titles? I remember Unreal Tournament was pretty good.
I don’t know. It’s going to be a weird couple of years.
 Not for me, though. I’ll complain about anything.
 Getting REAL feature parity with Steam will take years, because global networks and global transactions take time and expertise to set up. But the vast majority of people are looking for basic features like reviews and mod support.
 Then again, this article suggests that 8 to 9 percent of goods purchased at stores get returned and 25 to 30 percent of online goods are sent back. I don’t know if those numbers map cleanly to digital goods, but it’s easy to imagine how returns can eat into your bottom line. It’s possible that Valve already experienced a non-trivial reduction in income back when they began offering returns, and they seemed to survive just fine.
 A THIRD!!!!
 Why, that’s almost as much as developers give to THEM.
Push the Button!
Scenes from Half-Life 2:Episode 2, showing Gordon Freeman being a jerk.
Diablo III Retrospective
We were so upset by the server problems and real money auction that we overlooked just how terrible everything else is.
Crash Dot Com
Back in 1999, I rode the dot-com bubble. Got rich. Worked hard. Went crazy. Turned poor. It was fun.
Good to be the King?
Which would you rather be: A king in the middle ages, or a lower-income laborer in the 21st century?
Project Button Masher
I teach myself music composition by imitating the style of various videogame soundtracks. How did it turn out? Listen for yourself.