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:
- 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.
- 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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