There’s been a rising problem within the world of PC gaming over the past few months. The problem? The Epic Games Store. It’s reached a point where there’s headlines related to the store-front being posted on an almost daily basis, and each time they stir the hive, causing a new controversy. But how did we even get here, and how is this store having such a negative impact?
As of 2018, Valve Software confirmed that around 90 million active users use their platform on a monthly basis.
First off, let’s address it’s main competitor, Steam. This platform has gone mostly unrivalled, gaining a huge momentum since it’s inception. As of 2018, Valve Software confirmed that around 90 million active users use their platform on a monthly basis. It has done a lot for PC gaming for sure, and Valve have continuously implemented new features throughout it’s 13 year history. It’s not without it’s faults, however. A simple search through it’s community, and it’s easy enough to stumble across toxic groups that are, shall we say, less than savoury, spreading hatred across the platform. This year’s Steam Summer Sale, a usually lauded event, caused a headache for gamers and developers alike, with it’s confusing ‘Grand Prix’ mini-game. This caused Steam users to remove games from their wishlists, which was harmful to the revenue of game studios. Worst of all, has been Valve’s feeble attempts at removing malicious content from their store. Let’s not forget ‘Active Shooter’, that simulated school shooting scenarios, and ‘Rape Day’ (the name of which really speaks for itself), ended up amongst the available titles in their library. Granted, they did shut these down, but they shouldn’t have made it to the store in the first place, and without a proper system in place to prevent this, it’s a trend that’s bound to continue. Credit where it’s due, Valve did, and have, resolved some of these problems, and it’s expected that a live service would have some issues, but perhaps it’s time it got a decent rival to compete with it. After all, competition is healthy, right?
Sadly, there is nothing healthy about the competition from the Epic Games Store. Let’s start with the most prominent gripe that most consumers have; the acquisition of games. Long story short, Epic is paying big money to third-party studios, to bolster their store with “exclusive” titles. Rebellion have even gone on record, calming that Epic is “paying through the nose” to nab games for their platform. But exclusivity is a good thing, surely, as it helps the platform to grow? Not in the way it’s being handled here. On multiple occasions games have been pulled from right under the customer’s noses. Metro Exodus, that had been advertised on Steam for over a year, was made an EGS timed exclusive at the eleventh hour, about two weeks before it was due to launch. Not even Valve were aware of this, and boxed copies of the game at retail had an Epic Store sticker slapped on over the Steam logo. Epic promised to not do this again, although considering some of their more recent actions, I’m not willing to trust them.
On multiple occasions games have been pulled from right under the customer’s noses
These actions being the acquisition of Outer Wilds and Shenmue 3. Both these were crowd funded, with the promise of backers on the PC platform receiving Steam keys, only for Epic to swoop in with their wads of cash for yet more exclusivity. To be promised a product on a certain platform, only to be blindsided by the product ending up somewhere completely different is, quite frankly, false advertising. In the case of Shenmue 3, backers were being refused refunds at first, which is surely straight-up illegal, but Deep Silver eventually yielded. Oh, and the Borderlands 3 timed exclusive stung quite a bit, especially after the loyalty from the PC gaming community over the years! The salty responses from Gearbox Software’s CEO Randy Pitchford haven’t lessened the blow either.
So what about Steam, Uplay and Origin? Valve, Ubisoft and EA respectively have exclusive content on their platforms, so what makes the Epic Games Store so different? The difference is, that the exclusives that they offer are created either in-house themselves, or by studios that they own. In this case, it’s acceptable. In the console gaming landscape, you’re not going to see Mario in a Playstation game, and the same logic can be applied here. Even Epic’s ill-fated Unreal Tournament project was seen only on the early iteration of their launcher (before everything went downhill), and as it’s their IP, I have no gripes with this.
Features play a part in the current list of issues too. Valve’s Steam offers a store-front, community features, it’s own dedicated forums, Steam Workshop, friends lists, achievements and more. The Epic Games Store, on the other hand, only offers the store. Oh, they recently added a search bar too. Okay, this argument may sound petty, but bear in mind that when you pay for a game on a specific platform, you’re not only paying for the game, but also for the convenience of it being on that service. Why would I want to buy a game from somewhere that excludes me from my friends and such other social aspects? It’s a no-brainer, really. Look at it this way; a tech company wouldn’t push a brand new smartphone that only made calls, label it as a ‘premium’ device and expect it to compete against the likes of Samsung or Apple. New products need to be presented with the current market in mind, matching their qualities, not slacking behind. Combine this with an extremely lacklustre customer service that can take anything up to three months to respond, alongside shoddy security and it makes it even less enticing to use Epic’s launcher.
The only decent thing that Epic has to offer with EGS, is the revenue cut, with 88% of profits from purchases going straight to the developers
The only decent thing that Epic has to offer with EGS, is the revenue cut, with 88% of profits from purchases going straight to the developers, and a further 5% of royalties covered if the game runs on their Unreal Engine. Compare that to Valve’s margin of 70/30, then it makes Epic the clear winner in this category. In this regard, I do feel that Valve need to pull their finger out, and improve upon their revenue share. It’s perhaps a sign of Valve’s old-fashioned views of the market coming into play. The margins improving to 75/25 and 80/20 are a start, but each require sales of between $10-50 million and above $50 million in sales respectively for that to open up. Not really friendly to indie studios, is it? They do need to get with the times, and realise that they need to improve this.
Of course, this feels like it’s all for nothing, as it’s the customers that are losing out the most. It’s hard to deny that Epic’s practices are anti-consumerist, as their initiative to acquire all the games they can forces consumers to their platform. At the end of the day, yes, they’re a business, but it should be all about freedom of choice for the customer. Valve Co-founder, Gabe Newell, is someone that believes in this philosophy, stating that “exclusives are not a good idea for customers or developers.” In a response to a fan’s email, he even went as far as saying that there are “no strings attached” when developing software on their own hardware (in this case, their VR headset, the Index.) Basically confirming that they’d help provide developers with the tools, but the devs are free to utilise them however they want. Compare that response to Epic’s CEO Tim Sweeny, who claims that Gabe Newell is evil, and rants at consumers that disagree with him. They may only be figureheads of their respective companies when it comes to fan interaction, but it’s not hard to pick a side here.
Ultimately, the core of the issue is the fact that Epic has disrupted the status quo of the PC gaming world. The ecosystem of PC gaming, even from the early days, was about it being an open-ended platform. Even down to the hardware level, users have had the choice to do as they please. Pick whichever spec they want for a rig, based on performance, choose an operating system for it to run on, then pick the platform on which they want to play their games. Yes, there are obvious choices in that sense, plus Steam has become the go-to launcher for games, but Valve hasn’t been opposed to other options that are out there. Services like GOG and Humble Store have thrived over the years, and there’s still an abundance of launchers available. All Epic seems to be pushing for is total dominance, attempting to kill the competition rather than competing with it, by buying them out of the market. They claim to be “saving” PC gaming, but all they really seem to be doing is segregating it. Regardless, there are some legitimate concerns about their tactics, and it sets an unsettling precedence for the future of the PC platform.