I can’t quite believe I’m saying this but wow, Epic Games. You REALLY messed up.
Competition in the PC Gaming market space is long overdue and necessary, particularly when you look at the absolute state that Valve’s Steam platform has been in of late. So the arrival of Epic Store should have been a sign not only of confidence in the PC Gaming sphere, but a consumer win as well – a meaty, willing rival to Steam prepared to stand up and do what it takes.
And yet, two months later – the widespread opinion is now that the Epic Store is something to fear, to revile and to ultimately boycott.
In fairness, that initial burst of Indie Exclusives during The Game Awards 2018 should have been a warning sign; but indies are more flexible and often more vulnerable, so getting a larger share of sales revenue is important (though I can’t see how limiting yourself to a new platform is a smart idea but eh). But now it’s not just indies; UbiSoft is making The Division 2 an Epic Store exclusive, whilst Metro: Exodus, a game that has been advertised ON Steam for a while and as coming out on Steam, is now… not coming to Steam. Yet. As Epic Store has gotten something like a years exclusivity on it. Weeks from its supposed launch.
Most people have seen through this and called it for what it is; greed. Of course Deep Silver and UbiSoft would push it on this new platform where they can generate more revenue; if you want the game, you go to the place that gets them more money. End of discussion. It doesn’t matter that it is still very untested, that it’s still small-scale and that it isn’t close to as fully-featured as Steam. You want it? You go where it makes us more money. Because money is all that matters, right?
It’s not consumer-friendly, and this came to a head with the aforementioned Metro: Exodus – which, as I said, was advertised on and as coming to Steam… right up until a deal was made behind closed doors, weeks before launch, to make it an Epic Store timed exclusive. How that benefits consumers or… well… anyone is up to interpretation, but mine is – have you SEEN the mess of EA, Activision and WB Interactive’s sales lately? EA lost pretty much 60% of their share price, Activision-Blizzard has lost half of their company value and even Bethesda is suffering the worst sales it has ever had the indignity to feel.
Consumers are making it clear they won’t be shafted – so doing so to promote a new online platform for PC Gaming is… well, stupid at best and wilfully ignorant to boot. EA’s Origin service can tell you how this goes – when EA pulled all its content from Steam, did people stick with EA? Hell to the no. They stuck with Steam. And most don’t regret it.
And yet, it’s going deeper. Epic Store is adamant to literally gut Steam right now.
Dauntless is a decent Monster Hunter-like game on PC. I’ve got it, it’s pretty cool, but now all Dauntless accounts are being migrated over to the Epic Store. Meaning to play it in future you have to have an Epic Account. And use their launcher and client. Even if you’ve no interest in that. Again, how does this protect or reward customers they’ve already sold to? Short answer – it doesn’t.
Even some indie titles are just being Epic Store exclusive arguably to spite Steam, which is fair enough – Valve has done very little to protect indie developers for a while, holding them to a higher standard than they do the likes of UbiSoft or Capcom or anyone else (since Valve was clearly okay with a terrible “Hunt Down The Freeman” game which is an affront to Half Life 2’s legacy).
The problem is that it’s starting to look like Epic is strongarming the market. It’s buying up exclusivity rights and deals just to be immediately competitive, without realising the long-term damage to their image that results from screwing over normal, often completely innocent games consumers/gamers.
For context; it has taken Nintendo TWO YEARS to get wider industry confidence in the Switch; to get major publishers to realise that the handheld-hybrid is more than a flash in the pan. Two whole years of massive sales, exorbitant profits and 10+ million sales games with nothing but critical praise.
Epic is just buying that up and achieved this in two months. There are consequences to taking a short cut.
Epic Games have just moved far too fast on this front, and as I said, in doing so inflicted nothing but injury on normal customers who now have to wait months or years before they can play the game they wanted (or even pre-ordered) on Steam. Sure, Steam can offer refunds on this – but should people even have to deal with that mess of a system? Wouldn’t it have been better to make the Epic Store version more attractive in some way – maybe some extra costumes, or a bunch of 4K screensavers or well anything that would have just edged out Steam and it’s basic version?
Not only that, but the developers and publishers aren’t helping matters; Metro: Exodus has one developer saying if people don’t move over to Epic Store for the game, there’ll be no more PC versions of the series considered. Which is a threat – and more than that, a terribly empty one, because at the end of the day, losing out on one to two million sales in an industry where anything less than five million is seen as a disaster for a new Top Tier game is cutting your nose off to spite your face. It makes no sense. Where are you going to find that extra two million or so buyers from? And you can be sure some enterprising developer and/or studio will step in to fill that void left behind, because this tends to be what happens in this market.
Know however I do think Steam needs competition; of course it does, because Steam is a monopoly on the PC Gaming front. It’s just replacing one monopoly for another doesn’t actually fix anything and it doesn’t really create “competition” in that sense; you’re just switching from one dark overlord to another dark overlord, and have to put up with all their whims and wants in the process.
Competition is trying to match and even improve; it’s why I think someone SHOULD make a Switch rival (just not Sony or Microsoft). Because I agree that the Switch needs that spectre in order to want to improve its services – especially in terms of voice chat. If someone does something better, then the competition should want to match and/or improve it. Remember that’s how we went from the original PlayStation controller to the Dualshock – by way of the Nintendo 64 controller. D-Pad to Analog Stick was great, then two analog sticks was found to be even better (even if it did take a few years before the right stick-camera thing became default, see a little known Bungie game called Oni).
But here, it’s all benefit for the businesses and nothing for the consumer. Indeed, it only serves to make consumer life difficult; download this new client, set up a new account – remember to use a different password, we don’t really know how our security is right now! – and redownload games through this, eating up your memory in the process. And we really don’t know what nasties may even lurk in the background of this new launcher – we’ve seen bad things pushed like this before, after all.
None of it had to be this way if Epic Games had simply tried to compete as an alternative; there was clearly a desire and a want for an alternative platform (even though GOG exists), but Epic Games have done nothing but give Valve ammunition against it. Yes, Valve talking about protecting customers is hypocritical – but they’re technically correct. And as we all know from Futurama, that is the BEST kind of correct.
And now studios, publishers and even Epic Games are fighting to put out dozens of fires and try and regain something resembling confidence. They’re having to backtrack, do U-Turns and remove their heads from their backsides just to try and placate people who are now angry, frustrated and resentful.
Is it the end for Epic Store? Of course not. Origin is still around, after all, as is uPlay. But Epic Games have done nothing but snatch defeat from the jaws of an easy, near-certain victory. And they did that by, sadly, appealing to the base desire of greed, which has done nothing but bring out the worst in almost everyone involved.
And they’ve given Valve a temporary reprieve and reminded people just what they’d lose by moving across to a new PC Gaming platform.
Oh, as for all those “Epic Exclusives”? I wouldn’t worry too much. If they can detach down the road, they will; they’ll have to. If they can’t, then those studios and games will fail and burn to the ground. Which is sadly just a consequence of poor decision making in the long run, a shame but it will serve as a lesson to any who attempt this sort of thing in the future; if you’re going to take on something as big as Steam, you need to have a killer hook to knock it out completely.
Bribing the officials just looks dirty.