Let’s address the biggest elephant in the room first – Epic Game Store’s war of attrition on Steam. A war of attrition may be a particularly strong phrase to use but to quote Wikipedia’s definition of the term, “Attrition warfare is a military strategy consisting of belligerent attempts to win a war by wearing down the enemy to the point of collapse through continuous losses in personnel and material”. It’s a fair comparison for the Epic Game Store. Despite the successes of Fortnite (a major trump card we’ll get into later), Epic knew full well that it started out a small fish, but it wasn’t content to stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of GOG or Uplay. In order to become a big fish in the marketplace pond, it would have to starve Steam of its greatest strengths. To do this, Epic would need to lure as many developers away from Steam that it could. The bigger and more renowned they were, well all the better.
Here’s where the war of attrition against Steam really begins. The Epic Game Store is offering an irresistible money saving deal to developers. If you’re an indie studio just starting out, you’re going to need every penny you can scrape. If you’re big AAA, you’ve likely become insatiably greedy and will want… every penny you can scrape. Steam takes 30% of a developer’s revenue once their game is on the marketplace and shows little room for mercy or compromise. Occasionally, that split goes down to 25% for indie developers unlikely to top the $10 million mark in sales. For everyone else, topping $10 million in sales will earn them the same 25%. They’ll have to push all the way to topping $50 million for Steam to go down to taking 20% of their revenue.
So the number one reason the Epic Game Store is winning (whether you like it or not) is, from the get go, developers only have to face giving 18% of their earnings to Epic no matter who they are or how they do in terms of revenue. Whether you’re a big cheese in the games industry or a couple of dudes collaborating from your bedrooms – this is a no brainer. With their sackloads of money, Epic has been able to put the icing on the cake. Of course, this was buying exclusivity deals with carefully selected titles.
Metro: Exodus made some waves for those interested in graphical achievement (namely PC master race enthusiasts), Borderlands 3 has a ginormous following, Outer Worlds has the Fallout: New Vegas fans keen to see what Obsidian can do next and Hades is made by a developer (Supergiant Games) so consistently brilliant that fans will buy every one of their titles. It’s no coincidence then, that Epic would buy exclusivity for these titles, among many others, to begin siphoning Steam’s user base. Quite how they convinced previously console exclusive devs, Quantic Dream to hop on board is beyond me (probably another big bag of money but still, there’s optimising for a whole new platform to consider).
The two methods of revenue split and title exclusivity seem to have been effective in this siphoning. Despite the general consensus that Epic has become sly, underhanded and cutthroat, Metro: Exodus still sold more on PC than its previous title, Last Light. Do you like to complain about the Epic Game Store? Then I suppose the next question is – did you buy Metro: Exodus on PC? Did you willingly become a part of the problem you’re complaining about?
Make Enough Money And You Get To Be Lazy
I’m not sure if the same can be said for other industries but in the case of the games industry it looks like making enough money earns you the right to be lazy. The same can be said of both Steam and Epic. In the case of the former, Steam has been king of the hill for a long, long time. The profits that Steam brings in from the store appear to have made Valve lazy, contributing to all the Half-Life 3 memes out there and the disdain for the brazenly monetised Artefact. Steam also appears to have become so complacent even Epic’s war of attrition hasn’t coerced them into making a move of their own.
However, Epic’s complacency in the wake of guaranteed returns no matter what (again the fault of the consumer), leads to truly abhorrent laziness that consumers should find insulting. At the very least, the expectation for a digital store is for it to have a shopping basket and user reviews. These are features that are woefully absent in the case of the Epic Games Store. Not only is quality of user experience laughably ignored there, making consumers buy one product at a time, but that consumer has no voice whatsoever on the products available from Epic.
In this day and age, major gaming publications have lost large portions of their audience due to identity politics and poor writing that misses the mark of a passion for games. So people turn to YouTube to subscribe to honest people who don’t have agendas to push. The reviews section of Steam is much the same, giving your average Joe more influence on your buying decision with a couple of lines of text, than a supposedly professional article on IGN. Epic’s silence on this is deafening.
Epic Is Becoming An Empire Built By Your Wallet
If we were to compare Epic to the evil Emperor Palpatine, then it’s currently at the point where votes of no confidence in the opposition are going down and his rise to power is all but confirmed. Whether you like the Epic Games Store or not, it is positioned very well for ongoing success for no reason other than Steam’s inactivity on the matter. They have released no formal statements, nor have they done anything to bounce back at Epic’s exclusivity ultimatum. Heck, Steam could bounce back in brilliant form if Valve got off their arses and made something other than a card game. Epic has been able to be this brazenly cocky towards the competition (and cement its space in the industry) because of, you guessed it – Fortnite. If you’ve spent money on Fortnite at any point then sorry, you’ve contributed to the rise of the evil emperor.
To put things in perspective, let’s take a look at this handy infographic from Lendedu, based on a study around halfway through last year, when Fortnite was at its peak:
If the infographic is to be believed, just under 70% of the 1000 Fortnite players studied have spent money on the game. The average expenditure between them was $85. Reportedly, as of March this year, Fortnite has 250 million players. So if we apply the same ratio, 70% of that makes 175 million players. 175 million multiplied by $85 makes for a whopping 14 billion, 875 million dollars. A rough estimation, yes but a taste of the obscene money Fortnite is likely making all the same. Make no mistake, the Epic Games Store would not exist if it weren’t for addicted children stealing their parents’ credit cards and peeing themselves. That said, there’s plenty of adults who I am sure have done the same…
What’s The Ultimate Issue With The Rise of The Epic Games Store?
As you’ve likely surmised by now, I am not a fan of the Epic Games Store. I accept that there’s no stopping an empire once it starts annexing virtual lands and taking its people. I’ve made peace with that. The fact that Steam has had a royal boot up the arse may have also been necessary as it has become a lawless realm, filled with awful games that never should have been greenlit. All this business with Epic may encourage Steam to do better.
If I were to ask myself the above question, I guess the ultimate issue I have with Epic is how it deals with its consumers. It doesn’t see them as people to have a voice as it has no user review section. Epic expects you to walk away from a Steam library that you have built for years and sync your Steam account to Epic, making two libraries (even though a library by definition is supposed to be one place). It doesn’t care about the user interface or end to end consumer experience. All it cares that you do is shut up, accept your fate and go on consuming with no questions asked. Is this not what we’ve been shouting at EA for, for the last few years? It’s quite the shocker that something as simple as a shopping cart is on the tail end of this roadmap.
What matters is that we realise the Epic Games Store does not and will not respect you as a consumer. It’s too drunk on money to waste time on that. The fact that it is succeeding in offering a marketplace that gives you no voice whatsoever is a worrying precedent as I think we can all agree consumer rights are very important indeed. And despite winning the digital marketplace race right now, Steam is doing nothing about it. Your number one hub for gaming on a PC that you have likely also helped to be the king of the hill – is doing jack diddly squat about the situation.
At the risk of going around in circles, I now pass the torch to you, the reader. Go ahead and contribute to the debate in the comments section below. For such a fiery topic, I ask that you be nice and respectful to one another.