The Epic Games Store just launched, and it’s already getting hit with controversy, but not for an obvious reason. The service only has a few games, and it looks like Epic is banking on competing with Steam by poaching games from the much more ubiquitous distribution service.
You see the real issue here is that the company is guaranteeing exclusivity for games on its platform. It’s understandable why Epic want this, because with a more competitive revenue split, they want to try and lock developers into an agreement with Epic, building brand awareness, while also preventing developers from “double-dipping” by also listing games on Steam.
Sadly, it looks like some gamers are getting the short end of the stick with these deals, as several games which recently arrived on the Epic store at the expense of their presence on Steam. One such game, a first-person factory building sim called Satisfactory, has completely removed its Steam presence to launch with Epic, and has sincerely angered their fanbase. Satisfactory‘s community, particularly on Reddit, reacted poorly given that their expectations of a Steam release would no longer be met. The developer attempted to assuage concern in their responses, but the community remains split.
And it’s not just Steam communities being negatively affected here either. Another title, Ashen was previously listed as a PC Play Anywhere title through the Microsoft Game Pass program, but that deal appears to have been shelved, as dates for the game launching have been changed to “Coming Soon”. With Ashen‘s launch yesterday, however, it was revealed that the PC version of Ashen would be exclusive to the Epic Games Store at launch, and that has made some people a little annoyed.
While it is hard to understand just how bad things could get, mostly because there are only a few titles affected by this so far, there’s a couple of different ways to think about this whole thing, and how it applies to the future of PC gaming.
We can all agree that while Valve creating the dominant distribution platform is sometime convenient, there are plenty of obvious negatives to such a monopolistic structure in gaming. For one, there’s the absolutely crushing number of games on Steam that make it hard for many independent developers to get noticed, meaning lower sales on launch. This can lead to a lot of problems that having more avenues of distribution can help solve. Having more exposure across a new platform where smaller teams get more chance and sales means more unique and interesting games could eventually be made. And I think we can all agree that PC gaming needs less regurgitated AAA nonsense, and more passionate and talented work with new ideas.
The other side of the coin with this issue is that Valve has consistently shown inability or unwillingness to police their own platform when objectively offensive, copyright infringing, or otherwise unacceptable content rears its head. For every creative and interesting title on Steam, there seem to be five crap games cobbled together with minimal effort. In short, Steam is rife with shovelware, and the only way I can see a monolithic entity like Valve changing their ways is through outside pressure from competition forcing them to adapt.
Of course this doesn’t mean we should accept predatory exclusivity, but there has to be happy middleground, and the only way we’ll ever find it is to allow change and experimentation.