The ‘E’ is for Exclusive

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I haven’t written anything in a while so I thought I’d just put this down and since bitcoin (and with that steem dollars) crashed, I don’t really see a point in posting this on steemit.

Recently Fortnite Inc. has started their own online game store. Now since Steam has basically been the go-to when it comes to digital publishing. It seems good to finally have some competition, or does it? What about Uplay, Origin, Discord, Battle.net and GoG? Why is another store (and/or client) suddenly a good thing?

They say that they take a lower cut (12% vs the 30% that steam takes), which is obviously quite a difference. If a game is sold for 30$ that’s 3.6$ vs 9$, so that’s immediately a good thing isn’t it? Uplay, Origin etc. don’t really offer the opportunity for third parties (as far as I know) to sell their games, so they don’t have the same use case as Steam or the Exclusive Games Launcher, which leaves us with Epic Store, GoG, Steam and third party online stores (Green Man Gaming, Humble Store etc.), which essentially just resell Steam keys and sometimes DRM free direct downloads.

Ever since Steam was used as an update client for Valve’s games it grew into the one stop client for buying games, managing communities and friends, sharing mods and custom content, managing and listening to music and OSTs (yes that’s actually a thing) and having access to all of that while in-game. This obviously didn’t happen over night. Valve had a lot of users on their side because of their exceptional catalog of games and could build their store front on top of that. While all of that happened there was little competition (I’m sure some tried even in the early days, but they probably couldn’t sell Valve titles which put them at an immediate disadvantage).

When other companies realized how big of a market this is they chimed in with their own versions. I remember EA Download Manager, which later turned into Origin. Once again Origin isn’t exactly an open store front (or at least wasn’t back then) so it doesn’t really compare. The point is that Valve had more than enough time to develop a polished client, that offers the users what they want. Just to name a few:

  • Crossplatform (Windows, macOS and GNU/Linux)
  • Easy to use
  • Offline mode and minimal DRM
  • Feature rich
  • Customer friendly (Reviews and as of recently a much needed return policy)
  • Large catalog (Yes there’s also a lot of garbage in there, but that holds true for most online platforms)
  • Localized (Available in almost any country with local currencies)

But now Steam is a monopoly and it shows. Valve moved away from making games (Artifact doesn’t count :P) and they’ve made some arguably questionable decisions in the past. Steam is easily able to charge a 30% cut, because there’s no good competition that could make them lower it. Valve doesn’t really need that money anymore, but if they can make it they obviously will. That’s why (at least as far as I know) they offer special contracts for AAA titles, but they probably contain clauses like exclusivity.

So what does the EG Store have to offer? Apart from trying to take on steam and the lower cut, which they advertise as cheaper games (which isn’t true unless you live in the U.S.), surprisingly not much.

The UI is absolute bare-bones (they recently added a search function!), no cross-platform (although they claimed that they’ll focus on linux support, which I’ll only believe once I see it), a catalog of games so large you probably can memorize it, questionable activities while the launcher is running and buying out just about every game set to be released this year.

To sum it up it becomes clear that I’m not a fan of the Epic Store. Competition is good because it leaves the customer with more choice and better offers, but this approach is just outright bad. It feels like Epic is just throwing their Fortnite money at every game studio to get them a timed exclusive or a free game. This just makes it even more obvious that they have nothing to offer that could beat Steam (from a customer’s perspective) so instead they try to lure people in with free games and titles that you can’t obtain any other way (for at least a year). What I’d like to see is an actual advantage over steam like an up to par user interface with all the bells and whistles that steam has, no DRM or a price advantage that reaches beyond the U.S.

Currently Steam is still the best option, with a large catalog, offline mode and lax DRM. The only competitor that I’d want to see succeed right now is GoG, which let’s you actually buy your games with no strings attached, but even they can’t compete with Steam.

Right now Epic offers a better option for developers (which isn’t a bad thing) at the cost of the users experience. I’m sure that the store will improve over time but making exclusives a priority over that, is, at least in my opinion, a bad decision. The only thing I hope for is that because of this Valve will start taking better care of Steam, its users and developers again.

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