The introduction of exclusivity in the Epic games store in 2018 marked a turning point in PC gaming. Since early 2019, a sharp division in the formerly mostly united and smoothly running PC gaming world has been clearly visible.
Early 2019 ended a decade of PC gaming where you could have the “Steam powered” console experience whilst also enjoying the flexibility of PC gaming builds. It ended a decade of easy installs, timely updates, big screen living room gaming and all friends playing in one place. It ended a decade of cheap PC games and regular 50-75% sales. It ended a decade of shrinking video game piracy.
The reason why we have more than one launcher is simply that publishers want to make more money. Steam takes a 30% cut from everything that is sold through its store; the Apple app store takes the same cut from what is sold on their platform. Epic, however, take only 12% and we have no way of knowing if that is reasonable because neither Steam nor other launchers like Battle.net, Origin or Uplay disclose their operation costs.
If a publisher decides to pay only 12% instead of 30% for each sale on the platform, it makes sense on paper. However, it shows that the publisher does not understand the difference between Steam and the Epic games store & launcher. Steam, in its current form, is more than just a store that takes a cut for providing virtual shelf space. It also provides things that Epic does not offer.
It provides cloud saves, statistics for players, screenshot libraries, game curation and reviews, user generated content such as tutorials, workshop access to expand games, achievements, a marketplace for in-game items, a big screen living room mode, game sharing with friends, voice chat, streaming, activation of games bought in other stores and perhaps a few more things that I might have missed.
Comparing the Epic game store with Steam is like comparing a bike with a car. Of course, a bike is way cheaper but it does not have the comforts nor the utility that a car offers. Epic store is nothing more than a basic virtual shelf space with some download abilities.
Epic store sustainability
It is not my job to make calculations for Epic, but a 12% cut only makes sense if you provide a very limited reseller platform. Running a launcher requires storage, bandwidth and a great deal of human resources for the support of both customers and publishers. 12% must be highly subsidized when you take into consideration that even giants like amazon.com take 15% from their merchants for “just selling books” without delivery. There is a reason why other digital storefronts take a larger cut than 12%.
Steam’s 30% becomes reasonable once you take in to account all the infrastructure that is supplied. Moreover, the most obvious step for publishers, if they do not make enough profit per sale, is to increase prices. There is nothing wrong with that – games on Apple’s app store are also more expensive. Leaving ship completely and going into exclusivity will not fix the max profit problem for publishers. Furthermore, if Epic runs out of Fortnite money in the near future, their 12% cut will be adjusted accordingly and so the cycle continues.
The times of reduced prices on all your favorite games are over. They are no longer all in the one place that has been making high discounts of 50-75% a regular thing. EA, along with Origin, and Ubisoft, along with Uplay, have impressively shown that their stores do not like doing regular sales. They have yet to understand the genius behind the idea of making people buy games they will never play.
Having publisher controlled or publisher focused game stores and launchers means keeping prices high for as long as possible. It is all about protecting the highest possible profit margins. The same will also be true for Epic because the 12% cut is so small that only full or high price games will keep the money flowing.
It is counter-intuitive, but the more launchers there are the more money gamers will have to spend on their games. Sales will occur less often, and gamers will only know of those few sales if they browse through all the stores.
Of course, every store also wants your credit card information and you have to trust them with this kind of data. If you happen to be living outside of the US – as the majority of mankind does – there is a good chance that game prices for your country are not adjusted accordingly. You might end up paying double the price on the Epic game store than you would have paid on Steam.
In a time where we have more good games than we have time to play them, dividing the PC gaming community into different launchers is a very bad idea for publishers. Only a minority will install multiple launchers and buy stuff in multiple stores. People tend to stick to a limited number of launchers or even to just a single one, the same way that they might stick to a limited number of streaming services for movies and TV series. This means that whenever something is not on their preferred launcher it does not exist for them. Even if people notice games on other stores, their preferred store & launcher might still have some backlog worth playing, and let us not forget that downloading, installing and login with yet another 2-factor authentication may be too much hassle for many gamers.
This situation will be especially painful for Indie developers that already struggle with visibility: yet another launcher where they have to find a way to get noticed, another launcher to deploy their files to, and another forum to take care of. What good is a bigger cut from your sales if no one will be around to sell to and if it takes you more time – thus money – to curate?
Finally, it will segregate the PC gaming community in a similar way to the console community. Whenever there are choices, tribalism will follow. It is too human, and everybody loves to be that special snowflake who picked the right launcher. People will find their community and will most likely stick with it and be stuck within it.
Having multiple launchers instead of just one is already a reality. In fact, it was a reality even before Epic store’s exclusivity. Epic just sped up the process of publishers legitimizing the existence of their own stores & launchers.
There is no turning back now. Individual launchers are way too good for publishers trying to maximize their profits. No deep discounts, less customer support and no annoying customer reviews are all factors which make it cheaper to operate than Steam. The real losers will be Indie developers having to work with multiple launchers and a divided community.
Also, we as customers can already see what this launcher overload does: if you want to play Anthem you need the Origin launcher; if you want to play Metro Exodus you need the Epic launcher; if you want to play The Division 2 you need the Uplay launcher; if you are thinking about playing Rage 2, install the Bethesda launcher; and if you dare to like Indie titles, then Steam needs to be installed. Each launcher wants 2-factor authentication, each launcher wants your credit card and each launcher will eat away your PC’s performance.
By the end of 2019 you will have to browse through almost 10 launchers to find games you like to play. In addition to ths, if you are looking for a single store with a cohesive experience, then buying into consoles or surfing PC-games-pirating websites will be your only two options.