The introduction of exclusivity in the Epic games store in 2018 marked the turning point in PC gaming. Since early 2019 a sharp division in the formerly mostly united and smoothly running PC gaming world is clearly visible.
Early 2019 ended a decade of PC gaming where you could have the “Steam powered” console experience while you could enjoy the flexibility of PC gaming builds. It ended a decade of easy installs, timely updates and big screen living room gaming and all friends 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 lauchner is simply publishers want to make more money. Steam takes a 30% cut for everything that is sold through its store; Apple app store has the same cut on their platform. Epic will 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 costs of operation.
If a publisher decides to pay only 12% instead of 30% for each sale on the platform it makes sense on paper. But it shows that the publisher does not understand the difference between Steam and 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 provides things that Epic does not offer:
It provides cloud saves, statistics for players, screenshot libraries, game curation and reviews, user generated content like tutorials, workshop access to expand games, achievements, marketplace for ingame items, big screen living room mode, game sharing with friends, voice chat, streaming, activation of games bought in other stores and a few things more I might have missed.
Comparing Epic game store with Steam is like comparing a bike with a car. Of course is a bike way cheaper but it does not have the comforts nor the utility 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 makes only sense if you provide a very limited reseller platform. Running a launcher requires storage, bandwidth and lots human resources for support of customers and publishers alike. 12% must be highly subsidised 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 all the infrastructure that is supplied into account. And the most obvious step for publishers if they do not make enough 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. And if Epic runs out of Fortnite money in the near future the 12% cut will be adjusted accordingly. And we start the circle anew.
The times of steep sales on all your favorite games are over. They are no longer in the one place that has been making high discounts of 50-75% a regular thing. EA with Origin and Ubisoft with Uplay have impressively shown that their stores do not like doing regular sales. They have yet to understand the genius behind the idea to make 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 margin. The same will 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 we get the more money gamers will have to spend on their games. Sales will occur less often and gamers will know of those few sales only if they browse through all stores.
And of course every store wants your credit card information and you have to trust them with this kind of data. If you happen to be live outside of the US – like the majority of mankind does – chances are good that game prices for your country are not adjusted accordingly. You mind end up paying double the price on Epic game store than what it would have cost on Steam.
In a time where we have more good games than time to play, 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. It is the same way they stick to a limited number of streaming services for movies and tv series. Meaning, 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 will 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 sale 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 similar 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 like stick with it and be stuck within it.
Having multiple launchers instead of one launcher is already a reality. It was 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 publisher trying to maximize their profits. No deep discounts, less customer support and no annoying customer reviews are of course cheaper to operate than Steam. The real losers will be Indie developers having to work with multiple launchers and a divided community.
And we as customer 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 think 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 performance.
By the end of 2019 you will have to browse through almost 10 launchers to find games you like to play. And 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.