An Epic Takeover or Disappointment?

Chase Gamwell 2019-08-11

Art by Redline XIII.

Everyone knows about Epic’s move to challenge Steam. This horse has been beat to death by every outlet that talks about video games, and every possible combination of opinions has been discussed and reiterated ad infinitum. So, instead of talking about the logistics of Epic joining the virtual store market, or their newly-minted feud with Steam, I want to approach the issue from a more personal front.

No Other Option

I remember when I was forced to install Steam on my computer, way back when The Orange Box came out. I remember how upset I was that Valve was requiring me to set up an account on their new system just to play games I already paid for. And I remember being salty about it for a while.

For a long time, Steam was just a verification system for the games in The Orange Box. If I recall correctly, its sole purpose was to verify game files and run VAC for multiplayer. And it did all this in a small, drab, olive-colored box that sat in the bottom right-hand corner of the computer screen.

Then, one day, it was something more.

A…Store?

I was surprised when the small olive-colored box was suddenly a big olive-colored box. Even more so when I discovered that other games were available for purchase. Though, the selection wasn’t necessarily the best. As a consumer, I still preferred to purchase games from retailers rather than an online store – there was something about owning a physical copy of the game that just felt better. And there was something about going digital that didn’t feel like a sure thing.

My first purchase on the Steam platform was a game called Peggle Deluxe in 2007. And I followed that purchase with GTA 3, Sin Episodes 1, and others. But I didn’t really make a big purchase on steam until 2011, when Deus Ex Human Revolution: The Missing Link DLC released. Before then, I bought retail copies and ran them in their own launchers.

Since, unless buying a collectors edition (or a console game), I’ve defaulted to buying games on Steam.

So, what changed?

Shifting Sands

My attitude towards Steam has changed multiple times over the years. At first, it was a requirement that I accepted only because it was a barrier for entry to play a group of games. Then, it was a tolerable store/launcher where a number of my games were stored. And finally, it’s an essential part of my PC gaming life. Nearly ALL of my PC games are purchased on Steam, every save file is backed up on the Steam cloud, and it’s the first window to pop up whenever my computer starts.

It took years, but Steam eventually managed to carve out its own place in my life. And honestly, I can’t imagine playing video games without it. But I think it’s worth dwelling on just how long it took Steam to penetrate the market. As stagnant as people like to accuse them of being, it was Steam that paved the way for the PC gaming market as it stands today.

A New Challenger Approaches

As far as virtual storefronts go, Steam is still on top, but other companies have taken the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon.

EA has Origin. Ubisoft has Uplay, GOG has their launcher, Bethesda has theirs, Activizion-Blizzard has Battle.net, and there’s even Stardock. I use most of these launchers and have even switched to Uplay as my primary storefront for Ubisoft games – it’s easier, often as cheap as Steam, and usually a pleasant experience.

The trend here is that many of these other storefronts are developer specific, with only the GOG launcher serving as a direct competitor to Steam. But even though it exists in the same space, I’m not sure it really serves the same cross section of customers. GOG focuses on older games that still have a base of dedicated players. And while the site does offer newer games, I don’t find myself there looking for the latest titles, but the older stuff that I want to revisit.

That’s where Epic comes into the picture.

A Declaration of War

The first shot across the bow was the announcement of Metro: Exodus as an Epic store exclusive. Since then, they’ve pulled a sizable group of other games their way – Satisfactory, The Division 2, and The Walking Dead: The Final Season, among others. Also, they’ve managed to garner a beefy list of upcoming exclusives – The Outer Worlds, Control, Borderlands 3, The Sinking City, Phoenix Point, the Quantic Dreams catalog, and others.

Epic is throwing around it’s weight to make sure their challenge to Steam is taken very seriously. And while some of these games are only timed exclusives on the game store, others may not make their way to Steam. It’s an understatement to say that Epic’s tactics have created waves in the PC gaming community, and the results have been immensely polarizing. Everyone has an opinion. And everyone has taken a side.

Personally, I’ve decided not to buy anything from the Epic store. Yes, that means I’m going to miss out on some games that I’ve been really looking forward to, but it’s a decision I’ve considered very carefully.

Hanging in the Balance

Setting aside rumors of Chinese spying, data mining from Steam, and other such “issues” – because based on who you talk to, the severity of Epic’s sins varies greatly – I’m just not a fan of the storefront. Or Epic’s goal to turn it into an essential piece of software if I want to play games on PC.

I understand the logic behind exclusives, and I’m sure it will work to a degree, but such tactics leave a sour taste in my mouth. It makes me recall how Steam entered the market. As I stated above, I wasn’t particularly happy that Valve forced me to sign up for Steam to play the games in the Orange Box, but when they expanded Steam into a full-fledged store front, I (as a consumer) was given a choice on whether I wanted to buy games on it. For a while, I chose not to take the plunge – I bought quite a few games offered on Steam as standalone purchases. As time wore on, however, the unrelenting march of added features tipped the scales. Only then, did I take the plunge. At least I had a choice.

Epic, on the other hand, wants to strong arm me into using their storefront. Instead of building a superior product and offering me an attractive alternative to Steam, they slapped a store onto the Fortnite launcher and bolstered it with games I really wanted to play, making them exclusive for a year or more. Even as often as I like to complain about Ubisoft’s missteps, their store offers an experience at least as user-friendly as Steam. Epic made no such attempt.

Hope for the future?

Of course, Epic has stated that they plan to add all kinds of features this year. That’s great, they should, but I don’t think that’s a valid case for buying games on the Epic launcher now. It definitely doesn’t excuse any of the myriad problems with it.

As much as I’d like to hope that the Epic store will get better, I still can’t see spending money on it. Despite the exclusives and the freebies, there’s too much underhandedness going on for me to get behind Epic’s move. That’s not to say that Steam is perfect, or that competition isn’t needed in the marketplace, but this isn’t the solution. At least, a solution that will be getting any of my money.

Right now, consensus is still pretty divided. Plenty have jumped on board, while others have stated that they plan to wait until the timed exclusives make it to steam. Some have even said they’ll wait for a sale. Historically, however, gamers have proven to be bad at voting with their wallets. That’s why we have a video game landscape rife with loot boxes and “games as service”. If enough give in to the strong arm tactics, Epic won’t need to make the store any better. And that’s the scariest possibility of all.

Your Thoughts

I’ve shared my feelings about the Epic store, but how do you feel about it? Are you going to buy any games off of it? Have you bought any games off of it? What do you think of the storefront? I’d love to hear the answers to these questions in the comments below!

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Comments

  • Garreth Vlox

    epic is a shit show and it has no hope of replacing steam.

    August 11, 2019 at 8:08 am
  • Do Little

    Customers prefer the convenience of 1 stop shopping. While competition is good, too much market fragmentation usually results in lower quality and higher prices since no one is making any profit. I think it would be great if Steam had a couple of competitors with similar scale and some of the small entrants may eventually grow to fill that niche but most will probably fail.

    August 11, 2019 at 8:13 am
    • Alot Do Little

      Could you explain how competition in the digital games sale space will result in lower quality and higher prices. This outcome doesn’t make sense to me and I’d appreciate a description of how this would play out.

      August 13, 2019 at 3:25 pm
      • Do Little Alot

        Competition is good, fragmentation is bad. If the platforms are incompatible, you get locked into an ecosystem and vendors with a captive clientele have little incentive to improve quality or reduce prices.

        August 13, 2019 at 7:49 pm
        • Alot Do Little

          Are the platforms currently incompatible? To my limited knowledge any games which are sold on both portals allow players to interact in game. If they can’t I agree there is an issue. If discord and steam players of the same game can interact in game then I dont see an actual issue, just an inconvenience which introduces healthy competition.

          August 22, 2019 at 9:10 pm
          • Do Little Alot

            The same game on multiple platforms is healthy competition. Exclusive rights to specific games is fragmentation. The competition there is between games – not between vendors offering the same game.

            August 22, 2019 at 10:02 pm
          • Alot Do Little

            I’m not getting the part about the captive clientele or reduced incentive to improve games. Are people bound to play their franchises regardless of how bad they get – especially seeing the degree to which player outrage seems to hurt games sales. There are very few games for which their aren’t good alternatives. I just don’t see this market as being one which could be locked down by your fragmentation argument – I do however see much better negotiation options for studios on the other side of the exchange. Again, extremely irritating when my games are split between multiple stores but thats about it.

            August 22, 2019 at 10:36 pm
          • Do Little Alot

            The lock-in is largely psychological – we are creatures of habit. Most people stick with the same brands even if there are better alternatives. It takes a lot of effort to overcome that inertia and marketing people know that. In my market, the dominant internet service providers charge twice as much as the little guys and it’s the exact same service – the little guys buy it from the big guys at a regulated wholesale price!

            Steam is more than a supermarket where you can buy games – it’s an ecosystem and a community, membership in that community is important to a lot of people. It will be difficult for competitors to attract those people unless they have exclusive offerings which fragments the market – why would you lower your price or improve your service if you have exclusivity?

            There is competition between games so you can simply choose to play something else but, if a game you want to play is offered exclusively at one store – you pay their price.

            August 23, 2019 at 7:45 am
          • Alot Do Little

            There is a difference between anti-consumer practices and customers failing to act in their own best interests. The former is an issue, the later isn’t something you cant blame shops for.

            Funny part on community though, I stopped raiding in mmos because of how much I hated teamspeak. Discord is so painless its allowed me to keep in touch with friends, some of which aren’t that great with computers. At present being forced to buy a game in either store doesn’t stop you from participating in both communities so this, again, comes down to a matter of inconvenience rather then anti-consumer practices.

            To the point of the price not being lowered if its been bought out by Epic, two things. Firstly the prices of most AAA games are pretty standardized – its unlikely to cost more on Epic even if they bought exclusive rights, which again means this is just a matter of inconvenience in being forced to use two portals, not price gauging which happens when internet providers gain a monopoly. Secondly, if Epic gains enough traction the idea is Steam will be pressured into giving studios better deals, not you. The price of games may go down at some point (due to the insane % of profits from games which are taken by steam and game engine providers respectively) but short term this is just about empowering game studios.

            August 24, 2019 at 7:37 pm
      • Carvj94 Alot

        Apple. Nuff said. Sunken cost fallacy locks ya into a shitty product that costs more than the competition.

        August 22, 2019 at 7:55 pm
        • Alot Carvj94

          I feel one of us are missing something. The only discord compatible game I’m playing is warframe and players on either platform aren’t locked out from interacting which means the player is free to choose either login portal to play the same game. Apple store locks you into an apple phone which is an issue as by choosing their phone you locked out of android products (unless you buy a second phone). This isn’t the case with two game portals as using either is free and both are usable from the same device – which means you comparing large upfront payments to a portal based inconvenience – which doesn’t compute for me.

          August 22, 2019 at 9:08 pm
          • Carvj94 Alot

            Just cause the launcher is free doesn’t mean sunken cost fallacy won’t apply. To a lesser degree than hardware restrictions sure but it exists in large enough ammounts that dozens of people have argued with me that Epic’s launcher is somehow a better launcher than Steam’s.

            August 22, 2019 at 11:27 pm
          • Alot Carvj94

            I have a feeling that Steam will get more millage out of the sunken cost fallacy then Epic. Regardless though, there is a difference between anti-consumer practices and consumers failing to act in their best interest. The former is an issue, the later is on the consumer. On which launcher is better, I’m pretty sure its steam but the importance of the chat room is higher to me then the quality of game purchase or launching. I’ve never bought a game on Epic, don’t really plan to either. If in some dystopian future i was forced to choose between the two however I’d go with discord because of how easy its made it for me to keep in touch with friends.

            August 24, 2019 at 7:20 pm
  • Scott Wilson

    There’s no real thinking here. Epic is a cash grab that fucks consumers. The only peeople winning are Epic and unethical pieces of shit changing their kickstarters and fucking over steam users. The only way to defend this bullshit is to be a business or stock holder or Epic or a douchebag like Randy Pitchfork.

    August 11, 2019 at 10:04 am
  • chimpy

    If you are not hung up on steam, and I understand people who are, consider looking into xbox game pass for PC. It’s £4.99/month in the UK and include The Outer Worlds when it releases. That alone would be £50, or 10 months of the pass. You won’t own The Outer Worlds, but if you are a play once and forget kind of person like me that doesn’t matter. It also includes Metro Exodus.

    August 11, 2019 at 4:59 pm
    • elaqure chimpy

      In theory it’s a great idea, but I’ve run into some pretty significant issues with the game pass over the past few months (since E3). Keep an eye out for my next article – I’ll be talking all about it…

      August 12, 2019 at 6:15 pm
      • chimpy elaqure

        Yeah I’ve run into some uniquely microsoft issues too. None of them fatal, but annoying, and with that special brand of microsoft sauce that you can recognise from a mile away.
        I am an IT admin. For my work MS account I use my work email, but I use a personal email as a backup/recovery email on that account. When I tried to make a personal MS account for xbox live using that personal email MS thinks I want to log into my work MS account, so it’s merged the two. Sigh….
        When I want to install a game off xbox PC pass the installer won’t just let me install new games whever I want, oh no that would be far too simple, I have to change the default settings of windows itself on where new apps should be installed before I am allowed to choose where to install games.
        When I first install xbox pass for PC and tied to instal;the first game I managed to somehow bork the installer. Everytime I tried to install any game it would just error with no feedback on what went wrong or how to fix it. A few reboots and some very fast clicking of buttons that only appear for half a second or so later I was able to get that fixed. All working fine now.
        I’ve got past every issue so far, but they all have a uniquely microsoft flavour to them. The desire to control the user and dictate to the user how things must be done or else, this unified architecture that exists only to serve MS marketing middle management and fights the user at every turn, total lack of common sense, a system that’s been built by people who won’t use it themselves and will never know what it’s like from a user’s point of view. All trademark Microsoft stuff.
        So saying once you have completed the hoop jumping obstacle course it does settle down, and you can actually spend some time playing the games. I doubt this experience will improve in the same way that I expect the Epic game store to improve over time because Microsoft, but I can live with it because it’s mostly front loaded issues not ongoing.
        For me being able to play The Outer Worlds without having to splash out £50 is a pretty big sell. I get the impression that MS lost the last console war pretty hard and they are really determined to not lose so hard in the upcoming bout. One of their strategies seems to be xbox game pass, and if they want to pump money into that in a simpliar way to Epic then I’m happy to reap the benefits. I don’t own a console only a PC, but if the console wars result in me getting more options and cheaper prices indirectly through the competition between MS and Sony, bring it on 🙂
        There’s been a few games that have appeared on xbox pass for PC already that I would probably have bought in a steam sale, but are included for my fiver a month. I think the vaule for me is very good.

        August 13, 2019 at 8:34 am
  • Hattori Irtehazn

    I honestly cant believe the “Not buying anything Epic Store line” this means you will sacrifice the chance of playing CyberPunk because it’s an exclusive there?? I don’t believe anyone who genuinely loves games can say no I’m not going to support to support a studio as unique as CDProjektRed because they have an Epic exclusive game………..

    August 11, 2019 at 8:53 pm
    • Garreth Vlox Hattori Irtehazn

      i’ll buy the game on a console instead of PC before I pay for an Epic exclusive. If a studio wants my support they can choose to distribute the game through a store front that is not a nightmare for their customers to use.

      August 12, 2019 at 12:46 am
    • CyberPunk2077 is also avilable for PC from gog.com. If you buy from gog there is the added benefit that because gog is owned by CDPrtojectRed, they get all of the money without paying a slice to a 3rd party store. One third of all digital pre sales of Cyberpunk have been made on gog, simply because people respect CDPR soo much and want to make sure they get as much of the money as possible, myself included. Link to the page on the gog store:
      https://www.gog.com/game/cyberpunk_2077

      August 12, 2019 at 10:11 am
    • CyberPunk is definitely not an Epic Store exclusive. I just pre-ordered it on Steam 2 days ago.

      However, fuck Epic for that bullshit with Metro. That alone ensured that I will never use their service.

      August 12, 2019 at 2:27 pm
      • Urziel99 Zaand

        Yeah, that was the first shot and guaranteed I will never use EGS for anything. I’ll wait for release on Steam or GOG. If they don’t release elsewhere then they knew their game clearly wasn’t worth buying.

        August 16, 2019 at 2:23 pm
        • Zaand Urziel99

          It will be on steam in February of next year. My game backlog is long enough that waiting a year isn’t as big a deal as having to install another service.

          August 16, 2019 at 3:06 pm
    • As has been noted in the comments below, Cyberpunk will not be an Epic exclusive. I was concerned about that at first until I learned that CDPR actually owns GOG. This is further backed up by the fact that every physical copy of the PC version of the game will come with a GOG key.

      And if the game had been an Epic store exclusive, I would have just purchased it on a console…

      August 12, 2019 at 6:19 pm
  • phuzz

    Eh, Steam, Epic, I don’t really give a fuck who I give my money to, but I’m not paying full price for a game, or buying one as soon as it releases.
    So currently I’ve no reason to even look at Epic.

    August 12, 2019 at 2:24 pm
  • Satoris

    The Epic “store” is a joke. There are no user reviews on the storefront, leaving you to rely on biased gaming journalism companies for reviews or in some cases no information at all before deciding to purchase.

    There are also no community forums, so you can’t even ask other players whether a new exclusive game is garbage before purchase.

    Gamers and journalists need to be more blunt when talking about the epic storefront.

    They’re introducing a far worse product for gamers and trying to force them to use it.

    They may treat developers better than Steam, but gamers are their customers. They treat us like crap.

    They’ve screwed gamers by forcing them to use the Epic launcher or nothing and actively poaching games from a superior, gamer centric platform.

    It should be said flat out, over and over: Epic games is bad for gamers.

    August 12, 2019 at 10:15 pm
    • Carvj94 Satoris

      Are they treating devs better though? They are bribing indie devs to make career ending decisions.

      August 22, 2019 at 7:58 pm
  • Willem

    Never bought and never will buy from EGS.
    I love the platform though it’s great for developers to fix their games and let them be beta tested by shrubs on EGS.
    One year later i can enjoy a bug free game with DLC released at a reduced price.
    Win win

    August 13, 2019 at 9:12 am
  • Alot

    For the life of me I can’t understand how people view all the EPIC shenanigans as a long term detriment. Applying the scale of pro-consumer to anti-consumer practices to every individual stunt they pull is different from the long term effects of actual platform competition for consumers and developers.

    If you create a computer game now days, and you want to sell it, it goes on steam. I was going to make a joke about selling physical copies in bookstores but then i realized that hardly any new computers even come with cd or dvd trays. Being forced to sell your wares on a single platform, which is accountable to no one, is not good. Is steam terrible? No. Its a nice company but its rates are still suspiciously high – which is fine in a free market but conceptually iffy when the app is so large that it becomes the platform of the free market itself.

    Every time i see people complain about multiple accounts I get the feeling that people overly equate industry health, healthy competition and consumer protection to one word: convenience. People love talking about industry disruption until they personally get disrupted by it. I find it bizarre when people applaud the existence of an actual competitor to a world service monopoly but then get salty when they realize they want to buy a game that’s exclusive on that competitor.

    And yes, it does suck. I just feel as humans we can differentiate between the personal angst (and group angst) caused by a trade war over luxury commodities from the benefits we expect to see in 10 years time if EPIC corners a 3rd of the market -.-

    August 13, 2019 at 3:47 pm
  • Carvj94

    Epic will literally never be able to feature match steam with their sales cut. The development and maintenance costs of the features would put them into the red. Once their Fortnite money fountain dries up that is. So there’s really no point in buying in since it’ll never be as good.

    August 22, 2019 at 7:54 pm