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.
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?
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.
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!