There are many reasons why some people choose to primarily game on consoles rather than PCs (and vice versa), and all have their merit. Be that cost, accessibility, ease-of-use, or versatility, gamers choose what works best for them. That said, I think one of the biggest influencers in the decision making process is the nature of exclusivity with specific IPs. There are some games you simply cannot play if you don’t own a particular device; this can be very frustrating, especially if you are a gamer on a budget, as many of us are. This does highlight some of the appeal for PC gaming, as the list of games you can play is often only limited by the horsepower of your personal machine. Times are changing, however, and it is hard to say if it is for the better.
In the fall of 2003, the Valve Corporation took the world by storm (again) and released its own digital distribution platform, Steam. It started out quite small and was initially used to update Valve’s online games, most notably their flagship Counter-Strike. Today, it has evolved into the largest distributor of digital PC games, bar none. Other companies have attempted to throw their hat in the ring, but have only met limited success. GOG (Good Old Games) is one that has carved out a sizeable niche for itself, and while I love the offerings of classics it provides, the options for new releases are very limited in comparison to Steam.
For years, Steam has boasted a plethora of useful features and has given convincing reasons to be the sole game launcher on your PC. It even allows the option to add non-Steam games to your library, so that you can easily organize all of your games in one place. Unfortunately, there have been times when certain games required downloading specific launchers in order to run, even if the games were purchased through Steam (I’m looking at you, Uplay). These were few and far between, however, and never presented much of a problem; usually the only reason for using them was if they coincided with a game you really wanted to play, so the hassle was mostly worth it.
While Steam made it easy for us gamers to purchase, organize, and play our games, its services have come at a great cost to developers. Valve asks for a 30 percent cut of all revenue generated from on-platform applications (meaning no portion is received from any platforms other than Steam), which is a hefty chunk, especially for smaller, independent developers. Now, Valve is not all take; they give a lot back, creating strong incentives to buy into their business model. Developers are provided with online matchmaking services, cloud-based saving, built-in anti-cheat functionality, and extremely easy-to-use integration. Additionally, Valve adjusts their cut to 25 percent for earnings beyond $10 million, but this does not affect smaller studios, and feels almost like a snub. Even so, these features don’t necessarily eliminate the sting of Valve’s take; rather, they alleviate it. There isn’t really much choice, though, is there?
Valve is not all take; they give a lot back
Enter the Epic Games Store. Epic has been around for a long time (longer even than Valve) and has developed wildly successful games (notably Gears of War and Fortnite) and the powerful Unreal Engine that is widely used today. Recently, they have entered the digital distribution arena and have immediately started to put up a fight against Steam. After the incredible success of Fortnite, Epic now has even more resources to throw around, and may actually present themselves as a formidable challenger to Valve’s monopoly of digital downloads.
Epic offers attractive incentives to developers, boasting only a 12 percent take from total revenue. Additionally, they will also cover the usual 5 percent royalty fee for the use of the Unreal Engine (when applicable). The reasons to jump ship (or at least add another ship to the fleet) aren’t solely focused on developers, however. Epic provides a slick and simple interface that is very easy to navigate, free games every few weeks (and they are good ones, too – I recently acquired the fantastic Subnautica and What Remains of Edith Finch), and most importantly: Exclusives.
Traditionally, exclusivity has been, well, exclusive to consoles. You want to play the brand new God of War that everyone is talking about? Well, you’re gonna need to get yourself a PlayStation 4. You want to go on an adventure with Mario in Super Mario Odyssey? Better grab some Joy-Cons and pick up a Nintendo Switch. For many of us, this just isn’t a possibility; we have to choose a console that offers more of the games we want, and stick with it. For the most part, this dilemma has not been an issue on the PC; we could simply buy a disc or purchase what we wanted on Steam. Epic is aiming to change that.
Epic is not only trying to compete with Valve, it is explicitly attempting to take away from them. Several huge titles have already said “so long” to Steam and joined the Epic party. Ubisoft’s The Division 2 is skipping the platform completely, and the PC version will only be available on Epic’s store. Even more egregious, however, is the absence of 4A Games’ Metro Exodus. Many fans have been eagerly waiting for the next release in this popular series, and a lot of pre-orders were made through Steam. Very suddenly, though, 4A Games announced that it would be pulling Exodus from Steam and releasing it exclusively on the Epic Store. Valve felt gut-punched. Now, customers will still get their pre-orders on Steam, but as of late January, the game can no longer be purchased on that platform.
Steam is still the best platform for finding and playing digital games
So what does all of this mean for us gamers? Certainly, it looks like a good thing for developers as it allows them to choose the platform that best serves their interests, but as consumers, this highlights some possible issues. Nobody wants to download another launcher and further clutter their personal machine, and no one enjoys having their game library scattered amongst a variety of platforms (at the time of this writing, I have games on Origin, Steam, Epic, Uplay, and GOG Galaxy – it is not an impossible circumstance, but it is far from ideal). But if you want to play any of the games mentioned (and any other huge releases down the road), you will be forced to accommodate.
Now, is it really that big an issue if all that is required is to create a new (and free) account with another service? Isn’t this more of a minor inconvenience. After all, it’s not like we as PC gamers need to rush out and buy another $300+ console in order to play our favorite games. I personally don’t mind so much, and if it offers an opportunity for smaller developers to thrive, then I’m all for it. I do fully understand the pushback on this, however, and I think the idea of further disorganization will definitely drive some gamers away, but until these games are blocked by some sort of paywall, I don’t see this as anything more than a small annoyance. We shall see where this all leads down the road, but for now I think it is good for the community at large.
Steam is still the best platform for finding and playing digital games, and I will be sticking with it for the foreseeable future, but Epic is very attractive right now, and is worth a look if for no other reason than the terrific free games it has been offering of late. I am not a fan of monopolization in any sector, and I am all for healthy competition as long as it makes those in question work hard to provide the best for the consumer. Right now, times are better than ever for PC gamers, and I am really excited to see how things progress in the months ahead.