I know we’ve spoken at length about the whole thing surrounding the Epic Games Store, and if it actually has a chance to replace Steam, but there’s been a development in that story that’s raised some very interesting questions: specifically, with Deep Silver and Epic Games deciding to partner up to make Metro Exodus a yearlong exclusive on the Epic Game Store, despite offering people the chance to pre-order the game on steam for so long.
This is… a powerplay? A betrayal? It’s something, and it’s something that feels very big, because despite all the exclusives (and the fact the game will be available on Steam after a year – with all the DLC and such, which won’t have the year-long exclusivity period), this is the first time the Epic Games Store… or, really, any games store has so directly spat in the eye of Valve. And I have to wonder if they’re tempting fate by waking a giant, or if Valve has gotten so large and unwieldy that they couldn’t retaliate even if they wanted too.
But my first and primary concern is for the players, because to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that PC players have been caught up in the drama surrounding two warring clients.
I mean, don’t get me wrong: PC gamers should be used to getting the short end of the stick at this point. Between crappy ports, a flood of poor-quality games, intrusive and useless DRM, and countless developers trying to push their own clients and game stores, navigating the PC gaming world has never been as easy or straightforward as the console world – that’s sort of the main point of consoles these days. But of all the places fans have been screwed over, warring clients is kind of a new one.
Like I said when I first reported on this whole hubbub, I think this is an incredibly selfish and stupid move from Deep Silver. An exclusivity deal with the Epic Games Store is one thing, but waiting until a game is 17 days from launch is way too late of a notification, especially if you’ve been selling the game for months and months and months on another platform. It could perhaps be forgiven if there was some noble or high-minded logic behind the switch to a new client. But this was a blatant, naked case of greed, choosing to jump ship after so long on Steam to chase the slightly better monetary opportunities are available on Epic.
And here’s the thing, it doesn’t really matter that the pre-orders will still be honored by Deep Silver and Epic. People are both lazy and way too busy, and while asking them to download a new client and make a new account might not sound too bad on paper (the paper Deep Silver was no doubt using when they decided to justify this move), it does represent an investment of time and energy that people didn’t sign up for when they pre-ordered the game on Steam. As I said in my first Steam vs Epic Games Store, people are sold by convenience. If someone pre-ordered the game on Steam, they weren’t just paying for the game, they were paying for the convenience of having the game on a client they knew and an account they’re comfortable with. Asking them to download a new client and make a new account simply so you can earn a little extra cash is, frankly, unreasonable.
It takes up time and space. Not a lot of time or a bunch of space, but some. I guess the word I’m really looking for is “inconsiderate”. It’s extremely “inconsiderate” of the Epic Games Store and Deep Silver to do this. It’s not to say that all games need to be released on Steam, but the games that aren’t released on Steam need to say so from the start so people will factor in the time/space cost in if they decide they’re going to put money down for a game. No lie, a game not being on Steam has been enough reason for me to not buy a game I might have, just because the inconvenience of downloading a new client made it not worth the time or effort in my mind. I know it sounds lazy, but I also know I’m not the only one. This kind of crap is my whole day job.
But even taking aside how unfair it is to the consumer, we’re left to wonder what, if anything, Steam will do about this. I think Steam has been aware for a while now that the Epic Games Store could steal games and customers from them, but this is the first time that it’s ever caused them a major inconvenience. I had predicted that the Epic Game Store might be the Steam Killer, but it would take a while, and if Steam is destined to go down after death by a thousand cuts, well, I guess this would be the first slash.
I see this playing out three very different ways. In the best-case scenario, this could be the wake-up call that Valve and Steam have desperately needed for the past couple of years. Steam realizes that if they’re going to compete with the Epic Game Store, and avoid any more of these… cuts… they need to be more competitive. So they reduce revenue shares across the board, start actually doing some QA on the indie games that are currently smothering the platform, and making a social push to re-introduce themselves to the gaming world as the new and improved Steam. If they could find the wherewithal to actually commit to this hypothetical, and do it soon, the Epic Game Store might fairly quickly fall into obscurity.
The second way this could go is that Valve does what Valve does best: nothing. Epic Games continues to grow and expand, stealing all the good and highly anticipated games from under Valve, who struggles to understand why no one plays on their client anymore. Steam becomes over bloated with crappy Steam Direct titles, nothing is done to stem the tide and no good games are left to “balance” out the storefront, and suddenly the Epic Games Store is the go-to place for games while Steam is left to wallow in a swamp it created with its own greed and apathy. This would probably kill Valve in the long-term, because they’ve lost so much momentum in the world of actually making games, and gotten so “big” off the teat of Steam, that even if they put out Half-Life 3 it wouldn’t make enough money to keep themselves afloat.
But this is the darkest timeline, so option three seems like the most likely: Steam does nothing, and Epic Games gets a lot of goodwill and attention from fans and developers alike for its innovative new model. All the same, it can’t ignore how Valve has made money hand-over-fist through Steam Direct, Steam Greenlight, and basically letting the community do the work it should be taking care of itself. The Epic Game Store adopts a similar model, gets swamped with crappy, poorly-moderated shovel ware, and between that and Fortnite makes more money than god. People are left to wonder if there’s any good alternatives out there, completely forgetting the Humble Store and GoG exist, and the world continues to spiral into an era of irreversible darkness and despair.
I know that’s a lot of doom and gloom, but take one look at the news and you’ll see we have lots of reasons to feel defeatist about this. Even our escapism is trapping us at this point, people.
In any case, the immediate question of “what can Steam do to retaliate” seems to be a whole lot of nothing. They are, indeed, a bloated company, thanks to a lack of momentum and their unique structure-less structure, and it will take them a while to get the energy and ideas on ways they could properly strike back. But since Steam can’t exactly “fight back” by securing another exclusive, I’m guessing if they did want to stick one to the Epic Games Store, it would have to come in the form of a new game or three. That obviously wouldn’t be much of a “retaliation” because by the time they were done a solid half-decade would have likely passed, but… I mean it. When Valve is trying, they can actually make damn good games. Even their latest game, Artifact, is apparently a damn good TGC that’s marred only by its monetization structure. if (and this is still a big if) the Epic Games Store really does prove to be such an enormous threat to Valve, their best bet for staying alive might be pulling a Nintendo and surviving on first-party titles and well-loved IP.
I mean, Nintendo was able to survive where the Dreamcast and the Neo Geo died thanks to first-party clout. It even survived the first Xbox and PS2. If there’s one lesson we can take from that, it’s that well-made games can keep a company alive through just about anything.
But of course, that all hinges on if Valve can get off its fat ass and do something.
And for that to happen, well… we might need a few more cuts.