Goose, but not Gander

It was recently reported that Epic, the guys behind Fortnite and the Unreal engine generally, will be spinning up their own storefront in (yet another) bid to give Steam some competition. The most reported takeaway is that the store cut will be just 12% of sales, instead of the industry-standard 30%. That fact, along with a more curated experience with opt-in user reviews (e.g. can’t review-bomb games), no forums, and so on, is supposed to entice developers to jump ship.

The funny thing to me is that the conversation on the topic seem ass-backwards. Who gives a shit about developers? Where is the incentive for gamers to care about and download yet another proprietary storefront? That is literally the only thing that matters.

As a consumer, having to interact with another launcher is a net negative experience. Developers might very much love the larger cut of revenue, but will they love it enough to move exclusively to the Epic storefront, selling their game nowhere else? If not, I’m going to continue buying my shit on Steam when possible.

And even if they do go exclusive, the game would have be extremely fucking good to make me bother in the first place. I have Origin because of Mass Effect 3 and the Battlefield series. I have GOG because of Witcher 3. In all other cases, I buy from Steam or from sites that give out Steam codes, even if GOG (or whatever) versions are available.

The ONLY thing the Epic has going for it is price potential. Imagine if every game was 10% cheaper on the Epic storefront than Steam, permanently, irrespective of sales. The developers still get 8% more of the revenue than they had before, and by every principle of Econ 101, more copies will be sold, so it should be a win-win, right?

Yeah, that’s probably not going to happen.

The irony of ironies is that cheaper prices might not even be enough at this point. Epic is offering a “curated experience” and the groundbreaking ability to send out newsletters (comes with a free pager!), but none of that means anything if you are not actively playing a game in the Epic launcher. That newsletter might remind you that developer X has Y game coming out tomorrow, but what about all those other indie devs sitting in the wings, hoping that you see their title in the “Similar game to…” window? They get nothing, assuming you aren’t still playing their 2-hour walking simulator that you get 14 days to refund (lolwut?). I suppose the idea is to try and lure bigger developers to release their AAA game on Epic for some downstream benefit… but guess what? All the AAA devs already have the same idea and are doing the same thing with their own launchers.

Tragedy of the commons, indeed.

Posted on December 7, 2018, in Commentary and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Well one incentive is they are giving away a bunch of free games next year, which may interest you.

    It shouldn’t matter that the games aren’t exclusive to the Epic store, only that they are present. If Epic only has like 50% of the big Steam games (they can probably get away with less overlap at the sub-indie level; Steam has a lot of crap) then they’ll have trouble for sure. Otherwise, the “sunk cost” factor of leaving Steam is very overrated. The vast majority of Steam libraries are games we’ll never play or never play again. Who cares if you “lose” them? But then sunk cost fallacy is a thing, and I don’t ever see Epic (or anyone) achieving the kind of mass exclusivity necessary to force Steam out of the limelight entirely.

    At the same time you might play a Steam exclusive like Dota2, so in that case you are stuck with Steam and this would just be another launcher to mess with.

    I don’t know, I use Steam but I’m not attached to it or anything, it’s fine and gets the job done but I wouldn’t care if it were replaced tomorrow. It’s main selling point is sheer volume: most games you could want are available there. If more publishers start setting up their own exclusive launchers and storefronts, Steam is the biggest loser.


    • It’s not so much the sunk cost fallacy with Steam, as it is habit and momentum and laziness.

      That’s what I keep coming back to. Suppose Epic magically gets 100% catalog overlap with Steam… so what? There is zero reason why I would download the Epic launcher. Handing out free games is the same as competing on price, and that might prime the pump a bit for Epic (depending on the games!). But unless they have must-have exclusives – beyond Fornite, I guess – or consistently better sales, then this will be Origin 2.0. There is no impetus for me to switch, sunk cost or no.

      And even if I jump ship for 1-2 AAA exclusives, they will need to continue being much cheaper to keep the momentum. I still have the GOG launcher installed, but I have no reason to log into it since I was done with Witcher 3 three years ago. There could be a bunch of sales going on right now, and I’d never know, because I never open the launcher, because I’m not playing any games on GOG right now. Of course, I browse /r/GameDeals and such, so they might be able to reach me there or on other deal sites. But general product discovery? Not so much.


  2. You’re forgetting DLC. I have some steam games which have a ton of DLC, even if the new platform carries them, it’s not like I can use that to get DLC and then hope it’ll work with steam…. One more reason not to switch, or one more barrier that they’ll have to tear down to pull more people in….
    Not that this is a good thing, I mean, a serious competitor to steam would be a big help.
    Ah and I was forgetting: I play on linux, and steam works fine with it, will the new store do the same?


  3. I completely disagree. If there is a game I want to play, I download the “launcher”. I downloaded Steam when I wanted to play PUBG. I have Wargaming Gamecenter for World of Warships. I had Blizzard Launcher for Overwatch. BDO had its own launcher too. So did EVE.

    If a title I want to play comes out on Epic. I download it and go trough the registration.


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