Dog Catches Car

It’s a real shame that Borderlands 3 isn’t coming out until next year…

Borderlands3_Steam

So many game delays this year, amirite?

Memes aside, I won’t rehash why (Epic) exclusives are bad. Instead, I wanted to talk about Rohan’s closing paragraph about the subject:

Ultimately, I think Epic’s exclusives strategy was entirely predictable. It’s also possibly the only strategy with a chance of breaking Steam’s hold on the market. I expect that while Epic may pay lip service to complaints about exclusives, they’re going to ignore the community clamour, and follow this strategy until they get established.

It’s already been admitted/established that Epic is doing this because they have an inferior product with no hope of creating better value for customers. But what struck me with the above paragraph was what happens if it succeeds. Like, they get X number of people to buy Borderlands 3 (etc) in the Epic store. So… now what?

I guess the hope is that each time you log into Borderlands 3 or whatever, you see whatever handful of other games Epic is selling. Okay. But we’ve kinda already established that the people buying from the Epic store are those who don’t really care about storefronts – they are just following specific games. And at the moment, Epic isn’t actually competing on price either. Metro Exodus is $50 instead of $60, but it’s not a “deal” because you can’t buy it anywhere else.

The endgame, such as it is, appears aimed squarely at game publishers just eventually not ever listing their games on Steam anymore. Which wouldn’t make much sense until the userbase of the Epic store is much higher, which these exclusives are attempting to achieve. But, again, there’s nothing really keeping customers coming back. Steam has a social ecosystem between reviews, forums, modding (i.e. Steam Workshop), chat, streaming, and so on. That and Steam sales. Epic so far has… exclusives… bought with Fortnite money.

I suppose the real best-case scenario here is that Epic bribes enough developers that Valve eventually responds by lowering their percentage ratio for everyone across the board. Epic could still buy timed exclusives, but it’s possible the bigger fish no longer bite as the Steam install-base remains in the tens of millions. In which case… fantastic? It’s not as though Valve actually makes games anymore, so them losing revenue doesn’t actually impact anything.

But in the meantime, fuck Epic and this ridiculous storefront war waged at the expense of consumers.

Posted on April 8, 2019, in Commentary and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Urgh. Yes. Hear, Hear to this post in general.

    I’m so tired of seeing tweets to the effect of, ‘Lol, I don’t understand why people are mad. It’s just another free download!1!!’

    I think Steam is at least in part culpable for not making any response to this as yet. But from a business sense I understand it. The short term loss to Epic’s (self-admittedly) unsustainable strategy of paying so well for time-limited exclusives is going to be well less than being able to hold firm at 30% cut.

    There will be a tipping point wherein if this strategy doesn’t stop, they’ll likely be compelled to act, but that is likely to be more a measure of market share rather than any short- or even mid-term revenue metrics.

    So yep. We have two giants at war (even if one of them appears quite passive in it currently), and of course the consumers are going to lose for now.

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  2. I am hoping for the same outcome: Steam gives more money to developers and starts caring more for customers :)
    I’d love Steam to get rid of third-party DRM like Uplay and adjust its font settings. Too small for people with bad eyesight (https://steamcommunity.com/discussions/forum/10/864973760850542098/?tscn=1554669457)

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  3. There is certainly a dev point of view that competition over percentages might make things better for them in the long term.

    http://www.zenofdesign.com/the-epic-steam-war-is-here-and-game-devs-are-all-for-it/

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    • Oh, I’m sure the devs are excited. If the user experiences were identical, I would be excited too.

      The issue is that the Epic store has almost none of the features that make the Steam experience worth the price of admission, and consumers are being asked to “just bear with it” while all the backroom shakedowns take place. It’s hard to say that Valve “earns” their 30% versus a lower amount, but from a consumer standpoint, Valve’s storefront is literally infinitely better. And Epic pretty much flat-out said they weren’t even going to bother trying to match on that front.

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    • Ex dev perspective you mean? Plus until Epic starts selling hotbars, why would he care either way?

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  4. What will keep the customers coming back is exclusives. Epic isn’t competing on price with the players, it’s competing on price with the publishers. Competing directly to the players is something GOG tried and it didn’t work. The ideal endgame is that the publishers make their games Epic exclusive of their own volition, but in the meantime they are understandably wary of gambling on this and the skids must be greased.

    Steam has been getting a free lunch for a long time here and I can’t really mourn the end of it. Fact is all they have to do is match the Epic store cut and it would immediately take all the wind out of Epic’s sails.

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    • Exclusives work… for that specific game. What keeps customers coming back are prices and extras. Even though Epic could be competing on those fronts, they’re not, and show little interest in doing so for whatever reason. Shit, if Gearbox was selling Borderlands 3 on both platforms but it was $10+ cheaper on Epic, I would be buying it from them.

      Steam has indeed been getting “a free lunch” but even if you don’t care about history (e.g. essentially saving the PC gaming market), you cannot simply ignore things like Steam sales and Steam Workshop and all the other features. Those have value even if you specifically don’t use them. Nexus also exists for mods, but there is a lot to be said about being able to go to your Steam library, click three buttons, and have a mod installed the next time you boot up. Or if you’re having technical trouble, going to that game’s Discussion page and seeing if others have the same issue. Then Reviews/Curators, etc etc etc.

      Not saying all that justifies a 30% cut versus 12%, but then again, I don’t care about cuts. I am a consumer, I care about what’s best for me. And right now, Epic ain’t it.

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      • Selling games for less in the Epic store isn’t really an option , as it does nothing for the publishers. They want to sell for the same price and collect more money due to lower store fees. Metro was priced lower, but the difference there was made up by the exclusivity deal. Epic obviously doesn’t want to make up that difference forever though.

        We don’t care about store cuts, but by the same token publishers don’t care about store features. I took Rohan’s point in the linked post to be that if you follow the incentives, you inevitably arrive exactly where we are. We don’t have to like that, but all the indignation in the world won’t change it.

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  5. It beats me why people want to use any kind of “storefront” in the first place. I’d always prefer to buy any game direct from the company that makes it. And play it via that company’s own launcher.

    I have Steam now, although I resisted it for years, but I use it as little as possible. The prospect of having to go through Steam first, let it update, navigate to my Library or wherever, then let Steam update whichever game i want to play is more than enough in most cases to stop me bothering in the first place. It adds several redundant steps to what should be a one-click process and adds what? Nothing I can see.

    Not that having games split across different storefronts is an improvement, but if I was going to buy the game in the first place, and the company that makes it wasn’t selling it direct, I would certainly then be influenced by price. If it’s going to be annoying i might as well at least get a financial benefit for the irritation.

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    • That’s kind of a weird perspective, honestly, because Steam updates are one of the largest convenience factors of the entire experience. Each time I open the launcher, it ensures that all of the games are up to date, usually downloading in the background if I’m playing something else. Meanwhile, if I wanted to play Fallout 76 or whatever, I could be stuck waiting for Bethesda’s launcher to update just that one game. I would have the same experience if I only played one Steam game, I suppose, but I don’t.

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  6. Out of curiosity, what are the consumer-centric things you think a hypothetical storefront could do better than Steam?

    Price, you have Steam sales, which are just crazy. I think curation is not a real problem, but a fake problem that developers complain about because they feel their game is not getting visibility. Discovery doesn’t happen in the store, but in the wider media. Download speed is pretty excellent, as is patching and control.

    About the only thing I can see that would be better than Steam is a subscription or rental service like Netflix or Origin Access. And that seems very hard to do. Though a rental option would be interesting. You could rent the game for X hours for $5, maybe apply the rental as a credit towards the final price. But even here, Steam’s generous return policy might handle that use case.

    I guess I just don’t see a consumer-centric strategy for Epic to pursue. Which leaves the developer-centric strategy and exclusives.

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    • Epic doesn’t need to surpass Steam on the merits, it just has to be of similar quality. At that point, Epic will have a competitive advantage of being able to just always be $5 cheaper or whatever, and they will eat the entire gaming pie. But for whatever reason, they just believe modding, forums, reviews, and all the other bells and whistles are not worth their time. Not saying 30 million meme reviews are always worth it either, but it’s not nothing. I’d rather have those things and not use them than Epic say they’re not even going to try.

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      • I think Steam sales have “poisoned the well” when it comes to competing on price. I think the price-conscious consumers will simply wait for the sale and the game to be 50% off rather than take the $5 cheaper option.

        As well, the $5 cheaper option has no incentive for the developer to work with the Epic store, since they would basically make the same amount of money as Steam.

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    • I don’t think curation is a complete non-starter, purely based on my own anecdotal customer feelings when using Steam. A lot of the time, Steam will arbitarily front-page stuff for me that it could have brought to my attention much earlier, while the ‘discovery queue’ feels very weird and gimmicky and usually results in a majority of dross.

      As you say, one can search the wider media for games, but that is active rather than passive, and still stands a good chance of missing smaller titles that really fit a particular niche of interest.

      Epic will almost inevitably end up with a better quality to noise ratio than Steam, as a natural outgrowth of simply having fewer games available. It seems a good idea to double down on this with a better search/curation/suggestion system that does not rely on user tags and reviews as much as actual in-house examiners and perhaps better AI methods. To say nothing of Steam’s recent, misbegotten libertarian-frontier approach to censorship…

      They cannot compete on social infrastructure (such as ease of multiplayer) and quantity. What they could try to do is to create the feeling of a cosseting boutique in contrast to battling through Steam’s rowdy bazaar.

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