Epic: Bribe or Bust

You are probably aware of the Epic Game Store’s predilection towards bribing indie developers with fat stacks of cash to get them to sign one-year exclusivity deals, sometimes after Steam has been giving the same developers months of free advertising by being listed (and even preordered!) on the store. That can be considered an erosion of consumer surplus or clever use of game (business) mechanics, depending on how you feel about the taste of boots. What has hitherto been unmentioned is Epic’s stick on the other end of the carrot: declined exclusivity will keep you off the Epic store.

On July 27th (Saturday) I uploaded a new trailer anouncing Steam launch date. On July 30th (Tuesday) I was contacted by the Epic Store, proposing that I enter into an exclusivity agreement with them instead of releasing DARQ on Steam. They made it clear that releasing DARQ non-exclusively is not an option. I rejected their offer before we had a chance to talk about money.

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Now, maybe there is a less nefarious reason for why the Epic store “is not in a position yet to open the store up to games that simship.” Perhaps it is related to the reasons why a Shopping Cart or Wishlist are apparently impossible to implement even with bigdick Fortnite money in a digital game store in 2019. Maybe Tim Sweeney is just an odious asshole, celebrating a “multi-store future” with GOG – a competitor in financial trouble – but not with Steam, which would invite embarrassing comparisons.

The bottom line is that the developers of DARQ turned down Epic’s exclusivity deal and now they will not be able to sell their game on Epic. Because “reasons.” It makes me slightly more sympathetic to the (indie) developers of these games, as it was not just the ready cash, but also the threat of losing out on tens of millions of other eyeballs on other storefronts.

As a reminder, none of this exclusivity bullshit is necessary. Epic could simply undercut the Steam price by 5% forever AND grant developers a larger percentage of the cut, and I would buy all my games in the Epic store. I do some ridiculous shit to save $1-$2 after all. Maybe that’s Plan B for when they run out of exclusivity money?

Oh well. Let’s see how they spin this.

Posted on August 20, 2019, in Commentary and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. That was kind of a dark turn, pun intended. Epic went from “exclusives help indies!” to “be exclusive or GTFO!” I guess we get the priorities in play now.

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  2. It is a little bizarre that they’d try to poach him literally three days after he committed to a Steam release date. I understand the value of free Steam publicity (though I think it’s relatively modest for an indie as opposed to something like Metro) but he’d been working on the game for 3+ years. Surely, all of this could have been avoided by pulling the game off Steam before that firm commitment?

    Anyway, Wlad’s well-timed account of his integrity has now been rewarded by oodles of additional free publicity. Good on him.

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    • In a sense, this is the only way the bribe thing works. If the game is already out on Steam, it can’t really be “exclusive” anymore, and Epic clearly isn’t in a mood to spend money on games not ready to ship. So these poor marketing flunkies are stuck haunting the halls of maternity wards, trying to snatch babies from doctors in service of market share.

      Seems like a whole lot of work to avoid competing on price or service, but what do I know.

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      • Well, not exactly. With at least a couple of other exclusivity deals, including the notorious Ooblets, they’ve been content with hanging around the drive-through wedding kiosks of Patreon and Indiegogo. Actually, Ooblets still doesn’t have a release date, far as I can tell.

        Like Ooblets, DARQ had had a Steam store page for ages, with dev updates tracking its growing readiness to ship, and Epic could easily have talked to Wlad before he announced Steam release. Perhaps they’re deliberately baking the publicity value of reneging-on-Steam controversy into the offer nowadays.

        But, hey, at least they’re bribing us with free B- and C-list games to get our eyeballs on their storefront. That’s a pinch of consumer surplus, for someone out there.

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