The Epic Game Store has poached another high profile new release from Steam: The Outer Worlds.
As with Metro: Exodus, this is a timed exclusive meant to expire after 1 year. Unlike Metro though, Outer Worlds is also slated to be released on the Windows Store as normal. So if you really wanted to play it Day 1 without using the Epic Store, you can. Of course, that means… you have to use the Windows Store, which comes with its own issues.
The backlash from the continued poaching of games is pretty widespread on Reddit (and Youtube comments, etc) although there is also a tremendous amount of counter-backlash. Most of the counter-arguments seems to boil down to “why so serious?” Which should not be unexpected from /r/SubredditDrama or /r/GamingCircleJerk users, of course. Nevertheless, it is question worth asking.
But before I get to answering it, let’s review why Epic is doing this in the first place:
When asked for his take on these reactions, Sweeney reiterated the aim of the Epic Games Store is, “breaking the 70/30 stranglehold that’s pervaded the industry for more than a decade,” and that its methods in doing so were never going to please everyone.
“Changing the way that games are sold is a big disruption to everybody,” he says. “I understand that — I’ve personally unsubscribed from Netflix twice as their selections of movies changed. But this is a necessary step forward for the games industry if we want to enable developers to invest in building better games, and if we want the savings to ultimately be passed on to gamers in the form of better prices.
Ah, it’s all pure altruism for the good of all gamers.
On Sweeny’s Twitter though, he admits:
UbiSoft agreed to a co-exclusive on UPlay and the Epic Games store. Epic Games seeks exclusive games in order to have a unique lineup of games so there’s another reason for gamers to come to our store.
In fact, here are the brass tacks:
That’s one of the biggest complaints about the Epic Games Store: it lacks features. Indeed, it didn’t even have a search tool until recently. But Sweeney points out that there’s no use taking on a “dominant storefront” (ie, Steam) unless the exclusives, prices and developer relationships are there.
“It’s nearly perfect for consumers already… There is no hope of displacing a dominant storefront solely by adding marginally more store features or a marginally better install experience,” he said. “These battles will be won on the basis of game supply, consumer prices, and developer revenue sharing.”
It may seem like a “duh” moment, but I just wanted to reiterate the fact the Epic CEO admits there is no other way to compete with Steam on the merits. That the Steam store is “nearly perfect for consumers already.” And thus, the only way that the Epic store can hope to compete is by restricting the game supply via exclusivity agreements.
Which is a bit of a weird way to foster “competition,” don’t you think?
If you want to know why I consider Epic’s shenanigans as anti-consumer, timed exclusives is it. Competition between storefronts means I have the choice to purchase it from Steam or from Epic or whomever. For some reason, Sweeney feels like competing on price or developer revenue sharing isn’t enough. Possibly because Epic has a shitty store lacking in basic functionality. Forcing people to use said store if they want to play X game isn’t doing consumers any favors, even if it’s hypothetically “for our own good” years from now.
I get it. Disruption is required to break into mature markets. But typically – or at least ideally – the disruption comes out in favor of the consumer right away. Uber and AirBNB and Netflix and all the rest broke monopolies by offering not just lower prices, but superior service/opportunities in most cases. Uber didn’t just swing big-dick Fortnite money around and buy up all the cabs around the airport and tell people that the next five years are going to be super exciting for cab drivers.
In case you haven’t seen the news, the Epic Store has poached another timed-exclusive game release: Metro Exodus. The wrinkle this time is that rather than being planned from the start, Deep Silver must have been given a fat stack of secret cash because the game was already available on pre-order from Steam (which are still being honored, until removed from the Steam store). And, you know, the game was all set out to be released in 2.5 weeks.
I mentioned “fat stack of secret cash” because while the revenue split is more generous in the Epic Store, they are actually doing the only thing I said would matter in the competition space: Metro Exodus had its MSRP lowered from $60 (on Steam) to $50. Which means the gross revenue from this game would be:
- Steam = $60 * 0.7 = $42
- Epic = $50 * 0.88 = $44
That calculation demonstrates how a developer could still make a higher profit on the Epic store by dropping the price to $50, but here’s the thing: they are going to be losing a non-trivial amount of sales for not being on the PC’s largest storefront. Enough to matter? Remains to be seen. The Metro Redux (aka remasters) of the first two games sold 1.5 million copies back in 2016. That would be $3 million more in Deep Silver’s pocket if they sold the same amount of games… at full price… as the remasters of the last two games combined.
That $2 difference between revenue is 4.5%. If Deep Silver sells 4.5% fewer copies due to not being on Steam, then they lose almost $3 million. I mean, without even doing much calculations, you gotta know that for every Steam sale lost, they have to sell 22 copies in the Epic Store to break even. Ergo, I suspect that Epic was waving something more than simply the 88% cut in Deep Silver’s face.
And that’s kinda the baffling thing about all this. I’m not opposed to competition between companies, especially when it results in a gain in consumer surplus. Competing on price is a huge deal, and I’m sincerely amazed that Deep Silver pulled that trigger to sell at $50. But… why then yank the title from Steam as a “timed-exclusive release”? That isn’t consumer friendly or useful to anyone at all. Why not let the same title be purchasable on both platforms, and allow nature to run its course?
We’ll have to see how things shake out a year from now, when the game is finally released on Steam… presumably at a huge discount because it will have been a whole year.
Things were going pretty excellent last year, and this year was even better. On the personal front, not the gaming front. Gaming has been pretty bad. Or perhaps just more recently bad.
My gaming goals from last year:
- Complete the vanilla, HoT, and PoF story content in GW2. [only HoT complete]
- Play through some of those PS3 games I bought five years ago. [Errrm]
- Embrace the notion of shorter, possibly more frequent posts. [Not really]
- Use my Blizzard balance to pay for all my Blizzard gaming. [Success]
- Clear at least 40 games from my Steam backlog. [Success]
Guild Wars 2 has been an interesting experience, as I have played it off and on all year long. I feel like not very many MMOs could work this way, even if they didn’t have subscriptions, but somehow it does. It also helps that the Necromancer is a class I enjoy playing. While I finished the HoT story and stopped, there’s a good chance I’ll get back on the horse at some point and finish out PoF and maybe even the main storyline.
I’m just conceding the PS3 game situation as a moral failing and moving on. Well… maybe. It’s been a useful cudgel in preventing myself from buying a PS4 or other gaming system. One day, though.
The shorter posts thing definitely didn’t work out, or at least it doesn’t feel that way. There were more entries in 2018 than in the last two years, but 10% less than the 2012-2015 time period. I prefer writing articles to quips anyway, but quips are generally better at generating comments, clicks, and all other metrics that demonstrate traffic. Luckily, I have no need for traffic, and would be shouting into the void regardless. Nevertheless, I do appreciate the company down here in the void.
I got in relatively early on the Battle for Azeroth gold train in WoW, and so all my Blizzard activity can be financed for the foreseeable future. Provided, of course, I were still interested in playing any Blizzard titles. As it stands, my balance is around $90 and will continue to be at that level probably through 2019. And possibly beyond, unless I run out of other games to play.
My final goal was clearing 40 games from my Steam backlog. Looking at my Recently Played stats, I can see the following titles listed in 2018 with at least a few hours on them:
- Lone Survivor: Director’s Cut
- Scanner Sombre
- Warhammer 40k: DoW 3
- Salt & Sanctuary
- Talisman: Digital Edition
- QUBE 2
- Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut
- The Banner Saga 2
- Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
- Monster Slayers
- Galactic Civilization 3
- Guild of Dungeoneering
- Dark Souls
- Metal Gear Survive
- The Long Dark
- Nier: Automata
- Slay the Spire
- Rise of the Tomb Raider
- Civilization VI
- Dead Cells
- Conan Exiles
- Stardew Valley
- Nuclear Throne
- Hollow Knight
- The Forest
- Oxygen Not Included
- Fallout 76
- The Division
I tried to put the more substantial games in the right-hand column. The above 38 do not include the ~7 Visual Novels I cleared, nor the games from 2017 I’m still playing (e.g. Starbound), nor the games I played for about an hour and uninstalled (e.g. Dead Rising 4), so I’m well past the 40 mark.
As I sit here thinking about gaming goals for 2019, I’m a bit at a loss. It almost feels as though an inflection point has been reached beyond which “clearing the Steam backlog” is less a Sisyphean task and more… an irrelevant one. I used to find value in doing so not because of sunk cost fallacy, but with the hopes of finding the diamond in the rough. In a similar fashion, I used to download an Indie-Rock playlist with hundreds of crap songs just for those rare moments of discovering a new band I liked, and the joy of experiencing their whole discography. Never heard of the band Sleeping At Last until this year, for example, and now they’re one of my top favorites of all time. If I hadn’t put myself out there in the weeds in the first place, I may never have had them in my life.
But when was the last time that happened in a gaming sense? Something like Slay the Spire might have qualified, had it not been the fact that I already knew the game was awesome and confirmed the game is awesome. I feel reasonably in tune with my own gaming preferences these days – including the realization that survival games push all my buttons – so most things seem figured out.
It might also be fact that I’ll be a father around May and will thus have less gaming time. Either/or.
For fun though, let’s write some stuff down:
- Seriously, dude, play some of those PS3 games
- Clear at least one story path from SWTOR
- Finish up the PoF story content in GW2
- Clean up Steam library by removing titles not likely to play
- Be a (passably) responsible gaming dad
Five months is plenty of time to get everything done, right? Easy. Yep. No problem.
Narrator: It wasn’t.
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.
As many people are writing about, Steam recently revised their policy on policing the content of games sold on their platform. The new policy? Anything goes… unless it’s illegal or “trolling.”
So we ended up going back to one of the principles in the forefront of our minds when we started Steam, and more recently as we worked on Steam Direct to open up the Store to many more developers: Valve shouldn’t be the ones deciding this. If you’re a player, we shouldn’t be choosing for you what content you can or can’t buy. If you’re a developer, we shouldn’t be choosing what content you’re allowed to create. Those choices should be yours to make. Our role should be to provide systems and tools to support your efforts to make these choices for yourself, and to help you do it in a way that makes you feel comfortable.
What I don’t think is appreciated as much though, is the quandary Valve was/is in. Although there has been movements to erode it, most of the internet is still protected by Safe Harbor rules, meaning that you cannot be held responsible for content that other people post. This has led to a weird dichotomy in which Valve gets blamed for letting school shooting games slip through the cracks – and how this must reflect on Valve’s values as a company – whereas no one holds any such standards on Google, through which you can readily find the most vilest of content imaginable. “Steam is offering it for sale though!” Okay… how about Amazon and eBay and Craigslist and any ISP that allows whatever store/forum to be hosted on their bandwidth?
Do we even want these tech entities to be the arbiters of morality on our behalf?
When I saw this announcement, my first thought was “Yikes,” followed by “This is probably less bad than simply saying ‘We now allow (cartoon) porn.'” Because that is really what’s going on here, IMO. Remember the game Hatred? That was pulled from Steam for violence/controversy back in 2014… and personally reinstated the next day by Gabe Newell, who said:
Hi Jaroslaw. Yesterday I heard that we were taking Hatred down from Greenlight. Since I wasn’t up to speed, I asked around internally to find out why we had done that. It turns out that it wasn’t a good decision, and we’ll be putting Hatred back up. My apologies to you and your team. Steam is about creating tools for content creators and customers. Good luck with your game.
Conversely, the number of uncensored hentai games on Steam can be counted with, ahem, one hand.
You can make all the “Artistic!” arguments you want, but the bottom line is that Valve had to constantly argue that Geralt having sex on a stuffed unicorn (etc) in Witcher 3 was fine, but anime boobs was going too far. Worse than literal Hitler, in fact, or outrageous violence and gore. Visual Novel studios had to censor their products, and then offer instructions on the Steam forums on how to uncensor it via patches. Until Valve cracked down on that… which then led to developers giving instructions on their own webpages and dedicated fans then relaying that info via Steam forums.
To be clear, this policy shift will unleash all sorts of actual disgusting, offensive garbage on the platform, a few clicks away from anyone. Steam will still have a long way to go to get as bad as this site, but they are certainly heading down that road.
But at some point, I have to ask… why shouldn’t Steam be a simple (DRM) platform? The argument that Steam used to be a curation of the best games is a canard from yesteryear. In 2013, there were 565 new games released on Steam. The following years, that number increased to 1772 in 2014, 2964 in 2015, 4207 in 2016 (40% of all games on the platform), and 7672 in 2017. Any sort of active curation has not been occurring for at least four years, and certainly stopped by 2016.
Amusingly, we seem to be on the pendulum backswing when it comes to videogame punditry. Back in the day, you had to rely on gaming magazines like Nintendo Power and Game Players (ah, my youth) to find out any useful information about the gaming world. Then gaming went mainstream, and for a while there you were able to consume the information available on your own. Now there are so many games and information vying for your limited attention that it’s better to just find a few websites or bloggers with similar tastes and just follow them. That’s your curation now.
Anyway, like I said before, I fully anticipate Valve being raked over the coals for this move (which they have arguably been doing for 4+ years now). It’s already happening, actually, but it will get much worse for them once (more) outright racist and sexually violent games are released and then broadcast on cable news channels. I don’t want those games to exist either… but someone apparently felt that way about uncensored Visual Novels for many years, and I didn’t think that was particularly reasonable. Those two things are not equivalent… and that’s kinda the point.
Is it that we are supposed to trust Valve’s corporate values to arbitrate the correct morality, or is it more that Valve’s (nebulous) policy provided us a lever by which we could enforce our own? With Valve throwing up their hands, we have (for now) lost that leverage, and must rely instead on the much more difficult, and potentially futile, endeavor to change hearts and minds directly.
Bleach is a much better disinfectant than sunlight, but at some point we should address the issue of why shit is getting so dirty in the first place.
Much like with 2016, this year seems to have been one in which we entered the Darkest Timeline… until I look at my personal life and find things have been pretty fantastic this year. Bought a house, got a big promotion, got engaged, played some videogames. Who could ask for more?
Well, aside from ~80,000 people last year, but nevermind.
Here were my goals from last year:
- Give FF14 another shot. [Gave way more than a shot]
- Play through some of those PS3 games I bought four years ago. [Oops…]
- Resist playing WoW until the WoW Token -> Blizzard balance goes Live. [Done]
- Clear at least 30 games from my Steam backlog. [Tentative yes?]
Still haven’t touched those PS3 games, but I did resist the urge to unnecessarily buy a PS4. Mainly by way of missing the Black Friday sales, but a win is a win! Sorta. That said, when I upgraded my 24″ monitor to a 27″, I went ahead and ensured that I could use it for both my normal PC and the PS3. In fact, I have the PS3 hooked up to said monitor right now and could play those games at any moment. Even bought a Bluetooth speaker, so there’s no issues there. Yep. Any day now.
The Steam backlog thing was a bit tricky to figure out. Sorting by the Last Played column and looking at my Finished category, I see the following:
- The Talos Principle
- The Flame in the Flood
- Remember Me
- The Shrouded Isle
- A Story About My Uncle
- Space Pirates and Zombies 2
- Black Desert Online
- Darkest Dungeon
- Divinity: Original Sin
- Total War: Warhammer
- SteamWorld Heist
- XCOM 2
- The Forest
- Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
That’s a total of 16 real, substantial titles that I feel I gave a fair shake whether I ended up beating them or not. The actual total from last year is 88, with a rather large portion (21) being Visual Novels, and the rest being games I tried for about an hour and uninstalled. Looking at my active library, the list fills out a bit more:
- The Long Dark
- Neon Chrome
- 7 Days to Die
- PixelJunk Eden
- Dust: An Elysian Tail
- Kingdom Rush
- No Man’s Sky
- Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy
So… that’s technically 30. Although, even more technically, these have not been “cleared from my backlog,” as they are still hanging out in my library (some uninstalled). It could go either way, but I’m inclined to give myself a break.
Without further ado, here are my goals for 2018:
- Complete the vanilla, HoT, and PoF story content in GW2.
- Play through some of those PS3 games I bought five years ago.
- Embrace the notion of shorter, possibly more frequent posts.
- Use my Blizzard balance to pay for all my Blizzard gaming.
- Clear at least 40 games from my Steam backlog.
Feels kinda like a low bar, but exceeding low expectations is what I’m all about.
If you haven’t already heard the scuttlebutt… well, I’m sorry. The former lead writer for the Half Life series has released what is widely reported as a summary of the hitherto (and likely forevermore) unreleased Half Life 2: Episode 3. While it is being termed “fanfic” by the author himself, keep in mind that Marc Laidlaw left Valve in January of last year, and there are no other writers from the series remaining in Valve.
Divorced from physics-based gameplay and otherworldly vistas, the plot ends pretty quick. And it certainly still leaves the door wide open to some kind of proper Half Life 3. But… this is closure enough for me. It feels right. While nothing can really assuage the ire I feel after the ending of Episode 2 almost ten years ago, this nevertheless meets me halfway. It lines up with pre-established lore, and completes the themes presented since the original game.
Which makes sense, coming from the person who wrote everything in the first place.
At the same time… goddammit. Valve hasn’t released a single-player game since Portal 2 in 2011. That’s more than five years ago, for those (not) playing at home. And really, they don’t need to anymore. Steam obviously more than pays for itself, as evidenced by the non-standards of Early Access and shovelware that make it to the front page. For all intents and purposes, Valve has taken the ball and gone home, having monetized every inch of the field. They built it, we came, they left.
Oh, well. At least there are all these other games I can play on Stea…
I am not a frequent reader of Polygon, but their recent (hit) piece on Steam is interesting. There is a lot going on in the article, but these are the two thesis paragraphs:
This, then, is Good Guy Valve — a corporation which employs precision-engineered psychological tools to trick people into giving them money in exchange for goods they don’t legally own and may never actually use while profiting from a whole lot of unpaid labor and speculative work … but isn’t “evil.”
This is the Good Guy everyone seems too afraid to call out, the toxic friend who is so popular that upsetting him will just make things worse for you, so you convince yourself he’s really not that bad and that everyone else is over-reacting. Once the Good Guy illusion has disappeared, we’re left with the uncomfortable truth: Valve is nothing more than one of the new breed of digital rentiers, an unapologetic platform monopolist growing rich on its 30 percent cut of every purchase — and all the while abrogating every shred of corporate or moral responsibility under the Uber-esque pretense of simply being a “platform that connects gamers to creators.”
Basically, Valve conned us 13 years ago into believing they were the Good Guys, to the point that we unapologetically ascribe sins to Origin and UPlay that Valve themselves invented, and still perform where not prevented by EU law. Shkreli would give his left nut for the amount of free advertising that blasts over the internet for every Steam sale. All of this, all of this free money coming in, all this outrage over other corporations screwing over customers and employees alike… and we still eat it up for Valve.
I will admit that this article gave me pause.
It is a weird situation to find myself in, especially given that I am Pro-Consumer. Have you heard about Consumer Surplus? I invented that term. I will talk all day about how obscene it is for Blizzard to charge $25 for a character transfer, but spend zero time talking about how Valve takes a 75% cut of community-created DotA item/model sales.
That said, I’m not entirely sure there is a contradiction there, much less a cause for proletarian revolt.
Look, most of us grew up in the pre-Steam days. Do you remember what buying PC games was like? It was chaos. Sometimes you needed to keep the CD in the tray to play the game, sometimes you didn’t. Sometimes the publishers installed a rootkit on your machine, sometimes they didn’t. The first time I ever “pirated” a game was with Command & Conquer 3 because the disc I bought from the store wouldn’t play; there was either a scratch on the CD or some bug or something, but it instantly crashed on boot. Downloading a Day 1 crack on a game you just bought for $50 and couldn’t even return is pretty emblematic for that time period.
In short, Steam saved the PC gaming industry. It provided a framework in which the industry could grow, while simultaneously providing immense value to gamers. Steam sales actually were revolutionary at the time – the only times you ever got a discount elsewhere was when the game was in a bargain bin. Steam sales are disappointing these days, for sure, in a world of GreenManGaming, Amazon discounts, and all the other storefronts. Whom deliver Steam keys 99% of the time. Which is what most gamers want, considering the platform itself is immensely stable in comparison to oh, say, RockStar’s Social Club.
There are legitimate complaints regarding Steam. The Support sucks, so I have heard. It took them entirely too long to introduce Refunds, and I understand that that only came under threat of court orders. I’m also sure that the author’s claims regarding reimbursement percentages for selling character models is probably true.
But overall, I think the article is mostly attacking a straw man. There will be Valve fanboys, just as there are Apple fanboys. The difference is that Apple is a walled garden of overpriced, proprietary bullshit. Steam appears to be a near-monopoly… but based on what, exactly? Origin (or GOG, etc) might indeed be the better gaming platform these days… if it weren’t for the fact that they have an absurdly low (in comparison) library of available titles. Does Steam have exclusivity agreements that nobody knows about? If not, who is really responsible for its market share? No one is stopping anyone from opening a competing service that only takes 25% of the cut or whatever.
The bottom line is that nobody is being tricked here. Uber intentionally treating their entire workforce as contractors to avoid paying for health benefits or time off is not at all the same as “tricking” people into buying videogames over the internet. The damning “culture of cliques” at Valve is laughable; welcome to everywhere. Hell, if you want to see an abused workforce, take a gander over at Amazon warehouse for a moment.
“Good Guy Valve” is a marketing fiction, sure… but built on the back of a decade of actual value.
Does anyone else remember playing Dungeon Defenders? You know, that 4-player co-op pseudo-tower defense game from a while back? I knew that the sequel was in Early Access, so I decided to check on it’s progress since it reappeared on my Steam window.
“Still in Early Access, eh? Let me check the reviews…” Top one:
Although the review goes on to point out that things have since changed – the endgame grind has become easier than before, best weapons were nerfed, etc – the juxtaposition between the 1,095 hours played and the Not Recommended score is just… I don’t know. Funny? Sad? Nostalgic from an MMO perspective?
The developers actually responded to Karthu’s review, assuring him that the changes are a work in progress as they shift some of the systems around in an attempt to provide more depth. Which highlights the Sisyphean absurdity of the situation even more as this dude played an Early Access game for over 45 days straight. Or to put in another perspective, that’s roughly 2.5 hours a day, every day, since it’s Early Access release on Steam (December 2015).
I dunno, man. That sorta sounds like a ringing endorsement to me. Even if it no longer takes 50+ hours of grinding the same map to get the best weapon. Especially if it no longer takes 50+ hours of grinding the same map to get the best weapon. I guess we’ll see.