I was feeling the “play something else” itch the other day, and instead of scratching it with one of the 800 unplayed titles in my Steam library, I wanted to buy something new. In looking around, I found the game I had been subconsciously looking for: Forager.
But then… I paused. Doesn’t this seems like, you know, the sort of game that might end up on the free Epic Store list? Or as a front-runner for Humble Bundle? Or otherwise in one of the dozens of bundles around the internet? Same thing with my #2 choice, Fate Hunters, a Slay the Spire-esque game currently 25% off on Steam. I love Slay the Spire, I have 130+ hours with that game.
But, you know… Slay the Spire is currently a front-runner for the September Humble Bundle.
So, I didn’t buy Forager. Instead, I’m playing a few of the free games from the Epic store, like Moonlighter and Enter the Gungeon. They don’t scratch the itch in exactly the same way, but they also don’t cost $13.59. Or any amount of money, actually. All of which is making me wonder when again exactly that I will be back to purchasing games.
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.
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.
I was browsing /r/GameDeals and came across a post about Destiny 2. I think this is one of the first times I have experienced a game sale in which I walked away more confused than I started.
The short version is that Destiny 2: Complete Collection is $40. This includes the base game, the “expansion pass” that contains the first two expansions, the third large expansion “Forsaken,” a character boost, and then the “Annual Pass” which covers three additional expansions (Winter 2018, Spring 2019, Summer 2019).
That’s fairly straight-forward, I guess. The issue is that in September, parts of Destiny 2 are going F2P. Specifically, the base game, the first two expansions, and a portion of Forsaken, e.g. the patrol areas, but not the raids and more formal missions. Or something. Also, it’s leaving the Blizzard launcher and going to Steam instead.
Having the base game, as I do from an earlier Humble Bundle, doesn’t appear to be relevant to the primary deal. But what about when it goes on Steam? When there is a Steam bundle, you typically get a discount for pieces you already own. Now, the base game and the first few DLC will be F2P so maybe future Steam deals won’t take those pieces into account.
In this midst of this pondering, it dawned on me how completely unnecessary all of this was. This was a $60 game that had two paid DLCs, one major expansion, and three additional DLCs. On top of a cash shop. Why not just have a fucking monthly subscription and call it a day?
None of this is news, but sometimes it is good to be reminded how far into the weeds the developers are willing to go to monetize every inch of available space.
It’s a real shame that Borderlands 3 isn’t coming out until next year…
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.
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.