I apologize for the lull in content on this blog, but I am currently dealing with some very rough, 50+ hour workweeks. I swear I started the first level of Super Mario World like two weeks ago and haven’t even found the time to start the second yet. However, now that I have a moment of free time, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on the sequence of controversies surrounding Epic Games and their approach to the Epic Games Store.
Released at the tail end of 2018, the Epic Games Store (EGS) is Epic’s own storefront meant to be a competitor to Valve’s Steam. While initially people were lukewarm towards it and saw it as kind of a bother, Epic began paying developers and publishers to launch on the EGS exclusively. The latest addition to this list of games is Borderlands 3, which will remain on EGS for 6 months before hitting other platforms. It would be an understatement to say that people are miffed about this.
A strong argument is that people have always played games on Steam, it being the top dog of PC distribution. People who bought the other Borderlands games complete with DLC and created a community on Steam’s platform now find themselves having to move over to EGS for the newest addition or sit the game out for 6 months. I have also heard stories of crowdfunded indie games moving to EGS without consulting backers and, yes, all of that is really lame and inconvenient.
However, we should not ignore what this means for PC gaming as a whole. Sure, EA has Origin and keeps some games to itself and Ubisoft has the same with Uplay, but in general, Steam is the largest platform and almost all PC games will make their way to it sometime or another. It has been mighty convenient for gamers, because it allows them to have their entire games collection in one digital place. Steam is also famous for its sales and has allowed many people to grow libraries of hundreds, or even thousands of quality games. EGS and its efforts to keep games exclusive to it remind PC gamers of the console market, where games are expensive and there is no guarantee your 400 euro box will get all the games you want.
However, Steam’s position has allowed it to grow complacent. I remember a long forum discussion about how advertisers should swap out the old PC gaming icon for Steam’s logo, and that isn’t even mentioning the Gaben worship. However, Steam itself has been known for notoriously draconian practices, not the least of which was its launch. PC gamers at the time were equally upset when they bought Half-Life 2 and had to install it via Steam, which was a buggy mess that required an account while acting as nothing more than an inconvenient DRM measure.
Cut to 2019 and Steam is a celebrated store, but one that very often hits the news with new controversies. I mean, how about the refund policy that didn’t get implemented until just a few years ago? Purchases on Steam were final and support would give you a big, fat middle finger if the game just didn’t work for you. Bought a game literal hours before it would go on a massive discount? No refund. I remember buying Deus Ex: Human Revolution and the game literally crashed on boot. Pirated the game, kept the same settings, worked perfectly. No refund.
How about its scummy attempt to monetize the modding community? How about its flaccid attempt to make Steam Greenlight a thing before deciding to approve literal hundreds of games per month? How about homophobic, racist, or even just broken games without an executable making it to the store? It’s one controversy after the other and, meanwhile, Steam is rapidly becoming the Youtube of game distribution: unwilling to manage its own system, unable to deal with the flood of content, and constantly acting against the best interests of its actual users.
Game developers have already been fleeing Steam even before the EGS happened. Console marketplaces proved a great home for indie games, where they get actual visibility instead of disappearing in a tidal wave of other games. Personally, I don’t even browse the Steam store anymore. Humble and GOG provide more pleasant and curated alternatives, and most of the time they are cheaper too. I just did some browsing for the heck of it and got a whole bunch of hentai games in my recommendations. Yeah… thanks?
EGS is going to be inconvenient. It lacks features and the way it draws in exclusive games is very much bothersome for gamers, but keep in mind that EGS is a free platform. At worst, you just need to download it and have a few of your games kick around on another service with another account, and that is only if you really can’t wait 6 months before a game comes to Steam.
I want EGS to succeed, not out of an inherent favoritism towards Epic, but because Steam needs a competitor. It needs a viable enemy to spur it on and keep it innovating, because right now the once-prestigious games’ store is a convoluted, outdated mess that is frequently sued or investigated by governments for anti-consumer practices. Steam should not be the face of PC gaming and the rise of EGS should not be seen as the PC market landing in the same hot waters as consoles, because, like with EA’s exclusivity for The Sims 4, actually getting to play it only means moving from one free app to another.
Having your library split up between different platforms is a bother, but one that, in my opinion, seems fair if it means you don’t necessarily have to buy from Steam if you find its practices abhorrent. Rather than seeing EGS as a divider of PC gaming, I see it as yet another step towards making the PC market even more free and diverse.