Full disclosure: Fanbyte is owned by Tencent Holdings, which also owns a majority share in Epic Games. But it don’t own me, baby! I’m contract and am subject to shockingly little editorial oversight, and I write whatever I dang want!
*Editor’s note: Tencent Holdings owns a minority, not majority, stake of Epic Games and Jordan operates with enough oversight for us to notice that oversight. Otherwise, he’s right.
Earlier this week, Deep Silver announced that its forthcoming post-apocalyptic shooter Metro Exodus will be exclusive to the Epic Game Store when it launches on February 15. That’s a very big announcement to make within just a couple weeks of your game launching, especially when it’s already been available for pre-order at other retailers.
Players that pre-ordered elsewhere will still receive the game through Epic’s burgeoning storefront, but that didn’t stop Valve from pretending that the move was somehow anti-consumer, and not anti-Valve’s bank account.
“We think the decision to remove the game is unfair to Steam customers, especially after a long pre-sale period,” Valve said in a notice on the game’s Steam listing. “We apologize to Steam customers that were expecting it to be available for sale through the February 15th release date, but we were only recently informed of the decision and given limited time to let everyone know.”
Deep Silver will earn 88 percent of the purchase price for every copy of Metro Exodus sold through the Epic Game Store, but it would have made just 70 percent through Steam. Players will have to install Epic’s launcher to play the game, but who cares? We’ve all already installed separate launchers for Blizzard and Ubisoft and EA and Magic: The Gathering Arena anyway.
The only entity this is actually bad for is Valve, it turns out, so I decided to look at the Epic Games Store and see if there’s anything else about it that might be unfair to Steam customers.
Unfairness #3: Epic Games Store Actually Looks Good
The fact that the Epic Games Store has the structure and polish of a modern piece of consumer software is pretty unfair to Steam customers, since Steam is basically a fancy Winamp skin from 2004. It’s pretty good as far as Winamp skins go, of course, but it’s not what I would consider attractive or intuitive.
For the sake of argument, let’s say you want to change the visibility setting of your wishlist. Is this done on the Account Information page? Or maybe, is it part of the Steam app’s settings menu? No not that settings menu, the other one. In the drop down. The other drop down. Actually hold on, is it on your profile page? It certainly isn’t on the actual wishlist, VALVE.
Unfairness #2: Epic Games Store Actually, Like, Works
It’s also unfair that the Epic Games Store actually functions when you click on things, as opposed to the Steam app, where clicks are more of a suggestion than an input commands. Your mileage may vary, of course, but on my machine at least, Steam’s extremely temperamental UI generally just does whatever it feels like, capitulating to my demands only after multiple attempts at viewing my inventory, etc. The Epic Games Store also launches the first time I tell it to, wonder of wonders, which is something Steam hasn’t been able to pull off in as long as I can remember.
Unfairness #1: Developers Can Make More Money by Selling Games at Lower Prices
It is definitely, categorically unfair to Steam users that publishers and developers can make more money while simultaneously charging customers less on the Epic Games Store.
Here’s the math: On Steam, Valve takes 30 percent and the pub/dev gets 70 percent, which means the pub/dev gets $42 every time you pay $59.99. On the Epic Games Store, the dev/pub can charge $49.99 and make $44 per sale — two dollars more per unit — because of the 88/12 revenue split. With a revenue split like this, developers might be able to better afford the sorts of budgets that modern AAA games demand, and something like Tomb Raider could sell millions of copies without being considered a financial failure.
Whether this actually becomes the norm is for Future Jordan to write about, but at least it’s possible here, which can’t be said for Valve’s storefront.
Look, I know this sorta reads like an ad, but my point isn’t that Epic has done a good job with its store so far, it’s that Valve’s lawless wasteland of a monopoly on PC gaming legitimately sucks rocks. Consumers, developers, and publishers all deserve better than what we have right now, and so far Epic is the only company with enough capital to issue a viable challenge.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore itch.io and everything it represents, and in a perfect world people from coast to coast would hold hands and unite under the banner of fair and independent storefronts. But we’re not lucky enough to live in a world where that sort of thing is possible.
Not yet, anyway. The world we have right now is basically that barrel of acid from Who Framed Roger Rabbit, when the bad guy dissolves those weeping, terrified cartoon shoes, so “other huge corporation with billions of dollars” might be the best underdog we can hope for in 2019.