Epic Games has been making a lot of waves recently with its storefront. Its aggressive marketing is seemingly a challenge to Steam’s stronghold over the PC gaming marketplace. One strategy that has certainly gotten a lot of people talking is Epic bringing the practice of title exclusivity to the fight. Exclusive games aren’t new for PC as EA haven’t listed any of their titles with Steam since 2013, preferring their own platform, but there have been more and more stories of late that seem to have some in the gaming community quite agitated.
Epic’s first big strike against Steam was securing the eagerly anticipated title Metro: Exodus as an exclusive despite the game already being listed on Valve’s storefront and available for pre-purchase. This left gamers, especially early adopters of the title, confused and annoyed at the sudden revelation. There was obvious backlash from fans and Epic stepped up and acknowledged this particular arrangement hadn’t been handled well and promised to do better going forward, but that certainly hasn’t been the end of the controversy.
With Epic eager to entice more users to their store, they’ve signed more exclusive games. Yet this exclusivity strategy seems to draw annoyance from gamers rather than praise. A spate of notable community-funded titles have also signed up to be Epic Games exclusives which have left backers feeling cheated and lied to. We saw this at E3 withShenmue 3, a game partially backed by Sony with fans left to cover the rest. The Kickstarter page had a long and heartfelt campaign pitch asking fans to grow a community, to fund this project for gamers all over the world, only to turn around after development and sign an exclusivity deal.
Another community-funded project,The Outer Wilds, was also announced as an exclusive despite the campaign page enticing gamers to successfully fund the project with the promise of a Steam release. They asked for donations to assist with bringing the game to new platforms and in many different languages. Still, some PC backers were left unhappy after Epic’s announcement, as they would have to wait out the timed-exclusive deal before enjoying the game on Steam.
So what does this mean for PC gaming? From the actions taken so far, I think this business practice will lead to gamers being even more distrustful of crowdfunding. Indie developers could find it harder to secure adequate financial backing, with some not wanting to get stung for their contribution with a surprise announcement just before launch. In my view, exclusive titles have always been a way for companies to entice gamers while masquerading the real reason the platform isn’t a runaway success on its own merits and that’s where Steam has the edge over Epic right now.
With a community hub, player interaction, integrated mod support, forums, reviews and video uploading linked to YouTube, Steam is offering a lot of options to interact with friends and other players of games you enjoy. Yes, I’m aware that Epic has a roadmap for implementing community features, but it all feels a little too slow in coming and if you want to develop gaming communities then you need to provide that community interaction. I also cannot accept user reviews being cherry picked by developers — if gaming controversies have shown us anything it’s that the voice of gamers should not be left in the hands of the developers.
We’ve seen it before: WB only handing out review codes of Shadow of Mordor to streamers who promised only positive coverage, Jim Sterling and the Digital Homicide lawsuit, many other examples. All it takes is one developer twisting the reviews in their favor to cast the entire system in to doubt. Will Epic continue down this evidently divisive path or is this just a short term marketing plan, coming to the fight swinging? I understand the reasoning behind it but I feel there are many gamers like myself that have been turned off to the Epic Games store because of this strategy.