Since its introduction, the Epic Games Store has been the target of intense scrutiny and inflammatory discourse within the gaming community. This hostility has grown so deep that virtually all perspectives are riddled with unjustifiable behavior. Those who criticize Epic Games Store (EGS) often resort to accusing game developers of being anti-consumer for opting for an exclusive deal with the platform. As a result of this argument, game developers, unfortunately, receive the bitter end of the gaming community when they announce EGS exclusivity for their games. Defenders of the platform also have an adverse liking to accusing the critics of EGS as acting like petulant children and the bane of the gaming industry. Obviously, these dueling perspectives reach an impasse and the conversation is fundamentally obscured with vapid toxicity.
Arguments turn into personal indictments. Gamers create an exaggerated narrative of betrayal and abandonment when their game of interest migrates to EGS. Game journalists broadly conflate the loud few as the entirety of the criticism of EGS and thus belittle them as needlessly frustrated toddlers. Even game developers sometimes subscribe to that belief, which makes the situation even more complicated and overly-dramatized. So should everyone be quiet and have the market decide the fate of EGS? I think it’s more constructive to deep dive into the core arguments and understand their importance not only in this specific topic, but in the gaming industry as a whole.
Epic’s Clumsy Introduction
Let’s first address what caused this scrimmage; the Epic Games Store. Conceived by Fortnite creator Epic Games, the gaming community and media perceived the venture as a long-awaited competitor to Valve’s dominant Steam marketplace. Since its release, the storefront launched woefully under-cooked, lacking very basic features like a friend’s list and user reviews and profiles. Some features have been promised implementation with future updates as Epic detailed in a roadmap. However, that roadmap has been given the Anthem treatment with a delay. I suppose it’s understandable to have delays to avoid crunch. Sadly, Epic seems completely fine with crunching the hell out of their employees. Also, I imagine that storefront management is slightly easier than continuous game development.
The Flaws in a Beloved Platform
As to be expected, the gaming community took the opportunity to point out the unfinished nature of the storefront through valid critiques and humorous memes. The anger didn’t ramp up until the exclusives came in. What intrinsically differentiates EGS from Steam is the revenue share developers get. Developers from the get-go receive 88% of the money made from EGS sales, a substantial improvement from Steam’s measly 70% share. Steam somewhat responded by creating a progressive revenue split system. Games that make more money receive a greater share. Predictably so, indie devs were not too pleased as most indie games rarely turn into multi-million dollar smash hits. Consequently, this system naturally favors big-budget AAA-games, which are born to make millions right out of the gate. To add insult to injury, the highest share developers get still pales in comparison to EGS’s share, stopping short at an 80% share.
Valve’s greed lost the trust of many game developers of diverse sizes. Now it begs the question, why are game developers signing onto exclusivity deals with EGS when they can release their games on multiple platforms? Most gamers would stick to a platform they’re comfortable with in the first place, which is oftentimes Steam. Additionally, these deals also pay game devs a hefty bonus to have their games only on EGS. Ooblets developer Glumberland depicted their deal quite well, as the deal in itself gave the small team a much-needed financial boost which makes development way more comfortable and less worried about time constraints. That explains why a ton of small dev teams flock to EGS deals. In addition to a healthy cash bonus, the revenue share is significantly higher than most established storefronts. It’s a big win for indie devs.
The Role of Big Publishers
However, that bonus makes less sense when triple-A games do it as the additional cash doesn’t necessarily benefit the developers. Let’s look at Borderlands 3, a game published and funded by 2K, a subsidiary of Take-Two Interactive, one of the biggest publishers in gaming. Gearbox Software themselves aren’t exactly starving for money either as Borderlands 3 would undoubtedly make the studio millions, possibly billions of dollars. So how come Gearbox, likely driven by the higher-up executives like Randy Pitchford, eagerly signed a deal with EGS? Again, I have to stress that major studios like these rarely reward the teams for their efforts and favor senior and directorial staff.
This is where gamers take greater issue with these exclusivity agreements. When AAA games under big-wig publishers sign exclusivity deals to get marginally greater profits when they’re bound to score a jackpot anyway, it creates an impression that the deal was made out of greed and not with the welfare of the workers in mind. Another circumstance where controversy is crafted is when crowdfunded games that explicitly promised a Steam key for the game at launch suddenly revoke that promise due to the deal. This is anger that is at the very least comprehensible and respected in my eyes. A promise that has been revoked with no warning is a sketchy practice, especially when some people invested a lot of money into the project. They should be rewarded in getting a key for the storefront of their choice.
A Conversation Escaping Reason
The arguments begin to exceed logic when the resonance of betrayal exhumes from Reddit threads. Developers aren’t automatically the allies of all gamers. Exclusive deals on their own are not inherently anti-consumer — rather, they are pro-developer. While gamers play a pivotal role in the financial side of things, game production is an immensely costly task and it’s especially taxing (both physically and fiscally) for smaller-scale teams. Developers are more than providers of entertainment. They are human beings who need to pay the bills and support their families. If an EGS deal greatly benefits them, then the agreement should be given respect by the gaming community.
On the flip side of things, game journalists have to consider the criticisms of EGS and cease the narrative that the storefront is somehow immaculate and undeserving of dissent. The stark absence of features such as an achievement and review system severely inhibits community engagement with their favorite games. Steam, despite its numerous flaws and shortcomings, provides an incredible depth of community investment that few other platforms have emulated. Even minute features such as trading and selling digital items create a bubble among many that caters to a specific niche and allows a space for digital fraternity. I admit this sounds too theatrical for a meager gaming platform, but Steam truly is unparalleled when you examine it.
Given that Steam had a decade of establishing an impenetrable brand in PC gaming, it is very much unfair to expect EGS to launch with perfect parity to its rivals. There should be a window of time for Epic to expand EGS into something unique and special. However, that opportunity is narrow and will pass before Epic knows it. Hell, given how much resentment gamers have over the storefront, you could argue it already passed and Epic can’t redeem themselves. Then again, what is the fundamental purpose of a storefront? To provide and sell a vast library of games, of course. In that regard, EGS has fulfilled the requirements of being a true storefront. These exclusivity deals and the free monthly games (genuinely free since you just have to install the launcher) would only make the platform more attractive.
Opportunities for Growth
Regardless of the barren nature of EGS, these exclusives can and will encourage gamers to install the launcher. In hindsight, you can conjure up the argument that EGS doesn’t need that many features, which is a belief many journalists have subscribed to. It does what it needs to, so what’s the problem? Personally, I think the core distaste for EGS originates from a strong desire within the PC gaming community for a true Steam competitor. The fact EGS is so basic as is and doesn’t even try to hold a candle to Steam strongly disappoints many PC gamers. PC gaming can and should get better and Valve is not in any rush to improve their platform. Even with the plethora of exclusive deals Epic hastily makes, Valve doesn’t and wouldn’t see them as a threat because EGS is essentially just a game library. A good one, mind you, but still a glorified game library.
Steam is a huge avenue for mass communication and practically acts as a social media platform. Nothing stands in their way, so why should they try to break ground again? Gamers who aren’t threatening game developers with death for no reason just want EGS to offer something great enough that forces Valve to react accordingly. Game developers just want to be financially secure and healthy so they don’t gamble their livelihood for a project that could easily flop. Game journalists just want to inform their readers the importance of EGS as it stands right now, despite the sloppy start. We don’t need death threats or snarky blog posts or generalizing Twitter posts (ESPECIALLY death threats. Installing EGS doesn’t hurt). That gets the industry nowhere and only sets it back.
The gaming community is woefully under-educated about the inner workings of the industry. The industry needs to be transparent and honest with the community and media. The Ooblets post was simultaneously a great step forward and a small step back, in my eyes. We needed to hear about the reasoning behind these deals and the trials and tribulations these small teams face. It could have been better without the condescending tone. The negative tone left off a fairly poor first impression of the developer’s personality and didn’t feel very professional. The transparency was very much necessary and I commend them for making that decision. However, I can’t say I don’t understand the “DBAA” sentiment I’m seeing online.
Change Needs to Happen
Asking people to get along is a demanding proposal in the age of the Internet in 2019. Hell, even flirting with the idea of unity is met with hostility nowadays. Disregarding that, it’s incredibly important to have an open-minded industry that wants to engage with others. This “you don’t get me!” attitude from all sides is the main ingredient why we get so much vitriol in gaming in the first place. EGS needs to be better, game development needs to be a more emotionally and economically feasible task, and the gaming industry needs to be transparent for everyone. The future holds so much potential. Everyone just needs to work together to achieve it.
What do you think about the EGS situation? Did you think the Ooblets post was perfectly fine or needed less snark? Is EGS the bane of all existence or does it need to improve? Let’s respectfully talk about it in the comments below and stay tuned for more feature pieces from Sick Critic!
I’m a college student (Liberal Arts English) who is somehow allowed to write here. I enjoy dogs, memes, YouTube, and gaming (though, I’m a bit of a PlayStation fanboy). Favorite show: Breaking Bad. My personal GOTY: God of War. Follow me on the Twitter: @peter_j_finaldi. I’m on PSN bingeing on Gran Turismo: Sport: thebiebel105.