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The PC Game Launcher War

Unraveling the showdown between Steam and Epic Games

Written by Luke Heyen on May 2nd, 2019.

In recent months, PC gamers have been at war with each other over the new Epic Games Store and Steam. Arguments include Epic Games paying developers and publishers to release games exclusive to the Epic Games store, a spyware problem, and Epic’s store being “bare-bones” compared to Steam. Epic Games launched their store on December 6, 2018, whilst Steam launched back in 2003. Over the course of 16 years, Steam has introduced a wide range of features including a friend list, forums, achievements, wishlists, and a whole heap more that Epic has yet to bring to their platform. Back when Steam first started, most people were upset with changing from physical media to a digital storefront. The medium has grown since then and is gradually taking over the physical media market.

Epic Games released a road map which includes many of the features people are asking for. These upgrades will be coming within the next 1-12 months. Many believe Epic should have had these features on release and that the storefront is unacceptable in its current state. It’s understandable to be upset, but it seems as though a lot of people don’t remember that it had taken Steam years to develop these features. While I agree that the Epic Store dropped the ball on some of the missing features, being open and transparent about where they are planning to go has convinced many to be optimistic.

Consumers have also been cautious of the Epic Games Launcher due to spyware reports, where your information is allegedly sent to Chinese company Tencent. This seems to be exaggerated for the most part and those reporting on the issue have been spreading false information. A blog post on Facepunch has gone through the spyware claims stated by Reddit user u/notte_m_portent and has debunked them. The claim that Epic is capturing user information is true but happens to occur almost everywhere else on the Internet including Facebook, Twitter, and Steam. Meaning, if you use any of these platforms you are at the same risk as everybody using Epic’s launcher.

Epic has given developers a larger portion of revenue, only taking a 12% cut from anyone who uses their storefront. They will also cover the 5% royalty fee from using Unreal Engine 4. This is a significant difference from Steam’s 30% cut for the majority of its developers and added 5% for Unreal 4. If developers become fortunate enough where they start hitting large earnings milestones, they will start receiving a better cut through Steam. At $10M USD the developer cut increases to 75%, and at $50M USD it increases to 80%. Such profits are unlikely for most developers, but the PC launcher war could potentially end if Steam changes their revenue distribution. Tim Sweeney, CEO and founder of Epic Games, has said if Steam agrees to a permanent 88% revenue share for all developers, Epic would “hastily organize a retreat from exclusives and consider putting [their] own games on Steam”. Keep in mind that most issues development teams run into can be fixed with time, which in turn costs more money. Having that extra 18% could be a lifesaver to some developers. We are also seeing a trend of larger game development companies launch their own storefronts like Ubisoft’s Uplay and EA’s Origin. These add to consumer’s anger and confusion with having to deal with multiple storefronts to purchase and update their games. The reasoning behind these platforms is because of the standard 70%/30% split on Steam.

Steam hasn’t had much competition in the PC market over the past 16 years, which makes some people complacent and not willing to change to a new launcher even though Epic has been offering exclusive titles like Hades, Metro Exodus, and the recently announced Borderlands 3. Epic is also offering free games every two weeks to those who have an account with them. Some highlights include Oxenfree, Thimbleweed Farm, and The Witness which aren’t games to turn your nose up at and have generally positive reviews. Unfortunately, PC gamers have been review bombing certain games on Steam in response to their exclusive deals with Epic. Review bombing is where a large group goes to a certain website or game page and leaves negative reviews even if they haven’t played the game before, in turn lowering the overall review score and possibly hurting sales. The most recent occurrence is when Borderlands 3 was announced that it would be an Epic Games exclusive, the previous Borderlands games received over 1,000 negative reviews in a short period of time on Steam. Ultimately, the issue was corrected by Valve with a new anti-review bombing feature which gets rid of all “off-topic review activity”. You are still able to view these “off-topic” reviews but they don’t affect the overall score.

Lastly, the Epic Games Store has an affiliate program for creators where they can earn money if a supporter uses their code in the store or when purchasing V-bucks (Fortnite in-game currency). A similar program has never been implemented on the Steam marketplace. Both Steam and the Epic Games Store have their pros and cons, and it’s important to understand all that each can offer. As the popularity of digital games increases, both Valve and Epic look to benefit amidst their competition.

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