Anyone who plays video games on PC is well-acquainted with Steam. This longtime digital storefront has been the de facto monopoly of the PC gaming market for almost a decade – with more than 30,000 games and 90 million monthly active users under its belt.
Other platforms have tried and failed to topple Steam’s empire. Large game publishers like Ubisoft and Electronic Arts released their own clients but mainly focused on distributing homegrown games. Smaller marketplaces, on the other hand, like the Humble Store and Itch.io, found a following among indie game developers and fans.
Unfortunately, none have managed nor has the trajectory to match the catalog and user base Steam is currently enjoying. They can satisfy the needs of every kind of gamer, whether you’re a personal injury lawyer looking for a quick relaxing game after reading a mountain of documents or a part-time worker training the needed skills to become a professional e-sports player.
That is until Epic Games (Epic), the studio behind multiplayer game Fortnite, launched the Epic Games Store last December 2018. Epic was able to use the gains from the popularity of Fortnite, giving them the financial and industrial power to employ aggressive strategies against Steam.
Higher cut for developers
Epic’s first line of attack was to offer developers 88 percent of generated profits compared to Steam’s standard policy of only 70 percent. The difference of 18 percent matters in an industry where margins can be slim, especially for smaller studios and indie developers. They can sell fewer copies of their game to earn the same amount of money. Developers are finally given a better choice on where to host their games.
Before Epic’s offer of a more attractive revenue split, developers were at Steam’s mercy and had to follow whatever rules and arrangements it implemented. One of the biggest complaints was Steam’s views on curation and moderation. The platform has so many games, including those of lower quality, that it’s harder to have a game visible on its shelves unless it’s a Triple-A title.
Paid exclusives and free games
Major publishers took their chance with the Epic Games Store, giving exclusivity rights for the platform to host their game. Gamers looking to play Deep Silver’s Metro Exodus and Gearbox Software’s Borderlands 3 had to buy the titles through Epic Games in the first year of its release. Naturally, there was pushback from fans of Steam, which generated boycott campaigns and review bombs. That didn’t stop Epic Games from hitting $680 million in revenue and 108 million accounts created in 2019.
Epic is also enticing players to their platform by giving away free games every week. The games are not small fish either. Big titles like Grand Theft Auto V, Just Cause 4, and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate were all up for grabs with no strings attached. All you need to do is to create an account with Epic, and you can start building up your library full of free games.
Despite its aggressive strategies, Epic has a considerable way to go before it can match Steam’s reach and scope. Key features enjoyed by players on Steam are still missing from Epic. Steam had 16 years to learn the tricks of the trade and build added features that made its platform both a store and a service.