On January 14, 2019, there was an uproar due to some comments translated from a Russian podcast featuring the Director of Publishing Strategy for the Epic Games Store, Sergey Galyonkin. The long short of the comments dealt with paying influencers (Streamers, video content producers, etc.) money through the Support-A-Creator Program as a form of advertising for games, though the way the influencers are paid is by giving them a cut of the game’s sales.
In more recent news, various publishers are making their games PC exclusive on the Epic Games Store, such as the Division 2 from Ubisoft and Metro: Exodus from Deep Silver. There was an especially huge backlash from the Metro switch, as the game had been up for pre-order on Steam for months, pulled only two weeks before its release date. Though no official reasoning has been given, one can only suspect that the hefty sales cut (88 Dev./12 Epic) given by Epic is a prime reason, and some people believe money was given under the table to jump ship from Steam. Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney, in an interview with Game Informer, has admitted they will sometimes decide to fund developers who will go exclusive for their store, though didn’t really go more specific than that.
If you’re still reading along, you saw that the article title mentioned the Epic Store having faults. Although it is still relatively new, I do believe it is taking the wrong steps to be a competitor to Steam. First, let’s start with the store’s benefits to developers. Epic announced on the Unreal Engine blog that developers will control their page from top to bottom, where unlike Steam there will be no ads to show other games they might consider over your own, as well as controlling your game’s news feed. Like their price cut, this sounds incredibly dev friendly, but there are things that seem fishy as well. There will be no user reviews on these pages, and while as a critic I do believe reading from a journalist you connect with and have a similar taste to is a good approach, I can’t say I don’t comb through reviews before purchasing to find out what I’m getting into on a game (not that Steam doesn’t have its own problems with stopping review bombing, more recently on the Metro: Exodus page.) It also totes a more connected form of interaction with a dev’s player base by automatically subscribing players to the game’s news feed, with optional email newsletters, but I would argue subscribing to a newsletter isn’t really that far out of reach for players to do on Steam already, as it only takes the click of a Follow button to do so. Still, building bridges between developers and their players is a good thing.
Speaking of players, let’s take a look at what they get out of this. Probably one of the biggest draws to pull players in is getting a free game every two weeks, with so far players receiving Subnautica and Super Meat Boy, which some would call indie darlings. There is also the aforementioned better relationship between players and devs, though how much input players will really have with devs with the lack of a review system is questionable. Some games are even receiving price cuts on Epic, such as Metro: Exodus costing only $49.99 whereas pre-orders on Steam (before the game was pulled) were $59.99. This all comes as a concerted effort to bring not only players to the store but developers who might be tired of Valve’s handling of their games. This is understandable. This article is focused on the Epic Games Store, but Steam is not a perfect platform.
Near the beginning I mentioned the Support-A-Creator Program from Epic, involving an influencer receiving a revenue cut for sales of the game by having a code typed into the store when players purchase a game the influencer played. A tweet here from Galyonkin explains why Epic has made this choice:
Right now a significant part of marketing budgets of big games is allocated to pay influencers. Those are one-off deals. I think having a way for influencers to be able to stream any game and make money without relying solely on big publishers would be awesome.
— Sergiy Galyonkin (@galyonkin) January 14, 2019
I disagree with this method. I am not a market researcher but I do feel that this is not friendly to devs (especially indie devs) considering Epic has said there will be no algorithms to suggest games to players based on previous games they owned and enjoyed. This is a very multiplayer based way of thinking (which is no surprise considering Epic’s biggest success by and large is Fortnite) and doesn’t help players really looking for a new single-player game that offers a similar experience to what they enjoyed (or possibly loved). There isn’t even a search function currently on the launcher, and if there is, it is not obvious to the consumer.
The point of this is, this Support-A-Creator system that developers can opt into feels less like an option and more mandatory. For all the ways Epic says it is developer friendly, they don’t seem to care about advertising a developer’s games or have an actual plan of doing so on the store at this moment. As they have said, the front page of the store will be handpicked by Epic Games. What’s to say if you don’t opt into their program they will choose to feature your game at all? And if they don’t, what other way will developers have a way for marketing their game than by self-promoting, which is an incredibly heavy task, especially for a small or possibly one-person development team.
And look, it is not easy being a streamer or other content creator. By and large more people fail than they succeed, but for the ones that cultivate a following, they make a decent wage. According to CNBC, Twitch Streamers on average earn about $250 dollars per 100 subscribers. When that builds up it can be around $4000-5000 a month for a successful streamer, which is a healthy sum. Do the content creators/influencers that would have a large enough following for this program really need or deserve a cut of that developer’s profits? A developer works on their game for months, typically years, whereas a streamer might only play this game for a few days (unless Epic keeps applying that Fortnite logic to it) and can abandon the game after they’ve taken their cut. In a perfect world, this would be great for everyone, but this is an easily abusable system and it feels like Epic is throwing ideas at the wall to see what sticks.
And while it’s not something I necessarily find to be a problem for developers, I do feel splintering the PC market to have exclusives on your store is a foolish campaign. This will only upset players, and if Epic doesn’t want to bother building a store that will actually attract players to it for the right reasons, they shouldn’t be trying to buy everyone out of Steam. Like Valve, it is completely understandable if games developed by Epic are exclusive to the store, but forcing players to add yet another launcher in the ever coming wave of them is not justifiable unless they can show players why they need the Epic Game Store. A better decision would be to implement an already packed player base’s steam library to Epic as a way of launching the games, similar to the Discord store which has already done a better job of providing tools to the players.
Steam is not perfect and still has a long way to go, and Discord is still growing but seems to be doing things right with only keeping games exclusive for a very limited time frame. The waters of competition are murky, but Epic has a long way to go before they can show us why we should use their store over Steam.