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An Epic Debate: Ben’s argument

The popularity of Fortnite has been transformative for Epic Games. But with huge success has come rivalry with Valve, gamers unhappy with exclusivity deals, rumours of stressful working conditions and many unanswered questions. Later Levels has joined forces with Dan from for An Epic Debate, in which we’ll be giving our opinions and thoughts on the company over the coming week.

It’s one of those things in blogging that whenever I feel I’m about to go against the tide of public opinion, I need to clarify my position. I was asked if I supported what Epic Games are doing with their store in securing exclusivity for certain releases. Actually I don’t care – it doesn’t impact me as a console gamer – but I support the principle of what they’re doing because I believe strongly in competition.

Let me be clear though, this is not a post that discusses working practices or how Epic made their money. I might write more about those in the future but (contrary to many opinions, it seems) I can agree with one aspect of a business and disagree wholeheartedly with others.

Like any rational, sensible person, I do not support any aspect of video game ‘crunch’ or any team member working the sorts of hours being spoken about in the news right now. Not just at Epic but at any studio where it has raised its head. Even one of my favourite gaming series, Mortal Kombat, has been subject to this of late and if I’m honest the game feels tainted as a result. I would much rather have waited months for a title that didn’t push people to breaking point.

Had I known prior to my pre-order, I might not have bought it.

Fortnite is another one of these games and it’s especially relevant given it’s Epic I’ve been asked to write about.

Also, I should also say I’ve been buying products from Epic for 25 years, maybe more. I managed to convince my Dad to write a cheque to them to upgrade to the full version of One Must Fall 2097 from shareware in the 1990s, Unreal Tournament remains one of the greatest games I’ve ever played and Gears of War is a series I can’t get enough of. I even bought early access to Fortnite: Save The World before the Battle Royale came along and turned pop-culture on its head.

It’s safe to say I’ve been a long-term customer of Epic then.

It’s kind of irrelevant though because the crux of what I’ve been asked about is whether or not I support what they’re doing and you can, in my mind, replace Epic with any company you like.

They’re trying to get a foothold into a market dominated by Steam. Valve have held all the cards in terms of online distribution since 2004 and the release of Half Life 2, with no real, viable challenger. If Epic want to offer developers a more favourable split of the revenue (88/12) to Steam (70/30) then I have no problem with that. If they want to waive royalties for the use of their Unreal engine if games built with it are sold through the store, then I have no problem with that too.

Epic are in a very fortunate position to have a healthy bank balance and they are using it to get traction. If a developer decides that they want to publish on the Epic Games Store instead of that platform then I don’t understand why that’s a problem either. At the end of the day, a developer wants to maximise the return from sometimes years of work and 88% is better than 70%. I would suggest you look at some of the more outspoken indie creators on Twitter about how much they struggle financially to bring us the games we love.

The reality is they will probably publish on both but if more developers go to Epic exclusively, you can bet it will prompt Valve to react and change its structure to win them back.

So how does it impact the consumer? Well, you’ll still be able to play the games, the prices aren’t going up, the developers get a larger cut (which must be a good thing!) so that only leaves one thing.

From what I can tell, the wider issue seems less about Epic or Steam but more about the requirement for another installer on the desktop. We all want convenience, I get that, and the ability to access an entire software library from a single client is the ideal. No-one wants to have to remember whether the title they want to play is on Steam, Epic, GOG, Blizzard, Uplay, Origin or a game-specific launcher, but it is what it is.

Feels like a small price to pay from where I’m sitting.

I don’t remember there being an outcry when Microsoft effectively secured the exclusivity to all future Obsidian, Ninja Theory, Playground Games, Undead Labs and Compulsion Games’ output when they bought those studios. Or when Sony tied up Insomniac’s Spider-Man. You have to switch to a completely different machine to play those. Double-clicking on an icon seems much easier in comparison if I’m honest.

Maybe I am just an uneducated console peasant who doesn’t understand the wider vagaries of PC gaming politics but ultimately I think competition is good. What Epic are doing will prompt Valve to react and innovate to protect their position, which in turn will cause Epic to do the same and vice-versa. Developers will get more return from each game that is sold, and consumers will be able to choose which platform to buy their games on, possibly at different price-points. Yes, there will be some exclusives but to a console gamer like me this is nothing new and a part of the wider gaming ecosystem.

At the end of the day, nobody is forced to buy a product on the Epic Games Store if they don’t want to, and if the gaming populace really wants to send a message to Epic and those that publish through that route, then they just have to vote with their wallets and not buy the game.

Ben View All

Dad, Gent, Geek. Occasional grumpy old man. Console Peasant. Should know better.

5 thoughts on “An Epic Debate: Ben’s argument Leave a comment

  1. No, you’re absolutely right here — much of the complaining about Epic’s store is down to not wanting to make that little bit of extra effort to open another launcher or remember where each of your games are.

    Other arguments made are that the Epic store doesn’t have user reviews (I can’t remember the last time I found a Steam review useful with the number of stupid “joke” reviews on there — and Valve encouraging that with the “I found this review funny” button) or forums (Steam’s discussion groups are some of the most unpleasant places on the Internet). These things are important to some people, but I can certainly live without them.

    In reality, an Epic exclusive is no different from a game that is only available via the developer’s website. If you’re going to have a sprawling digital library of thousands of games, as many people do these days, it’s your responsibility to keep it organised somehow. And there are ways to do that — Launchbox is a great way to manage not only your PC games, but also your emulated ROMs/disk images too.

    Honestly, I feel a lot of complaints like this are laziness. They come from the same place as people who prefer digital “so they don’t have to get up to put a disc in their console”.

    Like you, though, I’m primarily a console gamer these days so this isn’t really an issue for me anyway. But even if I was more of a PC gamer, I wouldn’t really care; I already have games in Steam, Origin and GOG as well as standalone stuff, so one more launcher isn’t really an issue. Just close the ones you aren’t using!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am sure that there are those that disdain of Epic exclusives for the convenience factor. It’s an understandable point of view, if perhaps a little short sighted if that’s as far as it goes. As you say, an actual competitor with the ability to drive a wedge into the effective monopoly of Steam is only a good thing in the longer run.

    But Epic’s store is NOT playing as a competitor. Not for consumers at least. As kind of alluded to in the post, they are using their vast sums of Fortnite/TenCent money to buy exclusivity of third party titles. Granted time limited exclusivity, but if it’s a title you’re particularly interested in the element of choice has now been removed for a title from a studio that isn’t owned or operated by Epic. (Well, except maybe their soul. ;))

    I think the main counterpoint I would offer to your console example though (and I wish I’d thought of this back when I did my own post on the topic, hah) is less about the third party vs. first party element, and more to reframe the question a little bit. Even if we accept for the sake of the argument at the moment that there was no outcry around console exclusives, I think we could also agree that no-one really prefers it that way. If they could buy and play whichever title they wanted on whichever console they wanted, that would be better, right?

    Imagine you had that ability previously. You could play essentially any current title on whichever platform you wanted. You could buy it in a retail shop, through the official online store, or even certain authorised third party sellers. But when you got it home to play, all your achievements, player stats, friends list and anything else of this nature was all together in one place for you.

    Imagine after having that capability for a while, and being accustomed to that flexibility, someone came in and started buying out the rights of games you were pretty keen in away from that ecosystem. Your choice now being to get the other console as well or forgo access to the game. At least for a year after it’s launch, anyway.

    That’s pretty much the situation we’re in now. How much that matters is going to vary a lot person to person. Some never buy games at launch anyway and only want GOTY or ‘complete’ packs. Some really don’t mind splitting the ecosystem as it doesn’t make neither here nor there to them. Some care a great deal and are making it rather well known!

    Of course, all this being true — one does have to wonder what else Epic could even possibly do. I HATE this exclusive third party, court the developer, screw the consumer attitude they have going on that the moment. And for that alone I won’t partake in their exclusive offerings. You can’t even take them at their word of caring for the developer either when it has become information in the public realm that they are in a near constant state of crunch for their own Fortnite developers. So for all this, I’ve admitted in the past and will admit again — were I a moneyperson over at Epic, I likely would have recommended a similar course of action.

    I just wish they’d strive for a little more balance in their developer / consumer equation.

    …And this is almost long enough that I should’ve posted it as a response rather than in your comments.. Sorry!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Personally I dont like they way they conduct themselves in certain aspects. Buying exclusivity of games like Metro so close to launch is not creating competition, it’s a shady move that is driven by money. If developers are really after that extra revenue split they’d go to Discord wheres its 90%. I have no issue with Epic developing or helping smaller studios from an earlier stage, I just don’t want to see console wars coming to PC.
    They also lack support for various countries meaning prices are higher for a lot of customers, they dont support linux. Their store experience is poor.
    I’m for competition, but buying exclusivity isnt they way to do it. People talk about Steam having the monopoly but they have that because of what they developed not because they paid loads of publishers not to launch elsewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

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