These days much of our media is distributed digitally and games are no exception. Just as with movies and music, allowing games to be purchased and downloaded instantly has benefits for both customer and creator.
The studio reduces production costs, and in some cases distribution costs. The customer, meanwhile, benefits from being able to quickly purchase a title and have it almost instantly available. With internet speeds constantly increasing, the convenience of digital downloads makes it a preferred method of purchase for many gamers. As a result of this, the digital gaming market is growing quickly.
Some stores, like Origin, are created just to distribute a specific studio's titles, while others, like GOG or The Humble Store, stock a wider range of games.
It hasn’t been an easy ride for the market however, with some smaller stores especially struggling to gain a foothold in the market against Valve’s Steam platform, which has been around since 2003 and boasts a staggering 47 million daily users.
Scandals such as the cancellation of keys purchased from so called “grey market websites” haven’t helped matters. Many gamers have become skeptical of cheap deals and often only trust sites from developers themselves or Steam, which has a long standing reputation as a legitimate marketplace.
So with the market firmly cornered, how does a newcomer stand a chance?
Quite simply many don’t, but Epic? Well, that’s a different story.
The 30% "Store Tax"
Launched in December 2018 the Epic Games Store has been able to pull off some big moves. It has enticed a couple of big name franchises including Metro Exodus, which is exclusive to the store, and The Division 2, which is available on the Epic Games Store and Ubisoft’s own platform. Both games appear to be doing well on the platform, which may well entice others to follow suit.
So how did Epic pull this off? What does the Epic Games Store have to offer that Steam doesn’t?
Quite simply it offers two very important things, less commission and more exposure.
The industry standard commission rate was set at 30% back when digital distribution was first beginning, and many stores have followed this model ever since. The Apple Store, Google Play Store and Steam all follow the 30% cut model. As time has passed and digital distribution has become faster, easier and cheaper many are asking, is this fair?
Epic didn’t think so, and when it took Fortnite to the mobile market it distributed via the Samsung store to avoid the hefty commission. Back in August of 2018 Epic CEO Tim Sweeney told Forbes:
“Avoiding the 30% 'store tax' is a part of Epic's motivation. It's a high cost in a world where game developers' 70% must cover all the cost of developing, operating, and supporting their games. And it's disproportionate to the cost of the services these stores perform, such as payment processing, download bandwidth, and customer service."
It seems likely that this motivation is core to the store model Epic has rolled out. When opening its games store up to other studios it offered a commission fee of just 12%.
When games are expensive to make and studios are facing increasing cashflow issues, reducing the distribution fee from 30% to 12% frees up a large amount of much needed extra money for studios. This alone makes the offer tempting, but on its own it’s not enough.
No matter how attractive the commission rate, if no one sees your game you won’t sell any copies. For some smaller platforms this is a major issue. If a store has only a small share of the marketplace you can see why many would prefer to take to the more well known platform.
The Fortnite Effect
The free-to-play battle royale game has been a key piece in the success of the Epic Games store.
Fortnite has over 40 million players each month. Every single one of those players has to download the Epic Games Store app in order to be able to play it.
That’s 40 million people viewing the store, just from one game.
Alongside this, Epic also has other titles available on the store, including the Unreal series, each of which potentially brings in a more diverse audience.
The store also offers gamers two completely free games every month, a promotion that once again will increase the number of eyes looking at Epic's store.
While it may not be the 90 million users Steam boasts, it’s a great deal more than several other platforms, including the Humble Community, which is said to comprise approximately 12 million.
As the Epic Games store begins to slowly bring in more titles this growth will likely continue.
While they still have a way to go to catch up to Steam, the lower numbers are also offset by the incredible visibility Epic can offer.
Currently Steam hosts over 30,000 titles, while Epic hosts less than 30.
Think about that for a second. If you sell on Steam you may be hitting a trusted and well established marketplace, but you are in a sea of 30,000 other games. How much chance do you think people realistically have of finding your game?
Epic has its entire catalogue on one easily accessible page, meaning every game is easily seen and prominently displayed. Each title has a decent sized image, along with the studio’s name and the game’s price. Clicking the image takes you to that games page, where you can view more details.
It remains to be seen how this model changes as more titles are added, but certainly right now the Epic store is looking good. Studios are set to gain a bigger share of game revenue as well as benefiting from increased exposure on the store itself. While the audience is smaller, it seems to be a more than fair trade off.
Related: 10 Best Games Offered On Epic Games
The main sticking point really is the current lack of features on the Epic Store.
Steam is a vast platform and over the years has evolved to include a large amount of features. While some of these most gamers likely won’t miss (I’m looking at you Steam trading cards), others are incredibly useful and could prove to be an achilles’ heel for Epic, if it doesn't catch up.
The most notable features currently missing from the Epic store are reviews and cloud saves. Steam has a whole host of others, but many of these can be replicated in other ways or may not even be used at all.
Reviews however are often incredibly important, for indie games especially.
If your game doesn't have a big marketing campaign and a large name behind it then getting it seen is only half the battle, you’ve also got to convince gamers to take a chance on it. Reviews are a fantastic way to do this and many studios find them invaluable.
Likewise, the cloud save feature is one I always miss when I’m not playing a Steam game. It allows me to flip between my desktop and laptop without having to try and copy the game saves over as well as making reinstalling much easier.
In summary, if anyone can take on Steam then Epic can, but there’s still a long way to go. The store needs to continue to build its audience, keep visibility for titles high, and add some more basic functionality, especially reviews.
Overall Epic's model is good, and is definitely going to shake up the market. It just needs to take it to the next level and then I think the real competition will begin.