Yep, it's time for another Epic Games Store article. It seems the internet just can't get enough of the controversial platform, thanks in part to the many indie developers Epic targets for exclusivity. It seems like every week we get a new developer offering a hot take on Epic. Most recently we were treated to two sides of the developer coin.
First is Unfold Games, who wrote a thoughtful reflection on turning down Epic exclusivity. They don't hate on the platform, which is important, but they do emphasize the importance of consumer choice. They also talk about how being listed on Steam for a long time and then suddenly switching to Epic would deal a serious blow to their credibility, shattering the trust they want to build with potential customers.
Before that, we saw a very passionate piece from the developer behind Ooblets. They happily accepted the deal, and praised how it helps independent developers. In such an uncertain industry, the promise of sales or money upfront is too good to turn down. That said, the tone of this piece also comes across as condescending. They resort to common arguments that miss the point, such as how easy it is to install a launcher, reminding readers that there are bigger issues in the world to get angry about, and dismissing those opposed as a "weird anti-Epic contingent."
It would be easy to take either side and believe it's 100% right. The truth is, the answer is somewhere in the middle. The Epic Games Store exclusivity does indeed help some small developers who might be banking everything they have on one game. It's forcing us to have a conversation about them, bringing new games into the spotlight and challenging how much we think they're worth. While that's great and all, it still doesn't quite make Epic the hero of this story. It can offer developers all the perks in the world, but that does nothing for the consumer.
Epic Is No Netflix
One common argument I see in favor of Epic is that it's a disruptor. That, like Uber, Airbnb, or Netflix before it, the Epic Games Store is agitating a stagnant industry. In capitalism, such disruption is a good thing. The sudden burst of competition challenges the longstanding companies to provide better/cheaper service or get pushed out. The customer wins in this scenario because they're either getting a cool new product, a better version of the old one, or a better price.
The problem with applying this logic to Epic is that it misses one key aspect of disruption. The newcomer on the scene must offer something better to the consumer. When Netflix came on the scene, it mailed DVDs to your house. I remember marveling that they carried old anime that Blockbuster never stocked. The bigger library and sheer convenience of Netflix made it a winner. That only proved more true once it added streaming, and then again with quality original programming. Blockbuster was already in trouble, but the fact that Netflix made it so easy to binge whatever you wanted was nail in the coffin. Netflix won simply because it offered the consumer a superior product. Can the Epic Games Store say the same?
Developer Over Customer
Recently, TheGamer reported that Epic missed its July deadline to add certain store features. At the time of that article, August 2nd, there was no word from Epic about the missed deadline. The update dropped this week, halfway into August. While it did finally happen, I feel like the lateness and lack of communication show where Epic's priorities lie. The lacking functionality of the Epics Games Store has been a sticking point for critics for months now. If Epic really wants to show customers that its store is the future of the industry, it should probably make it a point to deliver on promised updates.
Meanwhile, we know from both the Unfold Games and Ooblets incidents that Epic is still very actively reaching out to indie developers to make exclusivity deals. So communication resources are being utilized, just not for the consumer. Sure, they may very well be different departments of the company. But this is the company behind Fortnite. It has the money to throw into improving the store at a faster rate (it certainly has the money to allegedly pay the Fortnite team for 100-hour work weeks).
So it seems Epic has put the bulk of its resources into scooping up any games it can and making them exclusive. We've seen that this doesn't just stop at small struggling developers, either. Even the highly-anticipated Borderlands 3 is Epic-exclusive. That's when the consumers start to voice their dissatisfaction. They waited months for a game, possibly pre-ordered it on Steam already, and now are being told they have to go through Epic to play it.
Well, sort of. It's actually been on a case-by-case basis. Some games will refund Steam pre-orders after making a deal with Epic. Others will honor the Steam pre-orders made before the Epic deal. The final few refuse any kind of refund altogether, essentially telling customers "too late, go Epic or forfeit your money." There's also the fact that most games are only going Epic-exclusive for a year, meaning they will eventually appear on Steam. That's what happened with Phoenix Point, and backers who funded the game erupted when they suddenly learned they had to go Epic or wait a year for their Steam keys.
Things get worse from there, because then the developers get surprised when their backers erupt like this. They only see it as a happy occasion, an amazing offer by a big company to keep their game afloat and even get some extra cash to add more features. So they reason that gamers must just be entitled manbabies who whine because they don't want to install another launcher. It doesn't help that Reddit and Twitter users have been known to throw vile insults or even death threats at Epic and developers who associate with it. Still, the majority of the "weird anti-Epic contingent" are just people who feel robbed of their right to choose. Customers want choice, and Epic is actively fighting to remove choice.
Fill A Need
Epic is doing great things for indie developers. The profit margin Steam offers is pitiful, and these developers deserve more money for their work. In that way, Epic is really helping the industry grow in a good way. However, it and those who defend it seem to be missing one important point. Netflix filled a customer need by letting us watch more from the comfort of our couch. If Epic wants its store to shake gaming the way Netflix shook television, it needs to fill a customer need and not just focus on developers.