Microsoft executive vice president of gaming Phil Spencer announced on Thursday that the company will work to bring more of its Windows PC games to alternative and competing digital platforms, including Steam, but omitting any mention of Epic Games.
In the announcement, Spencer writes that “the player should be at the center of their gaming experience and be able to harness the unique benefits of the devices they choose to play on.” More specifically, he thinks organizations that create video games should be “respecting the PC community’s preference for an open, highly customizable platform.”
Spencer goes on to describe the importance of cross-platform play in the future. This is an interesting point to bring up, especially since the recent release of Dauntless on PS4, Xbox One, and PC has been met with praise in its ability to create parties across all three platforms. Fortnite exemplifies this with an even broader range of hardware usable to play all at once.
Is this all a subtle shot at the Epic Games Store's recent gobbling up of exclusive gaming rights for existing and upcoming titles? It certainly appears to be a veiled critique at the up and coming platform, even though Epic is not mentioned explicitly in the statement penned by Spencer. At the same time, only adding games to Steam but not to Epic contradicts the statement that the player should choose where to play their games. What if a player wants to have the game on the Epic Games launcher? It seems as though Spencer is really saying that one can play wherever they want, so long as it is on their platform, or on Steam, but nothing else.
To play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, there are clear advantages for consumers to this recent conflict and competition between Epic and Steam. Journey, a long-time Sony PlayStation exclusive is being brought to the PC next week, exclusively on the Epic Games Store. It is a masterpiece of a game, and the question that should be considered here is “Would Journey have made its way to a 4k optimized PC port, were it not for Epic seeking to offer consumers a choice in its gaming platform?”
While the overall sentiment of Spencer’s announcement seems like one of long-term cooperation, we must also look towards the long-term business strategy of Microsoft to see that this fits into their own machinations. In allowing for their games to be accessed on Steam, Microsoft may simply be laying the groundwork for Project xCloud, encouraging players to play on the platform they most desire, only later to attempt and provide their own network to supplant Steam. This is only speculation for now, but the pieces are all visible when examining the longer-term plans of Microsoft.
Should PC users have more choice in where they buy their games? Certainly. Is Spencer correct in saying it should be Steam, but not Epic Games? That is far less clear, and a matter of preference, but we are still only in the infancy in the long-term struggle for platform dominance between Steam and Epic. Time will tell which comes out on top, and what that means for consumers.