Steam VS. Epic Store

If you’re into PC gaming, there’s no way you’ve missed the recent fight between Steam and Epic. It’s the console war but for PC. Whilst neither company has really commented on it directly, the players most certainly have, and lines are being drawn in the sand.

Unsure what’s going on or what it means for you? Have no fear, we’ve got it all explained for you.

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If you looked for a game online and wanted to keep them all in one easy place, then without a shadow of a doubt, you’d be using Steam. It has over 300,000 games (from AAA titles down to someone’s first indie title), there are usually good deals and you can easily discuss the game within a community.

Valve, Steam’s owner, produces its own games too, which helped push the platform to the forefront. What kind of PC gamer has never played Half-Life, Counterstrike or Dota?

Valve's Counterstrike
Valve’s Counterstrike

And no-one has really ever questioned Steam’s dominance for the past 15 years, and though some game giants like Blizzard and EA set up their own stores, they never even touched what Steam could do.

But then, Fortnite creator Epic Games launched its own game launcher last year; the Epic Games Store. And thanks to Fortnite being one of the biggest games on the planet at the moment, it’s finally challenging Steam’s reign.

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So, aside from the fame of Fortnite, what has Epic done to take away Steam’s spotlight?

Well, to begin with, they changed the standard revenue split between platform/launcher and developer. Rather than asking for 30% of the cut, they’re only asking for a mere 12%. And on top of this, they’ll waive the 5% royalty fee for Unreal’s engine, if your game is built and distributed through the Epic Store.

That profit margin change is no small amount. That could double some developer’s profits.

Not only that, but Epic’s next move has been to secure exclusivity rights (mostly timed exclusives) on new games; and not just misc. indie titles. These are big, hard-hitting games, which some people have been waiting on for years. Examples include Metro: Exodus, Borderlands 3 and World War Z. So if you want to play that sweet, sweet shooter-looter on launch that you’ve been waiting on since September 2012? Well, you’ll have to do that through the Epic Store or wait for a year for it to be released on Steam.

2K’s Borderlands 3

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If you’re a developer, then hearing your profits are going to jump is probably very good news and very enticing. Also, as Epic’s store offerings are much smaller than Steam, a new player finding your game is probably far more likely. So if you wanted to publish through Epic, no-one can blame you.

But there are few concerns that people have around this. On the one hand, having one dominant provider means you’re subject to their whims, and in this scenario, if you don’t listen to them, your game isn’t going to get released. Thankfully, while it’s been on top Valve has never abused this position, but that’s not to say Epic would be the same if given the chance.

There are also significantly fewer features available through Epic Store compared to Steam too. There are no cloud saves, no user reviews, no wish-lists and no broadcasting – just to name a few, though Epic is planning to add most of these at some point (you can view their roadmap here). However, this current lack of features will affect your user experience, so it’s something to consider.

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As mentioned before, thanks to Epic’s enticing deal, some of your favourite games may well end up being exclusives either temporarily or permanently. This may bother you, or it may not, but the tipping point for many was Metro: Exodus.

4A’s Metro Exodus

As mentioned before, thanks to Epic’s enticing deal, some of your favourite games may well end up being exclusives either temporarily or permanently. This may bother you, or it may not, but the tipping point for many was Metro: Exodus.

Exodus had been available on Steam for pre-order for quite some time. But then on January 28th, two weeks before it was due to launch, Epic announced it was going to be exclusive. This really angered people and even Steam made comment. Exodus’ page is still viewable on Steam and has the note: “We think the decision to remove the game is unfair to Steam customers, especially after a long pre-sale period.” (Note: if you pre-ordered Metro: Exodus before January 28th, your pre-order will be fulfilled through Steam.)

There are also concerns around what this means for the future of gaming stores. On its own, having to do a few extra clicks to use the Epic Store isn’t that bad. It doesn’t insist you delete Steam from your PC and nor does it ask you for money.

But there are fears this could be the start of breaking up Steam’s monopoly, and that online gaming might end up the same way that on-demand TV streaming is going. PC gaming could become a horror story of needing multiple different launchers, each with their own rules and quality standards, and possibly different costs. If there’s no dominant provider, what’s to stop each developer providing their own store, and insisting you pay extra if you want to access their exclusive games?

Epic’s Fortnite

There are also worries around spyware being used through the Epic Store. Earlier this year, a thread on Reddit found evidence of spyware.  Epic was quick to point out that it was just software that helps track what people are playing for their Support-A-Creator program so they can pay creators accordingly. It also helps track page statistics.

There were also accusations that Epic was data mining and sharing Steam data without permission, but Epic explained that this was only sent to themselves to allow them to import friend lists from Steam, and this was an opt-in our out feature.

This didn’t really satisfy most gamers though, especially since Fortnite has had security issues before. This has led to some people believing that Epic is spying on users and giving their data to the Chinese government. We stress that these are rumours and opinions; there is nothing concrete to support this.

Lastly, as mentioned in the section for developers, Epic Store lacks a lot of features available with Steam.

So is it worth moving from Steam to Epic? Ultimately, it comes down to how strongly you feel about Epic and how badly you want to play their exclusives.

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While Epic hasn’t really given a reason for consumers to choose it over Steam, developers do seem to be enticed by it. (Some developers are declining exclusivity deals though for fear of brand damage, notably Factorioand CD Projekt Red.)

What we can glean from this though, is that on the whole, developers are eager for change, even if the consumers are not. Every game and tech company that you can imagine are spending fortunes to challenge the dominance that Valve has had.

Over the next few years, there’s a chance that the arrival of 5G may change things as well. 5G may well be the next step in the evolution of gaming/a further move into mobile gaming, and if so, Epic will have a good head start on their rivals, thanks to their own engine being good for mobile development.

It’s not clear how long or how much of a threat Epic will pose to Steam in the long run, and if in the future there will be two giant game stores, multiple stores or if Steam will manage to keep its supremacy.

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Will you be an Epic Store adopter? Do you think this is the breakup of Steam’s monopoly? Let us know!