For years, Steam dominated PC gaming as the go-to source for everything anyone could need. If your game wasn’t on Steam, it might as well not even be on the PC.
And it was a necessary thing for a long time: PC gaming was in the doldrums, sales were garbage, and many were writing the segment off - despite the hue and cry from the PC master race crowd, consoles printed money and PCs were comparable black holes of piracy and theft.
Steam changed that, and not only by limiting piracy but by also opening up a market where indie devs could sell their games. This has given the world so many awesome games it is tough to keep count, and that has led to another problem. There’s a ton of stuff on Steam, not all of it good, and the service’s haphazard policies with everything from revenue sharing to what gets through the gates has people fuming.
Naturally, Steam’s popularity gave rise to other competitors such as EA’s Origin service and Good Old Games. Heck, you could even make an argument that Google’s streaming project is an ostensible competitor to Steam. But none of these have quite captured the same audience at the same scale as Steam has. That might be about to change.
Because the publisher behind Fortnite, Epic Games, is throwing its hat into the ring and offering publishers lower fees and a more clear-cut approach to what gets through the approval process - and what doesn’t.
Skeptics are just passing this news off as more of the same: People aspiring to the throne but, years from now, we’ll still be using Steam, they think.
They might be right, except for one major factor in Epic’s favor: The installed user base of Fortnite.
Who would have thought the latest gaming sensation would be a trojan horse for launching a Steam competitor? But that’s the way it is shaping up, and Fortnite isn’t just on PCS but also on consoles and mobile. How far do Epic’s epic ambitions stretch? Only time will tell, but people who are actually paying attention think this could be Steam’s most credible challenger in a while.
So what exactly is making now such an opportune time to launch a Steam competitor? Well, any Steam user might ask you if you’ve used Steam lately, but, from a business standpoint, there are other issues as well.
The first issue is centered around the user experience which is confusing and clumsy. It’s nearly impossible to find relevant indie titles but it’s quite easy to find games from a decade ago. Gamers who come to Steam seeking the latest and best indie titles will have to do some digging, and that’s a shame. We’re sure Arkham Asylum made money, but we don’t know about Age of Civilizations II. That Valve preferences triple-A titles in advertising and specials is not only annoying, it’s also persistent. You will be shocked at the number of indie titles you’ve never seen before yet which have received rave reviews. You’ll also be surprised at how many games are still on their way or not available at all. Steam is the world’s largest and most confusing catalog, and it’s peeling off devs and gamers alike.
On top of this, what money games do make is taxed heavily by Valve, which did nothing to help gamers find it. Many surveys of developers and publishers reveal this discontent. One survey even showed that a majority of them do not feel like the 30% they pay to Valve is worth it. As a gamer, we can see why they would feel that way.
You would think that the volume of games on Valve would guarantee a good time but it’s not only difficult to find anything, but it’s also apparently impossible to get some things thrown and up for sale on Steam. This haphazard approach to approving games and then cataloging them is detrimental to the whole experience. Discovery on other platforms is relatively easy but on Steam it’s a chore.
In fact, recent changes to Steam’s revenue models actually favor larger publishers over indie devs - a huge sticking point for that contingent which now has many other services to choose from in terms of where to put their game.
This is where Epic’s new store comes into play
Right out of the gates, Epic Games said their store was going to be friendly for developers, especially smaller ones.
Instead of taking 30%, Epic wants 12%. That’s a huge cut for Steam if it decides to match those numbers and it is a boon for publishers that switch to Epic’s rival service. But pricing and profit sharing alone won’t win the day, so what is the strategy?
We would guess that Epic Games plans on luring over free-to-play Fortnite members over to its games service, probably even going so far as to merge the launcher for Fortnite with the service. This means you have to have it to play Fortnite. This will be the most efficient and guaranteed way to transfer all those Fortnite players over to the new platform. Then, once that is accomplished, Epic will begin marketing other titles, etc. to these gamers and build a whole new community and ecosystem from there. It’s quite genius, and deadly to Steam’s ambitions.
Really, though, this is no surprise to people who have watched other media. From Pandora to Spotify and Apple Music, the music streaming business alone has a lot of big-name companies competing against each other. Similar to the home consoles which have fashioned their games services into competing platforms as well. It was only a matter of time before Valve got challenged on its core asset. Steam and gamers and devs seem poised to benefit in the balance. Maybe once Epic takes up some of their market share Valve will be forced to focus on releasing Half-Life 3 and other killer apps to bring its people back home.