The popularity of Fortnite has been transformative for Epic Games. But with huge success has come rivalry with Valve, gamers unhappy with exclusivity deals, rumours of stressful working conditions and many unanswered questions. Later Levels has joined forces with Dan from nowisgames.com for An Epic Debate, in which we’ll be giving our opinions and thoughts on the company over the coming week.
It’s one of those things in blogging that whenever I feel I’m about to go against the tide of public opinion, I need to clarify my position. I was asked if I supported what Epic Games are doing with their store in securing exclusivity for certain releases. Actually I don’t care – it doesn’t impact me as a console gamer – but I support the principle of what they’re doing because I believe strongly in competition.
Let me be clear though, this is not a post that discusses working practices or how Epic made their money. I might write more about those in the future but (contrary to many opinions, it seems) I can agree with one aspect of a business and disagree wholeheartedly with others.
Like any rational, sensible person, I do not support any aspect of video game ‘crunch’ or any team member working the sorts of hours being spoken about in the news right now. Not just at Epic but at any studio where it has raised its head. Even one of my favourite gaming series, Mortal Kombat, has been subject to this of late and if I’m honest the game feels tainted as a result. I would much rather have waited months for a title that didn’t push people to breaking point.
Had I known prior to my pre-order, I might not have bought it.
Fortnite is another one of these games and it’s especially relevant given it’s Epic I’ve been asked to write about.
Also, I should also say I’ve been buying products from Epic for 25 years, maybe more. I managed to convince my Dad to write a cheque to them to upgrade to the full version of One Must Fall 2097 from shareware in the 1990s, Unreal Tournament remains one of the greatest games I’ve ever played and Gears of War is a series I can’t get enough of. I even bought early access to Fortnite: Save The World before the Battle Royale came along and turned pop-culture on its head.
It’s safe to say I’ve been a long-term customer of Epic then.
It’s kind of irrelevant though because the crux of what I’ve been asked about is whether or not I support what they’re doing and you can, in my mind, replace Epic with any company you like.
They’re trying to get a foothold into a market dominated by Steam. Valve have held all the cards in terms of online distribution since 2004 and the release of Half Life 2, with no real, viable challenger. If Epic want to offer developers a more favourable split of the revenue (88/12) to Steam (70/30) then I have no problem with that. If they want to waive royalties for the use of their Unreal engine if games built with it are sold through the store, then I have no problem with that too.
Epic are in a very fortunate position to have a healthy bank balance and they are using it to get traction. If a developer decides that they want to publish on the Epic Games Store instead of that platform then I don’t understand why that’s a problem either. At the end of the day, a developer wants to maximise the return from sometimes years of work and 88% is better than 70%. I would suggest you look at some of the more outspoken indie creators on Twitter about how much they struggle financially to bring us the games we love.
So how does it impact the consumer? Well, you’ll still be able to play the games, the prices aren’t going up, the developers get a larger cut (which must be a good thing!) so that only leaves one thing.
From what I can tell, the wider issue seems less about Epic or Steam but more about the requirement for another installer on the desktop. We all want convenience, I get that, and the ability to access an entire software library from a single client is the ideal. No-one wants to have to remember whether the title they want to play is on Steam, Epic, GOG, Blizzard, Uplay, Origin or a game-specific launcher, but it is what it is.
Feels like a small price to pay from where I’m sitting.
I don’t remember there being an outcry when Microsoft effectively secured the exclusivity to all future Obsidian, Ninja Theory, Playground Games, Undead Labs and Compulsion Games’ output when they bought those studios. Or when Sony tied up Insomniac’s Spider-Man. You have to switch to a completely different machine to play those. Double-clicking on an icon seems much easier in comparison if I’m honest.
Maybe I am just an uneducated console peasant who doesn’t understand the wider vagaries of PC gaming politics but ultimately I think competition is good. What Epic are doing will prompt Valve to react and innovate to protect their position, which in turn will cause Epic to do the same and vice-versa. Developers will get more return from each game that is sold, and consumers will be able to choose which platform to buy their games on, possibly at different price-points. Yes, there will be some exclusives but to a console gamer like me this is nothing new and a part of the wider gaming ecosystem.
At the end of the day, nobody is forced to buy a product on the Epic Games Store if they don’t want to, and if the gaming populace really wants to send a message to Epic and those that publish through that route, then they just have to vote with their wallets and not buy the game.