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LONG BLOG

Issues I have with the Epic Store

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So, man this whole Epic Store vs Steam has gone all sorts of crazy. People on both sides really dislike each other and then there is a group of people that just don’t care or don’t understand what is going on. Certainly, this is possibly one of the most news worthy video game related issues to happen in 2019.

So let’s tear into what is going on with the whole Steam vs Epic Store battlefront.

Like any good news article lets go back in time to before the conflict took place. In an era of PC gaming before Steam or Epic were the companies they are now and look at the glory days of PC gaming. I don’t know what it takes to consider a golden era… I am sure for some people it was the best of times, and then all the terrible shit they forgot about.

PC gaming back when 3D graphics were new and Blizzard and Westwood were having a healthy competition in who could top who when it came to RTS. (Talking about Dune 2 vs Warcraft 1) The PC market was much more simple back then. As the internet was still very new and mostly there for schools and business… and a few odd people that had access.

Simply said the route to selling a computer video game was simple: a development team, a publisher that would print and work out distribution deals for the game, and some sort of retailer to distribute and sell inventory.

Generally, the breakdown of the sales came to this: Distributors/Retailers got 50-70%, Publishers got 20-30%, and developers got 10-20% on sales. In some cases, it would be worse as the development team is on bid for the budget they were given so in the back end they probably would not receive anything and the rest would go to the publisher.

But then again that was the price for opportunity to make a game. Granted most publisher had something extra for successful projects, but that is it. Another reason why there was a video game resonance in Texas back in the day when developers broke off their old publishers to start their own company and hand publishing internally. (Much like how Intel became Intel)

I would watch this good documentary on Tetris and how silly it got before the first payment on Tetris ever happened.

 

Sure, there were modifiers like print advertising in: Magazines, Newspapers, and Comic books. There were direct sales for the publisher to send catalogs of games to consumers. The former that modified the amount of people that would go to stores to buy the game. (because at that time stores did hold PC games to sell to consumers) The latter was less common, but still had the issues of getting the item printed and then shipped to the consumer without being damaged.

One of the major issues with PCs in general was being able to beat piracy.

It used to be that most disks had no copy protection to allow the people that bought the game to make a copy if their disk was starting to age. Which, unfortunately lead to the exploitation of that openness and many games on PC were pirated and distributed widely.

This is when CD Keys became a thing. Where each disk was given a key and the disk would not work until the user inputted the code into some executable file that then would decrypt something to make the game work. Which worked for a while until PC users found that most of those were simple number/letter algorithms could crack it. And it was very easy again to break any copy protection.

The problem with PC software and copy protection was bit ordeal was that if a game did get cracked its value on the market plummeted. Since anyone from the time the exploit was found could get a copy for free, that meant the open market value would then be close to free. It was somewhat manageable in the 80s and early 90s when the internet was not widely available to most consumers… or that they did not see the exploits that they could use unless someone let them know about them.

So late 90s and early 00s was a very slippery slope when it came to PC sales.

Most stores had lost interest in holding computer video game and limited the amount of copies they would hold on hand. If they did have a copy they were only in CD style boxes and not very large or contain extra information. Most companies had changes the format of the boxes in the early 2000s to be very similar to DVD boxes just to save on costs.

There is a certain level of trust that a distributor must have to stock an item. Simply said most computer games that were not in demand titles were not selling and still had copy protection issues. Which is probably why much of software sales flooded the console market.

Valve was a different company back in those times.

Also, Half-Life was just brilliant.

Valve did several things that paid off big; like publicly releasing their SDK and letting the mod community thrive, and then hiring those people to make those popular mods into games like Counter Strike and Team Fortress.

They were making a Sequel to Half-Life known as Half-Life 2 2003… when someone hacked into their system and dumped the source code on the internet and early builds of the game. This probably was the most noticeable leak that had happened for a video game developer. It was not good, the leak itself was very extensive and to the point that it looked like any future for Half-Life 2 was dead…

 

And in a sense, it was.

 

Or at least the twitch hardcore shooter gaming version it was completely dead. See Gabe and the team after placing better cyber security decided to completely remake the game from the ground up again… taking a completely different style of game. Thus, making all the leaks invalid and adding value back to the game in the retail market.

But that was the first step of their plan. They needed a new tool to ensure if leaks did happen again that they might be able to control which games were active and playable. Steam came under the guise that it would allow automatic updates and provide a more streamlined experience.

…which it did provide given you had an internet connection. (Quite polarizing at the time as there still were many people that did not have internet connections) Still yet polarizing was the fact that Valve demanded it to be installed with even disk based versions of the game.

Again, quite understandable given what was going on at the time.

Steam was super basic for a long time. But Valve had great customer service. See as their game library became larger on Steam Valve was honoring any key from their older physical products… Which has yet to be emulated on any other platform. (I would know as EA reps told me they “lost” the master key list for all the C&C games… even if true just shows their incompetence)

Some people hate all forms of digital rights management.

Totally understand that at the time there was very limited options for the poor situation that the internet structure of the US was terrible. So, people would find themselves without being able to use their games.

Again, that is about the only valid reason why Steam was bad initially.


This trailer only gets more ironic as EA was the Physical Distributor for the PC version...

Then once the Orange Box was released Steam was opened to the rest of the market of developers to publish games on it. There were many developers that made their own Bootstrap loaders at the time that did auto updates. But Steam brought more onto the table with social communication features such as: Text chat, forums, profiles that were all provided in the client. (Many features that were in services like SegaNet and Xband and Xbox Life)

Honestly, I have no clue if Steam ever had exclusive deals. Or if they were simply promotional choices Developers made to enforce copy right protection and digital distribution.

 The 7th generation of consoles was a very interesting time, as there was alongside the death of analog video… was also the slow development of digital distribution. Steam was an option to receive all content digitally. Users could use disks to install the games into their computer but Steam still needed to go online to validate the files and update them. Many users were finding after inputting the codes they could redownload the games regardless of having the disks afterwards.

While consumers were discovering some of the benefits of digital distribution, Publishers caught wind of the profit potential of digital distribution. A lot of people will talk about how the early Steam sales were epic… and that is because it was a weird point where some publishers for a moment charged the bare minimum that it cost them to digitally distribute the game and still make a profit.

For a select title, sometimes that happens now.

In the first year it was literally every game. I still remember paying $10 for Mass Effect on PC less than a year after it came out. And that was fantastic.

 

Profits and Plunder

So fast forward to 2 years ago. Steam still had sales but the problem is that most companies now fully understood the value of a digital game. (Or at least the market has proven what they wanted to know) Steam is coasting, the shop is getting filled with garbage casual games from no name developers that   are basically copying other casual games and asset flips.

As a consumer I basically stopped using Steam cause my PC at the time sucked. But I heard about the low standard of games on Steam and while I totally understand the hate for terrible games that had terrible things in it that basically would in some form equal hate speech and later got removed… Steam was costing and not really doing any quality control.

Skip to Fortnite Battle Royal.

I think a lot of people don’t understand how much of every move of the Epic Store is the choice of Epic as a company and not any of their investors even though Tricent the evil gaming overlord does own a large stake in them. And, that it was Fortnite that allowed them an opportunity to make the Epic Store what it is right now.

Fortnite provided two very important components to make the Epic Store what it is: Numbers and Money.

With Fortnite requiring every player to make an Epic Store account, and since Fortnight is currently still the largest Battle Royal as it has 250,000,000 players registered. (Which is 77 million less than the population of the USA) That basically turns a barebones bootstrap store, into a major platform for market transactions… for good or for bad.

It was good for Epic because they have the data to show publishers that they have a huge active community that will see their good. It is bad because that store is more basic than Amazon.com was in 1998… we are talking about features that have been available on websites for at least 21 years…

Money, even though Tricent did infuse Epic with money, Fortnite is basically the single-handed Battle Royal… Game as Service… enigma that still has the larger developers confused on how to get at that market. Because Epic is probably one of the best whalers out there… figuratively... They have captured attention of millions of people to spend money digitally and directly to their product and it has generated billions upon billions of dollars for them.

First, they used their engine and licensing to secure that any game that used their engine and was on their store would get better deal than any other game on their store. And second they cut their cut of the purchase down to 12% and then started a smear campaign saying that Valve is greedy at a 30% cut.

Totally in their rights to do so and it worked. Soon there was a lot of games that used both the Unreal Engine and the Epic Store that started to shift releases to exclusive or time exclusives.

Which they used those billions of dollars to buy up exclusive games for the barebones that has less features than websites from 21 years ago… Shopping cart!!!


Get on dat Web 1.0...

It really seems like a win-win, Epic gets their games; the Publishers get a larger cut...

See this is where things get dicey. While Epic would like most people to think that the developers of the game are making more money from the adjustments… it’s not necessarily true. Going back to the video game model set in the late 80s early 90s…

Publishers pay developers to do work in exchange for the rights to the games.

So, unless the developers are self-publishing, most of if not all that money is simply going to the publisher… not the people that make the games. Which is why this being a great boon to indie games, and the terrible cash grab casual games that flooded Steam. Because those developers self-publish they don’t have a middle man managing rights and distributions and take pure profit.

The problem is the LARGE publishers: EA, Ubisoft, Deep Silver, Zinemax and Bandai Namco are not going to pass on the saving to the consumers or to the developers that made the game. They will pocket the money and keep it till they need to finance another game and rip the rights to it away from the developers again.

In many ways it is a tragic cycle that has been happening for a very long time and is not necessarily an issue that the Epic Store made. However, the whole notion and propaganda about how it is all about getting more money to the developers is nothing but cotton fluff covering the fact that most publishers are interested in filling their pocket books than creating a sustainable situation for their development staff… if so EA would have had 12 different successful studios on hand and leading the industry… But thy are just a joke.

 

Exclusivity deals are not competition in the market place

Some people have tried to point out that Epic Store is adding competition in the marketplace to force Steam to reinvent itself into the old glory days of Steam.

I think it has awaken Steam to some things, they did just update the UI and really fixed it so you only see games that are like games that you own and play a lot. You can still search and find new things but I think after all the “feedback” from some of the most detestable games reaching the store front they really did put in better work in making that better. People that like shovel ware, see lots of shovel ware.

But to remove and item from the market, or to price it out of the market is not competition. Case and point: Madden.

It makes perfect sense that this case also involves EA. But Madden NFL used to have a deal with the NFL that was contractual yearly basis and not exclusive license to the team names, player names, and imagery that goes along with it.

When the Dreamcast came out Sega was in a bad place. EA hated Sega because they kept EA from pirating and publicly releasing the source code to the Sega Genesis and because Sega then used that to threaten to cancel the Sega Genesis and effectively bankrupting EA.  Look at the North American Section to see EA has always been EA.

EA never got over that… and once Sega was doing bad they decided not to support the Sega Dreamcast with Madden NFL which was and still is a huge IP for football video game fans. So, Sega shot back with taking their studio at the time 2K and make a football video game that utterly trounced everything Madden had ever offered.

… okay let me be honest… it was lightyears ahead EA as they got lazy happy with stagnate when it came to the quality of the game they could have been making at the time. Madden NFL 2000(1999) on PC was a PS1 port… and it looked terrible in comparison to the Dreamcast Version of NFL 2K… hell even when they did “massive” overhaul on Madden NFL 2001 it still was leagues in the past in gameplay.

It also did not help that both 2K and 2K1 had online multiplayer… Madden didn’t on the PS1 or N64

Year after year, Platform after platform NFL 2K kept proving that they had the know-how and the ability to make a better game than Madden… And the sales proved it. Sega even started competing head to head with pricing against Madden dropping 2K5 at a $20.

After that year EA bought the EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS to the NFL Teams.

Sega stopped making pro-football games and Madden NFL continued to be the monopoly that it is to this day. And then took its sweet time in taking all the gameplay mechanics from the 2K series slowly. With no one else there to stop them… And that was the death of any competition to Madden which is now a monopoly and will never be dethroned unless EA manages to mess up bad... it probably will till the end of time.

So, what does that mean? Well what Epic is doing is certainly legal. But it is not true competition in the market place. And once they own the market place… they can start charging whatever they want for their games. EA did not release another Madden NFL game for $30 after Sega was out of the picture… no it went right up to $50.

Which is probably why they can get are selling the Super Star Edition of 2020 for $80 and the Ultimate Super Star Edition for $100.

Of course, learning what exclusive rights grant, the publisher for NBA 2K Take-Two Interactive has upped the amount it costs to buy the rights to NBA Teams so high no one dares to buy into what might be a billion-dollar agreement… Effectively making it next to impossible for EA to jump back into basketball sports video games...

And also then force consumers to watch trailers regardless what they paid...

Exclusivity, does not provide a healthy market competition… it just secures the market for a single developer to do whatever they want if they are competent enough.

Which would be completely different if Epic was willing to offer a discount on their site vs Steam… but in most cases, it is completely blocked content.

Which is bad enough in itself if it was not for all the crowd funded games that are getting pushed by developers/publisher to there regardless of the fact the game is finished or not. Regardless if the crowd voted for this or not. Regardless of campaign promises.

 

Yep that sums it up.

 

It does not take a genius to look at Epic’s behavior and see they probably won’t change quickly enough to avoid another Epic Store travesty where they temporary ban users for buying too much… You honestly think a billion-dollar corporation could hire some web developers to bring their store to the modern age of 1998… and add social media tools… A freaking shopping cart… and user reviews… This is web 2.0 shit that is so basic it really pains me to think they have not already gotten it done…

 

Now excuse me while I go to the Official Fortnite site and fill up my cart with official merchandise… #Priorities

https://merch.fortnite.com/

Yeah that is legitimatle lazy... for a billion dollar corperation.

 

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About Retrofractionone of us since 5:01 PM on 08.24.2009

I play really old video games and enjoy them.

My parents bought an NES and MM6 and Metroid and that is how I got into gaming.

You could say I am a Nintendo fan boy, but I am starting to get off of that train as of recent.

Anyway hope you enjoy my blogs and feel free to leave a comment.

Read more at https://www.destructoid.com/blogs/Retrofraction#4qsKE0ZCdVS243Wk.99