A few years ago, the fragmentation of the PC gaming space was big news, not least because it was an emerging trend that had a wholly negative influence on customers. Defined around the growing number of launchers required to play games, users could theoretically buy four different titles and require four additional pieces of software to launch them. It was an inconvenience at best and a privacy nightmare at worst.
For much of its post-Millenium history, PC gaming has based itself around Valve’s Steam client. While originally created to assist with updating Valve’s own products, the platform opened as a storefront around 2002, with the addition of Illusion Softworks’ Mafia and Stainless Games’ Carmageddon Max Pack. Those titles joined the Valve games Day of Defeat, Half-Life, Counter-Strike, and Team Fortress.
Since then, Steam has held something of a monopoly over PC gaming, with even physical copies of popular titles supplying nothing more than a Steam installation file on the disc. For better or worse, this popularity meant that every developer sold their games from the same place and gamers could maintain a collection of hundreds of titles within the same window. The company’s sales were also famous throughout the industry.
This mirrors how the casino industry works with its own game developers. While exclusive deals do exist, a casino like Lucky Days, the casino of the month for August 2021 on the Bonusfinder Canada site, provides games from at least nine different creators, including NetEnt, Quickspin, and Red Tiger. As they can all be played from a single location, it reduces gamers’ need to go elsewhere for their entertainment.
Of course, from the position of video gaming, that’s mostly all in the past now. At present, Valve, EA, Ubisoft, Epic Games, Activision-Blizzard, and CD Projekt Red, among other developers, all have (or have had) their own launcher for their own products. To put that into perspective, Android, iOS, PlayStation, Switch, and Xbox only use their own first-party storefront to sell products and maintain customers’ games libraries.
The obvious question is ‘why?’ The obvious answer involves money. Steam takes an industry-standard 30% cut from the sale of each game, which is a good deal more than the 0% publishers have to pay through their own storefront. To tempt customers and developers away from Steam, Epic dropped its commission to 12%, a figure that’s almost comically low compared to the 30% also charged by Google, Sony, Amazon, and Microsoft.
EA made a return to Steam in October 2019 citing a desire to provide “frictionless” access to games for everybody but its own storefront, EA Desktop, formerly known as Origin, continues to exist.
The concern is that all these different stores are being used to serve exclusives, making them something of a necessary evil. At some point or another, Hitman 3, The Division 2, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2, Oddworld: Soulstorm, and Darkest Dungeon II have all been exclusive to Epic Games. Fortnite and World War Z have yet to appear anywhere else, while Rocket League was recently taken off Steam in favour of Epic too.
So, what of the future? Epic simply has too much traction with developers for the storefront to bow out. On the plus side, the continuing dominance of Steam and Epic’s rapid growth could force other stores to bow out, in much the same way as EA did. Unified storefronts like GOG Galaxy offer a partial solution but they’re only as good as their best features, which have proven lacking so far.
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