For years now, Steam has been the go-to platform when it comes to digitally distributing games. As a developer, having a game on Steam was a great achievement, one that we have had the privilege of accomplishing multiple times; It was a moment of great satisfaction, excitement, and pride. But as the years have gone by, it has become quite apparent that Steam’s policies when it comes to the small, indie developer are getting more and more discriminatory.
It is no secret that Valve’s strategy over the years has been to maximize the amount of content on its platform, instead of its quality. Valve’s strategy is solid, from a business standpoint: it allows them to maximize the profits while minimizing the effort.
Some of the biggest PC games of this year, such as Fortnite, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and Battlefield V all have one thing in common: they cannot be found on Steam. Big developers who have the manpower and the economic resources to create and market their own digital distribution platforms are starting to go after Valve’s monopoly, and for good reason: Valve (a competitor) gets a rather large cut, and each purchase on Steam reinforces its dominant position.
Steam’s new policy to offer reduced cuts to developers and publishers who manage to sell more than 10 million dollars is, quite simply, preposterous: it is a desperate attempt to bring back big developers and publishers into the fold, people who have been voicing their concerns for years now only to see them fall before deaf ears. These developers won’t be coming back any time soon unless their digital platforms flunk. At the same time, it itches indie developers, who get one-third of their revenue taken by Valve for doing a much lesser service than what is usually guaranteed to the big players, at least in terms of visibility.
Epic is trying to get indies as well on its platform, with a super-curated approach: there are but a few games on their store so far, although some of them have been showered with praise, like Subnautica. The problem, however, is that Epic must keep up this aggressive approach with their store, and will have to keep it up for some time. Steam is a wounded leviathan and its competitors have smelled its blood in the water, but it is still a huge beast to compete with for a spot in the ocean. Epic will need to secure some exclusives for its store, carefully plan their pricing and discount policies, and update its digital distribution platform with more socialization elements.
If Epic fails to do so, the Epic Store may remain nothing more than a game launcher for Fortnite. A huge playerbase that doesn’t spend money in the store means that Steam will retain its dominant position.
As game developers and game consumers, our wish for 2019 is that this and other young contenders will grow enough to put up a fight: a strong, healthy competition benefits everyone in the long run. Although, there’s still a long way to go before the king abdicates.