Collaboration Feature Opinion

An Epic Debate: Dan’s Argument (Now It’s Personal)

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. I've joined forces with Kim and Ben from Later Levels for An Epic Debate, in which we'll be giving our opinions and thoughts on the company over the coming week.

Read Ben’s thoughts over on Later Levels here!

I’ve tried to remain calm about the Epic Game Store, exclusivity and all that stuff, even though I haven’t felt this strongly about something gaming related, well, ever really. Gaming is supposed to be fun, when it isn’t fun, I tap out. Mostly, I stay out of this kind of thing, but this time, it feels personal.

I get it, competition is a good thing, I don’t have to buy games from Epic. If they’ve secured exclusivity, then I’ll just have to wait(!) to buy it on Steam, if that is my preferred store, which it is for multiple reasons. That’s probably the subject of another post all to itself.

Having seen Metro Exodus, The Outer Worlds and World War Z fall victim to Epic’s Fortnite fortune, I knew eventually they would come for something I truly care about. Something for which, I just cannot wait.

Then it happened, the unthinkable, Gearbox Software announced Borderlands 3. That alone was exciting, but then they simply said it was coming to PC, without talking about specific stores.

Oh dear, I knew there and then I was in trouble. Would Epic really come for my beloved Borderlands?

Surely not, it’s been on Steam from the beginning, they axed the GameSpy integration when that was shut down, retrofitting Steamworks to keep the Borderlands 1 multiplayer alive.

Gearbox started out by making impressive add-ons for the original Half-Life. Would they really turn their backs on Valve and Steam?

Then it hit me, Borderlands runs on Unreal Engine, a heavily modified version admittedly, but there it is, an existing relationship with Epic…

Exclusivity isn’t necessarily Gearbox’s choice

As mentioned by Gearbox’s CEO, Randy Pitchford, Gearbox apparently has no say in where it’s publisher chooses to distribute their game. Gearbox are simply the creative talent; they’re making the thing, 2K sells the thing.

That’s cool Randy. I believe you. He was sure to tweet all of this, and not mention it at all during the games reveal, because he knew what the reaction would be.

Then it was announced, Borderlands 3 is to be an Epic Game Store exclusive on PC.

The newly minted official Borderlands Discord server erupted, moderators were quick to create a new channel called #rant-discussion and filter the conversation into there, but it was impossible to keep up, even with slow mode enabled.

Hundreds of people were venting their frustration with tens of thousands probably looking on, some in agreement, others not.

Twitter and Reddit were a similar cesspit of comments. In the days and weeks since, conversations have taken place, with the Borderlands PC community now divided, as they all come to terms with the exclusivity.

What about consumer choice?

Many people in the community want to play this game as soon as it’s available, so what choices do we have in this case?

  1. Buy the game on the Epic Games Store. 2K would definitely prefer we did this, as they will receive a bigger cut of the profits versus sales on Steam. Will 2K pass on that additional profit to Gearbox? Let’s be clear here, it’s most likely the publisher that’s getting the bigger cut, not the developers as Epic keeps yelling from the rooftops.
  2. Wait for the exclusivity period to end, buy the game on Steam. This is a tough one to swallow, I’m a big story junkie and I need my fix. The ending of Borderlands 2 set up a sequel that is sure to be epic, if you’ll pardon the pun. It’s been 7 years, I need to know, first hand, what happens next!?
  3. Pirate the game when it’s released and buy it on Steam once available. This is not something I condone, at all, nor is it something I’ve ever done; I’ve always legitimately purchased my games. There are others out there who see piracy as simply another method of acquiring games, rather than theft. In many cases, they’ve reduced their reliance on piracy once digital distribution caught up, thanks in no small part to Steam. They won’t touch the Epic Game Store, so they simply move on to the next method of obtaining the game.
  4. Buy the game on console. This is the path I’ve chosen, not because there’s anything particularly egregious about the Epic Game Store itself, or because I prefer to play on console. In the case of Borderlands, I definitely prefer the PC experience.

Why abandon the PC for this game, just because of Epic Game Store exclusivity?

As a consumer, there’s very little I can do to make my voice heard, there’s the old adage though; vote with my wallet.

So that’s what I’ll be doing. Exercising my ability to make a choice, by avoiding the Epic Games Store and purchasing on a completely different platform.

I choose to do this because I draw the line at yet another store application on my PC. I completely disagree with Epic’s strong arm tactics. I resent not having the choice to buy the game on Steam, if that’s what I prefer, that should be my choice to make.

It’s not about just installing another launcher, because there are ways of dealing with all that, Steam works for me and that’s where I prefer to buy my games. I only buy them elsewhere if I absolutely have to, but now, I’m just increasingly finding console gaming more appealing. I wonder, what is the revenue cut for publishers and developers on digital sales from Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, the Nintendo eShop?

In the time since I started writing this post, Epic have been making headlines about developer crunch, as well as purchasing an entire studio, with plans to ultimately moving it’s game off Steam! It seems they’re not content with just purchasing exclusivity rights any more.

Just days before this collaboration went live, an “Epic Mega Sale” was started on the Epic Games Store, but seemingly without warning publishers and developers first, two of which swiftly removed their games from the store, including 2K removing the Borderlands 3 pre-order! What a kerfuffle!

There’s also an interview with Tim Sweeny in this month’s EDGE magazine too, which sheds some light on the plays Epic have been making over the last several months, but my favourite quote is “For a typical game, the store makes more profit than the developers themselves make, and that’s wrong. It’s got to change.”

Well yes, if the store is making 30% and the developers are making less than that from the remaining 70% cut, clearly there is something wrong, but not with the store, because they’re taking the 30% cut and they’re done. What is happening to that 70% then Tim?

Valve has essentially been printing money for the last 15 years, Steam brings in billions of dollars every year. They’ve probably got enough money in the bank to ride this out and not doing a thing, while Epic trips over itself to look like the good guy, but simultaneously driving customers away. You know, customers, the people who actually buy the games they give a bigger cut to the publishers for. Lets gloss over the idea digital distribution, even with that fabled 70/30 split, represents better profit than traditional retail, because it cuts out the middle-man. That’s probably why we all think games should be cheaper and love a good Steam sale in the first place.

All of this has left a bad taste in my mouth, so while my PC gathers dust upstairs, I’ll be training myself on Xbox with Borderlands 2. By September, I’ll be ready for Borderlands 3 with a controller, well away from the PC.

Rumour has it, I’ll be able to cross-play with PC users of the Epic version. Ah cross play, that’s great isn’t it? The freedom and choice to play with friends, regardless of platform… Cheers Tim.

3 comments

  1. I must admit I struggle with the ‘buy it on console instead’ view. For many titles there is a personal preference element to it. I simply prefer to play games of that style on PC. Borderlands being a key example of this sort.

    But then the other consideration, more of a dilemma really — is around the voting with your wallet aspect. Do they really care if they still get your money, albeit on another platform?

    I can see it from the angle of possibly disincentivising Epic from being willing to put up so much of their Fortnite/TenCent money from exclusives certainly. But it is still rewarding the publisher for engaging in the behaviour. I accepted this with The Division 2 where I bought via uPlay instead of EGS. But it did still gall somewhat!

    Liked by 1 person

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