The Division 2 skipping Steam is bad news for Valve.
This article was originally published on Dec 7, 2018 after the Epic Games Store’s launch, but has been repromoted and updated in light of news that The Division 2 will launch on Epic’s platform instead of Steam.
Fortnite developer Epic Games announced and then launched a digital storefront housed in the Epic Games Launcher last month, as apparently that’s the trendy thing to do nowadays with Discord launching its own back in October. But despite the competition, the Epic Games Store feels like the first real threat to Steam’s dominance as the go-to place to buy PC games.
I’m not saying that Steam is certainly doomed, and even if Epic does manage to push it off the top spot it will almost definitely take a long time, likely years. But this new store is in a unique position to do so. Thanks to Fortnite, there are millions of players out there with the store already installed, and Epic doesn’t have to convince or force a player base into using its store in the same way other developer-made launchers like Origin and Uplay did – the latter of which also uses Steam, but is now already switching to Epic’s store for The Division 2.
More than that, Epic already has massive loyalty from people playing Fortnite on mobile. That audience is much younger, and I would bet most of them don’t even have a gaming PC yet. But a couple years down the line they might, and if Fortnite is still as big as it is now (which seems likely) the Epic Games Launcher will undoubtedly be the first thing that audience installs on their fancy new computers.
The promise of access to that growing player base is undoubtedly an exciting prospect for any major developer, but Epic is also offering devs a significantly larger 88% cut of the revenue than Valve currently does on Steam – a point that’s lead to rising discontent with the platform recently. That means Epic is convincing game makers to get on board with a fervor that Discord or GOG haven’t, and already has the audience waiting to browse.
Epic came out swinging at The Game Awards last year too. It announced that Bastion creator Supergiant Games’ newest game Hades was launching that night exclusively on the Epic store, alongside Annapurna’s highly anticipated Ashen. Another big surprise was that Journey, previously a Sony exclusive, would be coming to PC on the Epic store. Other games like Super Meat Boy Forever and the next episode of the now resurrected Telltale’s The Walking Dead have even bailed on Steam entirely to switch platforms, with larger developers like Ubisoft already following suit just a month later.
As a bit of a bribe to check it out, Epic even revealed it would be giving away a new game on their store completely free every two weeks, which have so far included Super Meat Boy, Subnautica, and What Remains of Edith Finch. It’s clear that they are pushing this hard to an audience bigger than your average Fortnite fan, and I’d say it’s safe to expect many more “Exclusive to Epic” announcements by E3 next year.
The Epic Games Store currently has a good foundation to build upon, but is missing some of Steam’s best features for now.
As for the platform itself, the Epic Games Store seems to offer a good start but is still woefully underfeautred compared to Steam. The UI is attractive, though I’m not sure how well it will scale once it has more than a couple dozen games on it – but, then again, we don’t yet know how Epic is planning to curate the games it adds, or if it will go for the much-criticized “anything goes” policy of Steam.
But some of the things Steam (and other platforms) have standardized by now are still missing, like cloud saves for your account. More concerningly, it hasn’t retained some of Steam’s hard-learned lessons, specifically around Early Access labeling. Hades was released in Early Access, but it lacks any of the warnings, update plans, or other details that Steam has mandated to protect customers from buying into a bad deal. There’s an “Early Access FAQ” that you have to click into, but it lacks the hard, structured answers Steam enforces and is missing much of the same info as a result.
Since Fortnite is pretty much in a perpetual state of Early Access, it’s not surprising that Epic would be less concerned about this, but that doesn’t mean clear warnings and protections shouldn’t still be there. I don’t doubt for a second that Supergiant will treat Hades and its fans right, and maybe Epic plans to vet Early Access games and their developers itself before allowing them onto the store, but would that mean Epic also takes responsibility if a game is abandoned before completion?
I’m optimistic that the user experience of the store will grow and improve past its fairly basic start, but there are still a lot of questions left to answer before we know which way the wind is blowing. A million little things could change or go wrong for Epic, and we probably won’t really know if it’s catching on in a significant way for at least the next year. Countless stores have come and gone (or at least been forgotten) in the past, and Epic’s could easily be next.
But with a huge amount of both players and devs already onboard, alongside a younger audience quickly growing up, it’s not unreasonable to think the Epic Games Store could slowly rise toward being the new normal. Even if that happens, Steam likely won’t “die” as a result of that success, but the Epic Games Store is almost certainly the most genuine threat to its crown so far.
Tom Marks is IGN’s PC Editor and pie maker. You can follow him on Twitter.