For years Valve's strategy has appeared to be focused on putting the player first. Steam was seemingly designed to always give the consumer control through algorithms and user scoring. Superficially at least, Steam's proposition seems to be fair, with benefits for everyone.
My first experiences with the platform stick in my mind to this day. I vividly remember buying Counter Strike: Condition Zero at GameStop, rushing home to install it and first having to download what then seemed to be little more than a strange green bit of software before I could get into the action.
"Players have quickly learnt that, in the majority of cases, they're no longer buying a consumable product, but rather they're investing in an idea"
Just like everyone else on the planet, I still have the stupid username 11 year old me set up thinking it was cool -- and no, I'm not going to tell you what it is. Nevertheless, as the years went by I continued to buy Valve games, right up until, all of a sudden, I switched from buying physical versions to buying digital ones direct from Valve on the store itself. Very carefully, Valve's retail strategy was unfolding.
For a kid living in Texas, where walking to your local GameStop is less a brisk stroll and more a day long outing, the ability to pick up games in this way was amazing. Indeed, I'd suggest that, for anyone who has been around PC games for a while, Steam has become the default portal for their entire digital games collection. As a result, it's not hard to understand why the reaction to the news Epic is planning to move into the same space wasn't universally welcomed by gamers. Sometimes simplicity trumps choice - at least initially.
Epic's announcement arrives at an interesting time. Throughout the course of this year, we've witnessed more and more gamers get behind developers and their games. When purchasing a game, players have quickly learnt that, in the majority of cases, they're no longer buying a consumable product, but rather they're investing in an idea -- something that will grow and evolve with their feedback. I'm not just talking about crowdfunding games here. I'm talking about any game.
"If we released Battalion 1944 on the Epic Store and sold the same amount of copies as on Steam, we would have amassed an additional $350,000"
From Battlefield V to that tiny indie game that sits happily in your library, that switch from players buying games to investing in them has been as fast as it has been subtle. It is also entirely logical. The games industry is heavily dependent on hits and big successes; as a result, when a developer or a publisher sees a game making money, they'll continue to invest.
Switch to indies, however, and the picture changes a little. Smaller studios like my own have to decide what we do with, and what is achievable with, our players' investment. This is why Epic's announcement is so interesting.
This year saw us roll out Battalion 1944 to Steam Early Access. As a result, much of 2018 at Bulkhead has been focused on working through the masses of community feedback, picking out the potential good points and tweaking the game to the point where it appealed to as broad an audience as possible. Thankfully (though not without the odd rough moment), the game has proved to be profitable, and our next decision revolved around figuring out just how to reinvest our players' money.
The announcement from Epic has quickly focused my mind on just how different things could be in the future. If we released Battalion 1944 on the Epic Store and, let's say for argument's sake, sold the same amount of copies we've shifted on Steam, we would have amassed an additional $350,000 we could put back into the game's development.
"Valve has done a great job of empowering gamers, but some have weaponised the tools Steam gives them"
This is important for gamers to know, because rather than buying luxury yachts or paying for lavish holidays, this is how the majority of any profit they generate is spent by developers -- it is reinvested.
To quantify just what an additional $350,000 means to an independent developer, such a figure is equivalent to months of funding and running a studio; that's a decent marketing campaign to bring in more players, an esports events and modding prizes, hiring talented new staff, or bringing in community managers to engage with the people paying the money. It's huge.
Now, embracing Epic's new venture doesn't mean turning our backs on other successful platforms. Steam is good. Yes, it definitely has issues, but on the whole it works. People are able to purchase games and hold developers accountable for their issues. To me as a player, this is the most important aspect of Steam: developers can be held accountable by players for the progress of their games, and if we're viewing the financial contributions of players to Early Access games as a mini-investment, then we should be enabling and empowering game communities to question the decisions we're making.
"Epic has identified how crucial it is for the massive game publishers to work with both developers and players to make a fairer industry"
Valve has done a great job of empowering gamers, but thanks in part to a failure to police the system, some have weaponised the tools Steam gives them. Review bombing is becoming a more and more common technique to inflict damage on certain games. Steam's review tool has morphed into more of a down-vote system than it is a simple review score.
It's safe to say, then, that there's room for Epic to take what Valve has done and improve on it -- even beyond the aforementioned revenue share upgrade -- if it has the nous to do so.
We're entering the beginning of a new era for the video games industry. For the last ten years, there has been virtually one shop for PC gamers in western markets. What Steam has done for the games industry is incredible, but -- not only as a developer but also as a player -- I want to see Valve react to these new stores by changing Steam, to ensure it continues as one of the best places to sell games.
It's Also worth saying that the digital stores are absolutely entitled to a cut of the revenue. For years I've argued that Steam's 30% cut was an appropriate proportion, but that was largely because there were no viable alternatives out there. But that is changing, and fast. Valve itself has acknowledged the need to adjust its revenue split, if only for the biggest games.
As an industry, we're more connected to our customers than almost any other. We collaborate with our audience, and that's really special. However, Epic has identified how crucial it is for the massive game publishers to work with both developers and players to make a fairer industry. I'm excited to see how Valve responds, but for the time being, I hope gamers think a little more about where exactly their money is going and how it will be used when they buy a game through Steam.
We're in an era where more and more games are released on multiple platforms simultaneously. Now, one of them will be putting more money in the hands of the creators.