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Epic Games Store is making the industry better but “gamers don't see that”

CEO Tim Sweeney addresses backlash against exclusivity deals, promises human curation to block “shock controversy games” like Rape Day

It must have been satisfying for Epic Games to see the PC sales figures for Metro Exodus.

The post-apocalyptic shooter was arguably the first major new release for the Epic Games Store, and certainly the first high-profile exclusive. The company proudly declared during its GDC keynote that Metro Exodus sold more than 2.5 times the amount its predecessor Metro Last Light did through Steam.

As we observed earlier this week, there are limits to how much this tells us about how well the store has been established, but at the very least it proves Epic is doing something right. In fact, CEO Tim Sweeney tells us the game performed, "way beyond our expectations."

"A critical challenge from the beginning has been looking at projects on Steam and asking how we can achieve those levels of success on our store," he says. "Metro Exodus far exceeded even Steam projections in sales, and this really proves that it's about the games, not about the stores."

tim

Tim Sweeney, Epic Games

But for some in the PC gaming community, it is very much about the stores. Metro Exodus' exclusivity deal provoked the ire of devoted Steam fans, who have complained and even resorted to the usual tactic of review bombing the previous Metro games on Valve's store.

It's not the only example, either. Snapshot Games was also criticised for making its upcoming strategy game Phoenix Point temporarily exclusive to the Epic Games Store.

When asked for his take on these reactions, Sweeney reiterated the aim of the Epic Games Store is, "breaking the 70/30 stranglehold that's pervaded the industry for more than a decade," and that its methods in doing so were never going to please everyone.

"Changing the way that games are sold is a big disruption to everybody," he says. "I understand that -- I've personally unsubscribed from Netflix twice as their selections of movies changed. But this is a necessary step forward for the games industry if we want to enable developers to invest in building better games, and if we want the savings to ultimately be passed on to gamers in the form of better prices.

"Ultimately, this is about making the industry a better place, starting with the terms available for developers. I understand gamers don't see that. They don't see the hardship of making a payroll and seeing the store suck out 30% of the revenue from it. It can be jarring to see the industry is changing in ways that are typically invisible to us as gamers."

"Gamers don't see the hardship of making a payroll and seeing the store suck out 30% of the revenue from it"

Epic isn't about to hold back on those exclusivity deals. At this week's keynote alone, it announced an expanded partnership with Ubisoft (although it's been left to the Assassin's Creed publisher to share details), plus exclusives from Take-Two label Private Division and the rights to the PC debut of Quantic Dream's PlayStation titles.

It's worth noting these exclusives aren't technically exclusive any more, with Epic partnering with Humble Bundle to enable all games to be sold on the Humble Store as well. Sweeney says Epic is also open to, "working with other highly reputable stores to enable more options as well," although this is unlikely to instantly quell the frustration that has been growing among certain Steam users over the past few months.

The CEO adds: "It's important for game developers to hold strong and sometimes be willing to go through criticism as we do things that are necessary for the industry."

Metro Exodus sold 2.5 times more on Epic Games Store than predecessor Last Light did on Steam

Metro Exodus sold 2.5 times more on Epic Games Store than predecessor Last Light did on Steam

With such strong support from developers and publishers after the first three months, Epic Games is confident it can win over more partners -- even those, like Electronic Arts, who are trying to establish their own stores.

"The key for them is they want a direct relationship with their customers and a fair share of the revenue from their games," Sweeney says. "They build their own ecosystems because they felt they weren't getting the deal they deserved on Steam.

"The world deserves lots of stores. It's all very healthy for the industry to see lots of competition on lots of different fronts. Just look at all the gamers who installed Origins for the first time to play Apex Legends, all the Korean gamers who probably installed Steam for the first time to play PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. Great games drive stores."

"[Curation] needs to be a human process that takes quality into account so the customers can trust us to supply good games"

It turns out free games also drive stores, as Epic announced its first free offering -- Unknown Worlds' Subnautica -- was downloaded more than 4.5 million times during the two-week promotion, and Monomi Park's Slime Rancher is currently on track to beat it.

"The free games have been a huge success, much bigger than expected," says Sweeney. "We've gone around working with game developers and paid them for the opportunity to release their games for free for two weeks. That's brought in a huge number of new gamers.

"The wonderful thing is we're bringing in new gamers to the Epic Games Store more economically than we would if we paid Facebook or Google for ads. Instead of ads, free games are driving the store forward."

Sweeney is keen to get as many titles onto the Epic Games Store as possible, but this ambition is still tempered by the desire to offer a high-quality catalogue. Given the recent controversy over visual novel Rape Day and Valve's slow response, the Epic CEO is quick to assure such a title will never appear on his store.

"We are going to maintain a reasonable quality standard for games," he says. "It'll be open to games of all sizes, but not the junky asset flips or shock controversy games that are built just to make noise. PC is an open platform; there are lots of stores, so I don't feel like any particular store has a moral obligation to carry low quality or highly controversial projects."

Does this mean the Epic Games Store will have a greater focus on curation than Valve's marketplace, with more effort placed on monitoring what developers submit?

"Absolutely," Sweeney concludes. "This needs to be a human process that takes quality into account so the customers can trust us to supply good games."

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Latest comments (12)

Mcgruppian Code Jedi, Dacori4 months ago
That's good point about larger developers having tried to establish their own launchers mostly to avoid paying 30% to steam but not all devs are in a position to launch through their own store and have it gain traction. EGS is definitely going to be a good deal for smaller devs who aren't in a position to develop and launch their own stores.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 4 months ago
"Absolutely," Sweeney concludes. "This needs to be a human process that takes quality into account so the customers can trust us to supply good games."
The problem with this is that it absolutely ignores that Valve curated Steam for a long-time - with humans - and ended-up being Kingmaker. The selection process was so precise, so specific, so tailored to "quality" that Gabe Newell has gone on record as saying some games (unqualified hits like Stardew Valley) would never have been given a pass if they had continued curating the store. Now, if Mr Sweeney wants to curate his store, then cool. But to vaguely argue that "curation" only involves cutting out
low quality or highly controversial projects.
is disingenuous in an era when GOG initially denied Opus Magnum a release because it "looked like a mobile game". There's many good RPGMaker games, but every RPGMaker game has a "low quality" feel to it. I simply worry that Epic is just recreating the timeline of Steam from 2004-2012, which whilst Kingmaking certain indie devs and pushing some high-quality games, won't push the industry enough, and will leave smaller devs and pubs - and those creating games focussed on LGBTQ or adult content handled in a mature fashion - sidelined once again.

Edit: Also, I tried to ignore it, but I couldn't, sorry:

Valve lets anyone who has paid the Direct fee create a store page, then when the product gets close to release, flagged products are manually reviewed - by a human. Whilst I absolutely agree that Rape Day should not have had a store page for any time, Valve curated their store, and the offending game was deemed inappropriate to the store. The by-line:
promises human curation to block “shock controversy games” like Rape Day
Is at best misleading, and at worst grossly inaccurate.

Sorry again. :)

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 23rd March 2019 12:00am

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Hugo Trepanier Game Designer, Behaviour Interactive4 months ago
Morville, please re-read that bit again about the Metro review bombing. The previous titles have been review bombed negatively, so we're talking 2033 and Last Light only. They both received massive negative feedback following the Epic story exclusivity announcement. Though both have since retrieved a mostly positive average, you can still see the graph history.

The only reviews Exodus has received on Steam are from people who actually pre-ordered it before further sales were banned, and these players apparently esteem themselves satisfied with their purchase of the game on Steam, judging from the positive reviews.

On the topic of curation, as a gamer I nowadays strongly welcome it. I would normally be against it since I believe in freedom of expression and yada yada, plus I obviously don't appreciate corporations or governments telling me what I can do or should be consuming, but the overwhelming amount of pure crap polluting Steam has become intolerable. I'd rather scroll through fewer options knowing they're all decent ones than have to sift through tons of garbage when looking for something new to play.

Sure, that means some indies can be left out if they don't know how to properly convince store curators, but at the same time any physical store decides what they stock. No one is guaranteed shelf space at Walmart or any local shop.
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Show all comments (12)
Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 4 months ago
@Hugo Trepanier:

Ah, yes, quite right about the Exodus/previous titles thing. My mistake. Will edit my comment appropriately. :)
but the overwhelming amount of pure crap polluting Steam has become intolerable. I'd rather scroll through fewer options knowing they're all decent ones than have to sift through tons of garbage when looking for something new to play.
It's almost a year out-of-date at this point, but this is an interesting post. Quoting below for those who don't want to trawl a regular forum:
Steam has a total of 19538 games
Total number of Steam games with a "mostly positive" rating or higher: 11916
Games on Steam that have a "mixed" user rating or higher: 15685

1 - Over half of all the games on Steam have a "mostly positive" rating or higher.
2 - Over three quarters of all the games on Steam have a "mixed" rating or higher.
3 - Less than a quarter of all the games on Steam could be considered unpopular (too few user reviews) or bad ("mostly negative" rating or lower).
At least a year ago, the fact was that if you were to click on a random title in Steam, you'd more-than-likely get something someone enjoyed; something that a developer spent time and effort on, and was proud to see go on sale. Something that a developer could earn some money off-of. So, whilst I do wonder why Steam recommends me some games I think are stupid and shouldn't exist on the store (Football Manager, for instance, because god I hate football!), we have to bear in mind that 1) the talk of crappy games on Steam is exaggerated, and 2) "crappy" can be subjective, and every developer who puts effort into their game should be afforded the opportunity to find an audience for their game. I don't agree that it's Valve's/Steam's job to market a game for a dev/pub, but I do absolutely believe that a "meritocratic Steam" where the only games allowed on are the ones where the dev/pub manages to convince store staff of the value of a game is going to be too affected by subjectivity and bias to have any real value. :)

Edit: This is why I'm fine with Mr Sweeney saying he's going for a curated store, btw - because not every store has to act like Steam. But at the same time, I don't think anyone should kid themselves that a curated store akin to Steam of old is going to help the industry in the long-term. The market has reached a saturation point where there's too many good games for any one store to curate and not either cut something great, or have a mess of a store. At least Valve are attempting to circumvent this problem with Discovery, rather than just pretending that (paraphrased) "every game that isn't on our store is either crappy or controversial", which is pretty damn disrespectful to developers.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 23rd March 2019 12:28am

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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 4 months ago
Epic has an online shop, Steam has a community. Which goes not to say that every Steam customer was part of that community or took offense from another online store. But for a segment of the consumers this offers a demarcation line to organize along and fight the usual battles, e.g. AMD vs Nvidia, Coke vs, Pepsi, Sony vs. Microsoft. The typical contemporary us vs. them battle found in every aspect of society these days. Now we have Epic vs. Steam, no surprise. But since Epic lags behind in features, they have no community. As a result, Epic will take a beating. Even then, the solution where the situation movies away from being a warzone is unclear, especially since online conflicts are stirred way too easily by PR budgets and copious amounts of astro-turfing.

Ask the right question: why did this happen to Epic and not to Discord? They both opened a store around the same time, they both have ambitions. But Discord has a userbase you do not mess with. At some point most organized guilds move to Discord, no matter which game.

Epic needs not bemoan the fact that the users are complaining about something they technically benefit from. It is the name of the game and the reason why the English complain about the EU and the Americans complain about free healthcare. Protesting against your own interests is the truest sign of the 21st century starting to become the century of misinformation. Monetary interests castled behind walls of curated lists of facts and fictions. Truth these days is just the point at which you got lazy enough to stop removing the fiction to get a clearer picture based on facts and therefore used your incomplete picture to sign up for one of the camps.

Speaking of curation, good curation depends not on the amount of money you spend advertising on telling the world that you have curation. It depends on the money you spend curating your store. Suggesting curation might miss something like Stardew Valley says more about the inadequacies of the process than anything else. Curation is also not about indulging the power fantasy of one person thinking themselves to be the gate keeper.
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Bob Johnson Studying graphics design, Northern Arizona University4 months ago
It seems like some people just want to look at the few games that perhaps deserve to make it in a curated store but are rejected instead of looking at either the tons of garbage that does not get in or the large amount of games that do.

I suggest anyone crying over the few games that they think should be in any curated store but don't make it open their own curated store geared exclusively to those games.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Bob Johnson on 23rd March 2019 2:25pm

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Tudor Nita Lead Programmer, Gameloft Romania4 months ago
Is the revenue split a good move in an age where hosting, CDNs and the overall web ecosystem is getting faster and cheaper ? Yes.

Is there room and reason for a more curated store-front ? Yes.
Is having a straight-forward store, with no community features good ? Possibly.
Is pushing exclusivity ( AKA holding monopoly over a certain good ) good ? Doubtful.

And just like true to life monopolies, they let some semblance of the "competition" hold an insignificant piece of the market so they can point at how they're totally not a monopoly. If this isn't commonplace in the country one is from, it could be easily missed for what it actually is (PR).

There are many excuses for why exclusivity is needed for a fledgeling new store ( with a war chest the size of small countries ) but they all sort of fall short of explaining why it's better than actually competing. Except for it being cheaper, of course.

Personally, I don't like the tone of their advertising and PR articles. They seem intended to stir controversy and division, not much different to the politics of the US & Half of Europe nowdays. Also weirdly reminiscent of a tone-def Sony before and after the PS3 launch.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Tudor Nita on 23rd March 2019 7:36pm

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Bob Johnson Studying graphics design, Northern Arizona University4 months ago
@Tudor Nita:

Competing? Steam is the monopoly.

I can see why Epic is buying exclusives. They are doing it to get their foot in the door. I don't believe it is their long term business strategy. It's to get their store off the ground sorta speak.

And Epic is basically doing what EA, Activision and Ubi already are doing except those publishers make all the games that are exclusives in their stores. And that's all they sell.
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Antoine Baker Artist/Designer/QA Tester 4 months ago
@Tudor Nita:
The monopoly is Steam. Even if gamers were given a "choice" they wouldn't have chosen Epic. They would have reasons as to why they wouldn't choose them (community features, quailty of service). Let's be honest, most of gamers would've defaulted to using steam anyways because that's where a majority of their game libraries reside.

The 1 year exclusives actually put Valve on their toes. Valve is going to have do things that will keep them in the game in the foreseeable future. Valve are the ones who are being tone deaf right now. They need to start evaluating the possibility of the remainder of Activision/Blizzard games going to BattleNet, and monitoring Ubisoft and uPlay closely. Activision/Blizzard, CD Projeckt Red, EA, Epic, Ubisoft not only have marketplaces, but they still ACTIVELY make games currently. Valve has a wealth of IPs that they can make a sequel or side game to.

Valve doesn't realize that this fight is going down whether they like it or not.
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Tudor Nita Lead Programmer, Gameloft Romania4 months ago
Monopolizing goods and being a large store amongst others are two different things. You can't just wrongly attribute the word "Monopoly" to anything you like and expect it to mean something.

The fact that others are doing it is no excuse either. There's not much else I'd like to add to this monopoly discussion.

While endless criticism can be directed towards Epic's handling of virtually everything in this product launch, I don't really feel like re-hashing them.
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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd4 months ago
@Hugo Trepanier:
I'd rather scroll through fewer options knowing they're all decent ones than have to sift through tons of garbage when looking for something new to play.
The shortcoming you want to see fixed is the store recommending things interesting to you, as Amazon does (or tries to). This is completely separate from things not interesting to you - but maybe interesting to others - being available on the store.

The problem with curation, when the storeholder has cultivated an audience around their own products (as Valve and Epic have done), is that it is inherently subjective. A customer with very mainstream tastes will not be interested in, for example, very niche and technical simulation games, or narrative games with (by commercial standards) poor production values but which have audiences that look past that because they're interested in the stories, characters and subject matter. It would be a mistake to dismiss everything that doesn't appeal to John Q. Fortnite Player as of low value/quality.

This is why I worry when I hear Tim Sweeney use loaded terms like "asset flips". What is Fortnite Battle Royale if not a repurposing of pre-existing assets?

@Tudor Nita:
You can't just wrongly attribute the word "Monopoly" to anything you like and expect it to mean something.
Steam is literally a monopoly.
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David Cornelius Software Engineer, Dire Wolf Digital, LLC4 months ago
@Tudor Nita: Straight up, if there was a game that was on both Steam and Epic Store right now that you wanted. you would buy it on Steam. No discussion necessary. The thought would not cross your mind for even a half-second to download the Epic Store installer, sign up for an account, find the confirmation email, enter your payment information, and buy the game. Alternatively, two clicks and that game is in your Steam library, downloading. There is no "competing" against this. Epic has to actually make a compelling reason for you to go download and register. Free games and exclusives are part of how they're trying to accomplish this. If you want to play Metro Exodus right now, you download the Epic Store.
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