Too Many Online Game Stores?
I first created a Steam account and started purchasing games via digital download in January 2010. Back then, Steam pretty much had a monopoly on the market, and it was both novel and convenient to be able to purchase what seemed like “anything” just from one outlet and then download it and play, at any time of day. And then the rest of the video games industry woke up and decided they wanted a slice of the pie that was at the time exclusive to Valve. Hence, over the last eight years all the major “Triple A” publishers have developed their own game launcher software and online stores. This has led to titles being withdrawn from sale via Steam and a gradual fracturing of the market. That’s not to say that Steam is no longer a viable service. On the contrary. It still has a diverse range of products and there are always deals to be had. But it is no longer the first port of call when buying games online.
The recent news that Epic Games is “aggressively” competing with Steam, with exclusive titles like Metro Exodus and major discounts on popular games, has put this issue of Online Game Stores back on my radar. I bought Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey last December so had to install Uplay to play it and keep it updated. There’s been a recent patch for Star Wars: Battlefront II, so I’ve also had to download Origins to check out the game. I need Battle.net to play Overwatch and Destiny 2 as well as Galaxy to efficiently manage the titles I’ve purchased from Good Old Games. And due to my curiosity over Epic Games market expansion, I ended up creating an account and using their software to peruse their wares. In total I have 6 bespoke client launchers and their associated online stores currently installed on my PC. All of which have logon and payment credentials that need to be securely managed. The dream of a one stop option via Steam has long gone.
If I step back and look at this situation from a business perspective, then I can see why the major publishers want their own specific presence in the online sales market. Furthermore a “theory” from fellow games blogger Wilhelm Arcturus may shed some light specifically on the Epic Games expansion. “The fun rumor I saw was that Tencent (which owns Epic and Riot) pushed Epic into creating this store, with all sorts of developer incentives, to hit back at Valve for bringing Steam to China with PWE rather than them. Big if true”. However, although I may be aware of businesses needs, they are not a major concern of mine. I identify more as a consumer than a “gamer” and I’m ultimately just looking to indulge my pastime as cheaply and efficiently as possible. Having multiple game launchers and stores to choose from has both benefits and inconveniences for me. I can potentially get good deals but also have to compartmentalise my gameplay to specific platforms. This means multiple friends lists, multiple social tools and multiple marketing emails. None of which are deal breakers, but low-level nuisances are still nuisances none the less.
My biggest concern about the current proliferation of online game stores is one of licensing and reciprocal arrangements with third parties. Video on demand services have gone the same way in recent years and I now find myself using several services with various add-ons. I often find that movies and TV shows that I’ve added to my “watchlist” vanish after a time as the licensing contract comes to an end. So far this has tended to be relatively low level content and I have not been inconvenienced over it. However, if Netflix stopped carrying Star Trek then the service would instantly become redundant as far as I’m concerned. Nothing like this has happened to me game wise yet. Although Steam stopped selling certain EA titles once they launched their own platform, I have not lost access to Mass Effect 1 and 2 that I bought from them. However, I am not fool enough to think that such a situation is beyond the realm of possibility. Business arrangements change, as does regional law. So I am cautious when it comes to what games I buy because I no longer believe I’ll have indefinite access to them As for online game stores, yes there are too many of them but I suspect they will ultimately just contribute to the further marginalisation of the market and may not yield the result their corporate owners hope for.