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Epic Games Launcher Becomes Epic Games Store

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By Nelson Schneider - 12/09/18 at 03:32 PM CT

This week, Epic Games, the development house behind both the omnipresent Unreal Engine and a handful of actual games that run on said engine, such as the inconceivably-popular “Fortnite: Battle Royale,” took the next logical step in making vast sums of money by transforming their Epic Games Launcher, which debuted in 2015, into a full-blown digital storefront. Reportedly unhappy with the fact that Valve Software’s Steam platform, the current global leader in videogame digital distribution, takes a rather hefty 30% cut of all sales made by third-party games, Epic Games’ new store will only take a modest 12% cut, while simultaneously waving the Unreal Engine licensing fee for third-party Unreal Engine games sold through the Epic Games Store.

This new store follows hot on the heels of Bethesda Softworks parting ways with Steam for the rollout of “Fallout 76.” However, big developers/publishers going their own way and rolling their own storefront isn’t a new thing, as the Triumvirate of Evil – EA, Ubisoft, and Activision-Blizzard – have each had their own store for many years. While EA’s and Activision’s stores are very exclusive places – and typically the only places to buy these publishers’ specific releases – Ubisoft has been more blasé about the entire process, selling its games on every storefront, but including its own store as a layer of DRM regardless of the place of purchase.

None of these existing publisher-exclusive stores offers what Epic Games’ plans to offer, however, as none of these other publishers own the rights to one of the biggest game development shortcuts out there, namely, the Unreal Engine. Both enormous “AAA” developers and small-potatoes Indies use canned game engines to speed-up development times to practical lengths, and with Epic’s generous monetary split for selling Unreal Engine games on their own store, it seems inconceivable that developers who make heavy use of that engine wouldn’t at least try exclusive distribution on Epic’s new store.

And there’s the rub. While competition is good, and tends to force big corporations to behave a bit less deplorably in order to keep customers happy, the fragmentation of digital PC gaming into a diaspora of competing factions doesn’t actually do anything positive for the end user, but only benefits the corporations involved. Will we see epic sales on Epic’s Store? It’s a complete unknown. What is known, though, is that any game that is sold exclusively on a given storefront/client forces PC gamers to have yet another annoying username and password to manage, another account to worry about being hacked, and another virtual compartment to try and organize among so many others. One of the compelling aspects of Steam in the first place was that it kept all of a PC gamer’s titles in a nice, organized list, with at-a glance tools to help keep track of an unruly game collection. But when each and every big publisher starts shaving off fragments of the industry to hoard for themselves, that beautiful organization and unity (not to be confused with the Unity Engine, which will probably be the next outfit to start selling their own games) disappears.

At least for now, we don’t know enough about the Epic Games Store to determine whether it will be a worthy competitor with Steam – like CD Projekt’s GOG – or a fiefdom ruled by a tyrant – like EA’s Origin. Details are scarce, and there are only a handful of games even announced to be joining the new store. The bright side, however, is that Epic will be giving away free games every two weeks (fortnights, hurr-durr) for the entirety of 2019 in order to convince gamers to adopt their store. Whether these games are for-keeps or not is unknown, but if they aren’t, it will be a good sign that the Epic Games Store is a dud.

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Wrote on12/24/18 at 08:51 PM CT

My fear is as you say it—this is just the beginning of a bunch of fiefdoms. And sadly, I could imagine that happening more easily than not.

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