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Editorial

Honest Pay: Epic Games, Steam, and Why Single-Player Developers May Prosper in Storefront Competition

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Metro Exodus, Epic Games

Following news that Metro Exodus would be joining the Epic Games Store exclusivity programme, publisher Deep Silver came under significant fire from all sides of the gaming community for its decision. Some of these criticisms were very valid, from concerns over the Epic Games Store’s security to pre-order conflicts to regional difficulties. Deep Silver’s decision, however, was inspired due to it wanting greater value for its game; single-player games are not blessed with an evergreen shelf-life, and they need to find ways to survive. Leaving Steam was sacrilege in the minds of fans, but really, Deep Silver was merely ridding itself of a one-sided commercial relationship.

Steam—despite valiant efforts from storefronts like GoG and Green Man Gaming—wields enormous commercial power in digital PC gaming, a portion of the market that accounts for 25% of game revenue. Of this 25%, Valve refuses to share how much software Steam has sold. Valve has shut down efforts to get conclusive data from its platform for years which should leave consumers with one question: “why?” Much like the high-street of twenty years ago, Steam is slowly encroaching over the market, leaving little gap for competition. Unlike the high-street, Valve has ways to ensure this information does not make the light of day.

Epic Games Store

While consumers consistently hear the same rhetoric in publisher financial reports and gaming expositions that single-player gaming is economically strong, the fact this platitude needs to be consistently re-stated implies that single-player games are not on the same level as multiplayer titles, financially-speaking. No publisher or developer comes out and states that multiplayer games are in a good spot or are financially doing very well; the medium’s success is obvious. The question is as follows: why do publishers feel the need to consistently defend single-player games? The fact that publishers of varying sizes jump to this defence without provocation speaks volumes for their own insecurities about single-player titles.

To make a complicated story a little simpler, the Metro Exodus shift to the Epic Games Store came from one reason: Epic Games offered a better split in revenue. On Steam, developers typically receive 70% of revenue, whereas Epic Games offers a more competitive rate of 88%. On paper, this split means Epic Games offers the better deal for single-player studios. Single-player games cannot enjoy the re-sale value and “games as a service” privileges of their multiplayer counterparts, so ensuring this small window of sales is utilised to its maximum potential is huge for a studio’s financial success.

More sales, in theory, means more re-investment, leading to long-term returns for the consumer. The trend the single-player community sees of content being rigidly vetted, cut apart, and sold with essential parts missing as downloadable content is an attempt to keep the medium afloat; while these practices are inexcusable from a consumer point-of-view, they are symptomatic of publisher anxieties regarding the long-term future of single-player titles. By maximising returns in initial sales, shareholder and publisher anxieties may be mended, at least partially. Epic Games offering a better cut for developers and publishers is a proactive way of preventing the industry’s more insidious business practices.

In raw figures, solely single-player games cannot match the grossing figures of multiplayer titles. In a year where single-player games seemed to dominate, Steam’s highest-grossing titles featured only three single-player titles in its top twelve. The rest of the titles were there due to their multiplayer components ensuring financial returns. Of course, the console market is blurred by its own fantastic single-player exclusives, but in the world of PC gaming, multiplayer dominates. On storefronts like Steam, single-player is in the peripheries.

Why, then, are people defending Steam so valiantly, especially if single-player is secondary on the platform? The storefront has become synonymous with modern PC gaming, encroaching on monopolising the entire concept of digital downloads. While Steam has a litany of its own issues, much of its ardent defenders come from the platform’s symbiosis of storefront and community. By embedding Steam profiles, curation lists, personalities, groups, and the entire fabric of purchase within community, any attack on Steam is unconsciously viewed as an attack on its community. Metro Exodus is currently being review-bombed on the platform for its choice to go to a competitor which, on the surface at least, just comes across as plain old devotion. By embedding its community so tactfully into the act of purchase, Steam has built up its own intimidatory force against the act of competition. In the long run, this will starve developers of options.

Steam logo

Competition is not a bad concept. Video games are, inherently, competitive. Ever since the first “console war” of 1976, tribalism has followed gamers’ wallets and attitudes. Analysts and observers are likely to be unsurprised that this same tribalism has transferred into the realm of digital storefronts, but competition provides fruits for developers, publishers, and players themselves. Exclusivity can be a short-term patch to foster competition, ending in an ecosystem of storefronts that is not dominated by one con-rod apex predator.  

Overall, Koch Media, 4A Games, and Deep Silver could have handled the Epic Games situation better, but in the long-term, having storefront exclusivity and actual competition for Steam may benefit the single-player market. Single-player games cannot compete with the free-to-play behemoths of this world, with titles such as Apex Legends and Fortnite assuring long-term returns on investment. For single-player developers, they must go where the best deal for themselves is, a place where their work is valued.

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Editorial

Three Single-Player Games to Watch Out for in May 2019

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May

May offers no respite from the big, bold games that have released so far in 2019, bringing with it a host of games almost certain to appeal to gamers of every stripe.

Close to the Sun

Release Date: May 2, 2019
Platforms: PC, consoles later in the year

May’s first major release may also be its most intriguing. Close to the Sun has regularly attracted comparisons to BioShock for its art style and premise, though the relationship between the two titles is, at best, spiritual.

Players take the role of journalist Rose Archer as she steps aboard Nikola Tesla’s ship, the Helios in 1897. Like Andrew Ryan before him (or after him, depending on perspective), Tesla has created a microcosm in which scientific freedom is unrestricted, with disastrous outcomes. Rose’s first impression is of a quarantine sign at the entrance to a still, dead ship, but she presses on regardless in search of her lost sister.

With Close to the Sun, developer Storm in a Teacup aims to provide an intense horror experience. The Helios holds none of BioShock’s shotguns or Plasmids. Instead, players have no means to defend themselves, with gameplay focusing on hiding from and escaping the threats on board.

Check out OnlySP’s final review of the game here.

RAGE 2

Release Date: May 14, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

For anyone to whom the slow, meditative approach does not appeal, Bethesda is busting out the big guns with the long-awaited, little-expected sequel, RAGE 2.

This time around, id Software has tapped Just Cause and Mad Max developer Avalanche Studios for assistance in developing an open-world game. The result, if the trailers are any indication, is a breakneck, neon-fuelled experience that focuses on insanity and ramps up all the unique aspects of the earlier game.

One focal point of development has been ensuring the interconnectedness of the game’s structure, and the teams have promised a greater focus on narrative this time around. Perhaps in keeping with that, RAGE 2 is being distanced from its predecessor, taking place 30 years later with a new protagonist and a whole new story, though some callbacks will be present.

Although id’s legendary first-person gunplay is a driving force throughout the game, it will be supplemented by some light RPG elements, robust vehicular combat, and post launch challenges and support (though the developers deny that RAGE 2 is designed with a games-as-a-service model in mind).

A Plague Tale: Innocence

Release Date: May 14, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Out on the same day as RAGE 2 is the vastly different A Plague Tale: Innocence. A historical adventure, the game challenges players with overcoming obstacles with brains rather than brawn.

Players become Amicia, an orphan girl struggling to survive in a plague-infested medieval France while also keeping her younger brother safe. With the landscape rife with rats and members of The Inquisition, one of the core tenets of gameplay is reportedly the need to use these threats against each other. As such, though Amicia has a sling to use, the gameplay is designed more as survival puzzles than combat ones.

Developer Asobo Studio is not a household name, though it has a lengthy history of adaptations and support on major titles, including Quantum Break and The Crew 2. Furthermore, even though A Plague Tale is yet to release, publisher Focus Home Interactive has displayed remarkable confidence in the project by extending its partnership with Asobo.

Honourable Mentions

Although RAGE 2 is the incontestable action-blockbuster of the month, gamers in search of another kind of frenetic may want to wait until May 21, when Curve Digital drops American Fugitive, which has a more than passing resemblance to the earliest Grand Theft Auto games. Alternatively, PlayStation VR owners may want to look into Blood and Truth come May 28.

Sega also shines this month, dropping Team Sonic Racing on May 21 and Total War: Three Kingdoms two days later.

Anyone looking for an RPG has indie’s answer to The Outer Worlds, Within the Cosmos, to look out for on May 30, while those looking for slower stories get the latest episode of Life is Strange 2 on May 9, Observation on May 21, and the fjord-noir Draugen at a yet unspecified date.

Have we forgotten anything that you’re excited for? Let us know down below or on our Discord server.

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