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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 July 2019

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Three Single Player Games (July 2019) - Sea of Solitude, Fire Emblem Three Houses, Wolfenstein Youngblood

July, the middle of winter down here in Australia. Even in the bizarre New South Wales climate, the biting cold makes for a great excuse to stay inside and play games. 

Weirdly for single players, quite a few prestige games this month include additional co-op modes. With acclaimed designers behind them, such games will hopefully avoid the pitfalls of accommodating multiple players, as too many games have done in the past.

Sea of Solitude

Release Date: July 5, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

At first blush, Sea of Solitude looks like yet another story of a young adult struggling with questions of identity and mental health while exploring a beautiful but harsh fantasy world.

Actually, that’s what it is. ‘Quirky, life affirming indie adventure’ is a whole cottage industry these days, but the fact that such games are now more prevalent should never dismay.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was a masterpiece of refined design and storytelling, and Sea of Solitude appears be something similar—this time dealing with a fantastical vision of depression that turns ordinary people into literal monsters.

Players take charge of Kay, who has sought out the eponymous Sea—or rather, a flooded city based on Berlin—in the hope that there is a cure for monstrosity. However, despite its name, she is not the only person in the Sea. Avoiding the other monsters of the Sea seems to be a major part of the gameplay. These tense encounters are likely to provide rhythm and variety to the adventure and keep it from being a just walking simulator. (Not that being a walking simulator is inherently a problem.)

Although published by EA Originals, one would do well to remember that EA the company does not actually profit off the Originals that they publish. With a focused story and themes that still are not often explored in bigger games, Sea of Solitude should be of great interest to single player fans in a month otherwise dominated by multiplayer titles.

 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Almost certainly the biggest single player release of the month, and tied with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 as another massive Switch exclusive, Fire Emblem: Three Houses might be exactly what single players need right now.

Lately the Fire Emblem franchise has exploded in both its popular profile and sales success, buoyed by a hunger for both deep anime RPGs and polished tactics games. Three Houses seems to have doubled down on exciting trends and features in both genres: particularly a Persona/Harry Potter inspired magic school setting and an even deeper tactical battle system that ditches the rock-paper-scissors for more nuanced character progression options. As with many Japanese RPGs, the story is also a major focus and hinges upon a time-jump.

The early part casts the player as a teacher at the Officer’s Academy, situated in the center of the game world and attended by students from the three most powerful nations. Five years later, the second and likely larger part concerns the drama between the player’s teacher and their former students, whose nations are now locked in a massive three-way conflict.

As is to be expected for a series finally coming back to consoles after a long time on the 3DS, Three Houses is a massive technical leap over its predecessors. The game boasts better realised battlefields, more detailed armies, and a slick animated style that appears much more consistent compared with the three or four different art styles on the 3DS.

With such improvements, as well as the overall pedigree of the Fire Emblem brand, Three Houses should have no trouble satisfying single player fans looking for a meaty middle-of-the-year RPG.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One

The recent Wolfenstein revival series is such a remarkable achievement in traditional shooter design and great, if goofy, sci-fi worldbuilding that the co-op focus of this latest instalment is somewhat disappointing.

Yes, as with F.E.A.R. 3 and Dead Space 3, following a well-received second chapter the Wolfenstein series now pivots to a co-operative focused chapter. Though the game is not a mandatory multiplayer experience, combat encounters and puzzles have been redesigned to accommodate the two player mode, giving single players an AI-controlled partner and bullet sponge enemies.

However, all hope is not lost for Wolfenstein: why else would it be the third game on the list? The narrative has been pushed forward in time, as B.J.’s twin daughters are now in their adolescence, now giving players a glimpse at the 1980s of Wolfenstein‘s skewed universe. Additionally, the level design itself is more freeform thanks to development assistance from Arkane, the developers of the Dishonored series.

Will Wolfenstein: Youngblood successfully deliver more of the series’s goofy charm and crazy alternate reality? Almost certainly. On the other hand, will the game be as fun to play alone as in multiplayer? That remains to be seen. Last month’s E3 demo that raised such concerns was naturally only a snapshot of a game in development, so MachineGames and Arkane have had plenty of time to resolve these potential downsides to a co-op focused game.

Those are our three big single player games to look out for this month. Other interesting titles coming soon include Stranger Things 3 on July 4 and Attack on Titan 2 on July 5, both games hitting Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

On July 12 we will see the sequel to an almost-fantastic Minecraft-like RPG spinoff, Dragon Quest Builders 2 on Switch and PlayStation 4, as well as the Switch port of “anime Monster Hunter”, God Eater 3

The week after, July 19 brings us Switch-exclusive Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, and at an undetermined time during the month Klei Entertainment’s anticipated survival-sim Oxygen Not Included will finally leave early access on PC.

Have we missed anything that you’re looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below and be sure bookmark OnlySP and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

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