If you’ve been following the PC gaming space in recent months, you know Epic has been throwing a lot of money around to secure exclusives big and small for its Epic Games Store (EGS) on PC.
But there has also been a small and growing trend of developers who are publicly rejecting Epic’s money and exclusivity terms for a variety of reasons.
creator Alex Mochi, for instance, said in a screengrabbed Discord conversation that Epic’s “deal didn’t appeal to me” because “I want for as many people to have access to the game as possible.” developer Megan Fox tweeted that Epic told her they were “focusing on exclusives, and promised Steam keys in its [KickStarter], therefore, nah [on Epic Games Store availability].” developers Wube Software said in a blog post it would see any potential exclusivity deal as “selling-out to big companies that would use the game as cash grab while destroying the brand.” And so on.
Indie developer Unfold Games is the latest to publicly turn down an Epic exclusivity offer for its dream-like adventure game . The team went into more detail than most on the decision in a Medium post this weekend, explaining why “getting some upfront payment on top of guaranteed revenue” from Epic was not enough to entice them.
The main reason Unfold cites for rejecting the offer is a pretty simple one: the game had just been listed on Steam by the time Epic’s offer came in and had already attracted quite a lot of attention on Steam users’ wishlists. That sort of thing didn’t stop games like , , and from jumping to Epic long after Steam listings were public. Still, Unfold said “pulling the game off Steam, especially so close to the release date, would surely make a lot of fans unhappy.”
The other reason for Unfold’s exclusivity rejection is more interesting, from a platform competition standpoint. According to the studio, Epic “made it clear that releasing non-exclusively [on the Epic Game Store] is not an option.” In other words, the only way for to get on EGS, at this point, was to sign an exclusivity agreement and stop offering the game on other PC platforms.
Unfold shared screenshots of e-mail correspondence where Epic proposed a one-year exclusivity term stated directly that “we aren’t in a position yet to open the store up to [simultaneous shipment].” Epic representatives were not immediately available to respond to a request for comment.
Epic’s way or the highway
This kind of “exclusive or nothing” offer for Epic Games Store access is a bit striking in this case. There are, after all, plenty of other games available on EGS and other stores, though many of those were available on Steam or other platforms long before adding an EGS option (often as an Epic-sponsored free giveaway). Major upcoming titles like will also be launching on the Epic Games Store alongside Steam and GOG next year, showing that exclusivity is not a strict requirement for EGS access.
Epic has been quite upfront about its explicit strategy of keeping its Games Store selection small and curated thus far. That’s only set to change later this year, when the company says it will open up submissions to all developers rather than just the handpicked partners it reaches out to currently. Epic was apparently ready to make Unfold Games one of those handpicked partners, but only if the studio agreed to exclusive terms.
There are no doubt quite a few developers and publishers that would be interested in listing their games on the Epic Games Store alongside other platforms if they could. After all, any sales that the EGS listing took away from a storefront like Steam would leave the game-maker with more money, thanks to Epic’s more generous revenue sharing terms.
The problem from Epic’s point of view, though, is that there isn’t currently much reason for players who have a choice to buy a game through the Epic Games Store rather than the competition. Steam has the network effects that come with having a de facto near-monopoly in the space and a number of features EGS doesn’t yet offer. Competitors like GOG and Itch.io offer players games without any digital rights management. Upstarts like Kongregate’s Kartridge platform have unique features like the ability to earn free games through in-game achievements.
On a level playing field, Epic doesn’t offer much in the way of similar reasons to choose its store over another. Lower prices could be one such reason, especially if multi-store developers decided to pass some of Epic’s revenue share “savings” on to customers. And while Epic says those lower prices are coming, there’s little sign of it happening thus far.
Epic seems to realize all this and has been relatively upfront about its strategy of using free games and exclusivity deals to build an EGS player base that can take on Steam’s behemoth. “There are two ways to bring users into something,” Epic CEO Tim Sweeney told Ars in March. “You can run Google and Facebook ads and pay massive amounts of money to them. But we actually found it was more economical to pay developers [a lump sum] to distribute their game free for two weeks…” Sweeney has also said Epic would stop buying exclusives if Steam felt pressured to start offering developers a better cut.
That’s fine as far as it goes, and Epic deserves credit for not exactly hiding its intentions. But ‘s situation highlights just how much Epic sees exclusivity as EGS’ main differentiator for now. For many games, at least, if Epic can’t have the rights all to itself, it doesn’t want them at all.