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What the Rise of Competitors Means for Steam

Steam faces future challenges with the up and coming Epic Games and the long-standing GOG watching them carefully, and planning their moves.

The recent news that Metro Exodus will only be available on the Epic Games store has sent rumblings through various gaming communities. Some are upset, some are happy, and some don't care much either way. In my opinion, people should be paying attention to things like this a lot more than they are.

Once upon a time Steam had all but a monopoly on the Digital Distribution market. There was no one bigger - And there really was no one else. Sure, Blizzard has had their own distribution methods forever, and MMOs have been using their own launchers since time immemorial, but those aren't like Steam.

Steam has, since many of us were children, been the only place you would consider to buy online games. For many years, this was all well and good, and few people were vocal in their dissidence. However, as the years rolled onward and people grew older, and more conscious of just how bad of a monopoly Steam really held, these opinions changed.

Steam's DRM policy has long been the topic of debate. For the uninitiated, this might seem like a surprise. What's wrong with Steam's policy? Allow me to break it down.

See, when you buy a game on Steam, you don't actually own it. It's tied to your account, sure, and you get all these fancy Cloud and Steam Pipe features, but Steam holds the right to revoke your access to the title at any time. This is most commonly exercised when your account is banned. Right now, if I were banned on Steam, I would lose at least a thousand dollars worth of games, and I would have no way to get them back. And it's all perfectly legal.

Steam also prevents you from sharing your games with other people because of this reason. Sure, there's 'Family Sharing' but you can't get and keep a game a friend might lend you, that's not how their policy works.

GOG, on the other hand, boasts their DRM-free site and launcher as their main selling point. You keep what you buy, and you can download it wherever and whenever you want. Regardless of your account's status.

GOG has been attempting to make itself the main alternative to Steam for awhile now. Sure, Origin exists, but it only caters to EA games, and with EA's ever-low public opinion, it's never been viewed as a 'competitor' to Steam as much as a 'No Girls Allowed' tree house.

GOG, however, never has had the clout to be a proper rival to Steam. It's a bastion for indie games and for the odd Triple-A game, but at the end of the day, Steam has always had more variety and more to offer in general. Plus, people like me have often been set in our ways, and used Steam because its where all our friends and games already are. Why, we wonder, would we switch?

Then comes Epic Games.

Epic Games is most known for the game that has been the joy of many young gamer's lives, and the bane of the rest of ours, Fortnite. Yet Epic seemed to see an opportunity in their massive popularity, and moved to seize the day.

They started offering a DRM-free Platform for game developers to publish their games not too long ago, and many of us, myself included, have likely overlooked it as a potential rival to Steam. A launcher trying to be like GOG, we figure.

However, Epic has something that GOG doesn't. A massive fanbase, already primed and ready. Cooking in their suburban homes playing Fortnite.

I believe that Epic may be poised to have a new generation of users grow up to use their platform, if not exclusively, than like many of us use Steam today. Think about it. We stick with Steam because it's what we've known the longest, because we're established there. What's stopping the, admittedly often young, fans of Fortnite from doing the same with Epic Games?

Steam, you might argue. Because Steam is still there, and unlike our childhoods, there's competition. However, while I don't think Steam will be on the way out the door any time soon, I think that Epic is primed to become a proper competitor.

I foresee a future split, where there will be younger Gamers using Epic Games for their digital distribution and the older audience using Steam, with GOG stuck somewhere in the middle.

Steam's monopoly over the industry is in its twilight, I feel. I'm not concerned for Steam's future, but I am well aware that times change, and no king rules forever. I feel that Steam will need to be wary of Epic Games, and by extension, GOG, and make moves to secure future high-profile game deals. Else, it might risk losing a potential user base in the future.

In closing, while I don't think Steam's at risk of losing its throne entirely, I think the industry is gearing up for it to be shared. Be it two, or three rulers, the time of Steam's absolute dominance over distribution is ending.
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Fri Feb 15, 2019 2:28 pm
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