A year ago, I wrote these words: “Epic Games is creating a Steam rival and Valve should be scared.” And for good reason: The Epic Games Store debuted December 6, 2018 and upended the PC gaming market. Valve, once unassailable, suddenly seemed very vulnerable. Flush with Fortnite money, Epic provided the first real competition to Steam since its inception 15 years prior. What company wouldn’t worry?
If I could amend that headline now though, I’d instead write “Epic Games is creating a Steam rival and Valve should be grateful.”
Grateful, not because Valve fended off the newcomer and solidified its own position, but because Epic spurred Valve out of complacency. The Epic Games Store is better now—but so is Steam. As we look back on the past year, that might be Epic’s most valuable contribution to the PC thus far.
Shiny, happy storefronts
As I wrote last December, “Epic doesn’t need to convince players [to use the store]. It only needs to convince developers.” And I was right. Steam’s strength lies in being the de facto storefront for PC gaming. Countless challengers had tried and failed to overcome Valve’s primacy. Many carved niches for themselves, like GOG with DRM-free and classic games. But for the biggest PC releases? Why buy elsewhere if you already owned a few dozen (or few hundred) games through Steam? You wouldn’t.
Or at least, you wouldn’t unless forced. Epic’s only chance, as I saw it, was to lure away a few high-profile exclusives. Players would follow. Not all of them, of course, but enough to make the platform viable. And at the time, I thought this would happen naturally thanks to Epic’s better revenue split—88 percent to the publisher, versus 70 percent through Steam.
I underestimated Epic’s aggression. So did Valve, I think.
First, Epic jump-started everyone’s library with a bunch of free stuff. Get this: Even if you didn’t spend a cent on the Epic Games Store in 2019, your library could be north of 50 games right now. Fifty!
Epic started the year giving away a single game every two weeks. Then in June it switched to a free game every week. Then that became, for a short time, two games a week. The final count, factoring in this week’s Jotun: Valhalla Edition? 56 free games, more than one a week for the entire year.
And sure, some weeks were more exciting than others. Epic gave away some truly incredible games though, many of which appeared on our past Game of the Year lists—like Soma, Observer, Mutant Year Zero, Stories Untold, and more. The list even includes two of our Game of the Year winners, What Remains of Edith Finch? and Celeste.
Now that we’ve reached the one-year mark, I’m not sure whether these giveaways will continue. It’s been a hell of a run though, and significantly offset Valve’s 15-year head start.
Epic did the most damage by locking down 2019’s release calendar though. As I said, Steam was the de facto PC…