Exclusivity – Is it Bad for Gamers?


Computer Gaming is an amazing experience and the thing that has always made it amazing is freedom. Freedom to choose the hardware you want to run, the OS or platform you want to use. You, the gamer, can create the perfect platform for the gaming experience you crave.

That freedom first came under attack with exclusive launches on platforms. We would see major titles only launch on a certain console or the PC and thus limit the choice for gamers.. They had to choose the games they played based not on the game but on the platform they owned. The gaming world cried foul and while this is till with us today it has diminished a great deal.

Next came games with experiences locked behind certain hardware. Again, as a gamer we are left with not choosing a game based on the game itself, but rather if it has been “optimized” for the hardware we were running at that time. Gamers cried out and again we have seen this approach phased out with a lot of the “proprietary” tech made less proprietary or even completely open.

Now, today we see this again with EPIC working exclusive deals for their platform, often with the consumer being hit with what appears to be a misinformation campaign. Let’s explore a little history  to see what is going on.

STEAM was launched in 2003 and was going head to head with the boxed games. We all knew then that digital distribution was the future. It gave us quicker access to new games, no limited inventory for game buys and allowed us to buy games from the comfort of our gaming chairs 😊

STEAM quickly developed into the de facto platform, through being the only viable option. Over time competitors’ have tried to take a piece of the VALVE Corporation pie, but with limited success.

Then EA decided to flex its muscles. It was going to make all future EA games only available to purchase from their Origin platform. Well we quickly learned EA did not have as much muscle as they had hoped.

While they still sold games, they had to move from a direct game sale model to a subscription model. EA will of course tell you that this was a planned move, but the truth is easy to see as their Triple A titles now go direct to subscription at launch.

Good Old Games and other market players have tried to take on STEAM, not by limiting title access but via the claim of dropping DRM. This garnered some interest but was not a game changer.

Now joining the party comes EPIC Games who prove the adage, ‘those that forget history are doomed to repeat it.’ They presented a strong model for a game store with a pushback at STEAM’s higher cost to publishers. Then they practically copied the old timed exclusive model that was such a “huge success” with the console and PC community in the past. (Note the sarcasm)

To be fair the publishers that agree to the limitations are as guilty as EPIC in this. They should know better and one can only speculate why the do this.

Now the argument presented by EPIC and others is, why does this matter? The EPIC store is free, just download it and enjoy the game you want to play. But why should I be FORCED to do so? What if component manufacturers decided one day to ONLY sell cards via a single outlet? Would that make good business sense? What about the people that have had a bad experience with that outlet?

Well there is a reason and STEAM has brought this on itself.

Let’s begin with an early point I made, STEAM is a dominant platform in this market.While some have seen it using its power for good in the gaming world, another view point is that they have sat back and taken the money. We know that STEAM charges publishers up to 30% at times for game sales.  Yet when you look at the Steam interface there appears to be a lack of investment into improving the gamer experience.

As a gamer, we all know the frustration of the STEAM interface, something that is in desperate need of an update. However instead of investing money and time into its 90% customer base and improving our experience it has sought to try and push another OS (even it’s own) on gamers. I am all for innovation and new ideas but how about giving your primary base a little support as well.

STEAM has fallen down hard on the job. To see competitors arise to challenge them is only to be expected, but is exclusivity the right answer? We as gamers just want to enjoy our game, we do not want to get caught up in a messy proxy war over the community. A gamer should not have to worry about what brand his hardware is or what store he goes to when he makes a purchase. He should be free to make his choice on the merit of the product he is buying not other factors.

EPIC, you want to take on STEAM? That is awesome but do not do it by limiting gamer choices. Instead do it by building a “better mouse trap”. Give us real social media functionality and better support.

STEAM you want be competitive? Then for the love of god upgrade your interface and fix your social media segments. Take a lesson from UPLAY and give achievements some meaning as well as reward customer loyalty.

Having more than one platform for buying your games is fine and could be good for gamers as it would create competition. This would drive innovation and even lower prices, awesome stuff for gamers. However, limiting our choices and making us choose a platform not on the virtues of the platform but on the games we want to play is wrong and bad for gamers over all.

EPIC learn from history, gamers do not like to be limited and your very actions to go head to head with STEAM could well result in your ultimate failure. 

The articles content, opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed in SAPPHIRE NATION are the authors’ own and do not necessarily represent official policy or position of SAPPHIRE Technology.

Edward Crisler
Edward is the definition of an “old school” gamer, playing computer games as far back at 1977. He hosted a tech talk show for 20 years and is now the North America PR Representative for SAPPHIRE as well as SAPPHIRE’s unofficial gaming evangelist. You can follow him on Twitter @EdCrisler.