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Epic Games Store: exclusives, early access, and how it could take on Steam

When the Epic Games Store was announced in December 2018, it seemed to come out of nowhere with big plans and bigger ambitions. Since then, it’s made itself a staple storefront and something of a target for controversy.

While Epic Games has a long and illustrious history in making games, especially shooters – Unreal Tournament, and the free-to-play Fortnite, to name just two – the Epic Games online store is the result of several developments for the company.

Fortnite has proved a huge money-spinner for Epic, as a massive online game that's technically free-to-play but comes with numerous cosmetic items and skins you can pay to upgrade your character with – and has become a global phenomenon off the back of it.

Epic had to build up a huge infrastructure for managing those transactions, which placed it in good stead for opening its own store for PC and Mac titles.

But why open its own video game marketplace? Can't you get everything on the Steam Store anyway? Read on below for everything you need to know about the Epic Games Store.

[Update: Epic Games is continuing to pull in some strong timed exclusives despite criticism. Since its first E3 in June it’s confirmed that Shenmue 3, Borderlands 3 and Watch Dogs: Legion will be exclusives for the store.]

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What is the Epic Games Store?

The Epic Games Store is a marketplace for video games you can play on your PC and Mac. It has a website where you can browse and download individual games – some of them exclusive to the store – though for the dedicated application you'll be downloading an install file from the Epic Games Store website.

It's free to make an Epic account, which you can link with a PlayStation, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, or even Nintendo account for your login details – though if you play something like Fortnite you'll have an Epic account already.

The service currently has a "hand-curated" selection of titles for PC and Mac, with plans to expand to "Android and other platforms throughout 2019" – so you could well be buying some mobile games here rather than the Apple App Store or Google Play.

Epic Games Fortnite

Epic Game's Fortnite has been a global hit (Image Credit: Epic Games)

The argument for Epic Games Store

Running out of steam

The elephant in the room here is Steam: the massive PC game marketplace launched by Valve in 2003.

The Steam Store has grown to immense proportions, with tens of thousands of titles available and a vice-grip monopoly on where most PC gamers today buy their games.

Not that everyone is happy with Steam, though. The platform is bloated, and Steam has little incentive to clean things up as long as the money is coming in. Its decision to allow 'controversial' content on its platform, as long as it was technically legal, has also brought a string of bad publicity.

There's been outcry from smaller-size developers over how Steam's algorithms prioritize big-name AAA titles like Fallout 4 and Far Cry 5, making it difficult for indie titles to be discovered if they don't already have a large marketing budget. Not to mention the 30% cut Steam takes on everything published on its platform, which, although an industry standard, seems harder and harder to justify for devs whose games simply aren't being seen.

Valve's multiplayer shooter Team Fortress 2

Valve's multiplayer shooter Team Fortress 2. Image Credit: Valve

Real community

Epic's game store is turning heads specifically for its 'developer-first' focus. Here devs will only pay a 12% cut to Epic, while games built in Epic's Unreal engine will see the usual 5% surcharge waived.

"As developers ourselves, we wanted two things: a store with fair economics, and a direct relationship with players," Epic said in a blog post.

Devs will control their own game pages, with no external advertisements taking attention away from their titles. They'll also be able to reach players who have purchased their games, with "game updates and news" sent directly through the Epic Games Store newsfeed, or via email.

The Epic Games Store also links up to Epic's 'Support-A-Creator' program, which allows you to send a slice of the game's revenue to YouTube or Twitch streamers who first got you interested in the game.

It's a community-focused approach, and one that could chime with many players and developers tired of fighting Steam's algorithms for the service they want.

Hades (Early Access)

Hades (Early Access). Image Credit: Supergiant Games

Epic Games Store exclusives

Part of what's turning heads is the Epic Game Store's platform exclusives – when the platform launched it announced it would have exclusives like sci-fi RPG The Outer Worlds (Obsidian) and supernatural action game Control (Remedy). Despite some backlash from players, Epic continues to double down on exclusives and has now secured big titles like Shenmue 3, Borderlands 3 and Watch Dogs: Legion as exclusives for its store front.

Not all of these titles are permanent exclusives, of course. Shenmue 3 and Borderlands 3, for example, will come to Steam after a set period.

Other confirmed PC exclusives include Afterparty (Night School), Journey to the Savage Planet, Ashen, Darksiders III, Phoenix Point, Journey, Telltale's The Walking Dead: The Final Season – and Supergiant Games' upcoming title Hades (now in Early Access).

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 will not be released on Steam, as publisher Ubisoft has opted to make the PC version of the title a semi-exclusive release on the Epic Games Store. According to a report by Polygon, Ubisoft and Epic Games are also teaming up to bring select future Ubisoft PC titles to the Epic Games Store. Watch Dogs: Legion and Anno 1800 are now confirmed to be among them.

In addition, Epic Games and Deep Silver have announced a partnership to release Metro Exodus for PC as a timed exclusive on the Epic Games Store. This means Metro Exodus will not arrive on the Steam store until February 14, 2020.

Image Credit: Metro Exodus

Metro Exodus (Image Credit: 4A Games)

In response, Valve released the following statement:

"Notice: Sales of Metro Exodus have been discontinued on Steam due to a publisher decision to make the game exclusive to another PC store.

"The developer and publisher have assured us that all prior sales of the game on Steam will be fulfilled on Steam, and Steam owners will be able to access the game and any future updates or DLC through Steam.

"We think the decision to remove the game is unfair to Steam customers, especially after a long pre-sale period. We apologize to Steam customers that were expecting it to be available for sale through the February 15th release date, but we were only recently informed of the decision and given limited time to let everyone know."

Epic Games CEO, Tim Sweeney, has said he believes that ultimately the disruptive strategy of securing exclusives will benefit gamers. Taking to Twitter, Sweeney said it was the only way to end the 70/30 revenue split that’s forced on developers. When developers make gains, players will see benefits.

This isn’t convincing everyone, though. The announcement that Shenmue 3 would be a timed Epic Games store exclusive has left many of its Kickstarter backers disgruntled, feeling that they’re being forced to use a store front they don’t want to support in order to play the game when it’s first released. Epic Games has confirmed that it will be issuing refunds to those players.

Journey (2012)

Journey (2012). Image Credit: Thatgamecompany

Epic Games Store free games

You read that right. While players can sign up to use the store for free, you'll also get free games bundled in every week or two weeks, in the vein of PlayStation Plus or Xbox's Games with Gold.

If you get the game during its free period it’s yours to keep for good so it’s worth popping into the store now and again to see what’s on offer. Previous titles include Oxenfree, The Witness, City of Brass and Rime.

  • Current free game on Epic Games Store: Overcooked (July 4 – July 11)
  • The next free game on Epic Games Store: Torchlight (July 11 – July 18)

The free-to-play Fortnite alone is sure to draw players in, while the steady release of free titles – and good ones, so far – won't hurt either.

Whether Epic can take on a behemoth like Steam is uncertain, but it already looks to be carving out a space in digital distribution that many of us have been waiting for.

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