Main Course

April 8, 2019 by Tim

I want to like the Epic Games Launcher.

I want to like it because I want developers to earn more money from their games, and Epic takes a significantly lower cut than Steam. I also think it would be healthy for Steam to have some real competition.

I want to like the Epic launcher for these reasons… but I don’t like the way they’re doing business otherwise.

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Setting aside the rumors that the launcher is spyware (I’ve seen the evidence, it’s concerning, but not conclusive in my opinion), or that Epic is secretly being controlled by a Chinese super-corporation (I’ve seen no evidence of this, but Tencent is obviously an investor), or that the software is a barebones mess (it is, perhaps I’ve been spoiled by Steam, and I’m sure eventually they’ll get it all fixed, but right now it sucks). The buying of exclusive rights to games to force people to adopt their launcher rubs me the wrong way, though.

To be clear, I don’t hate the idea of exclusives as a whole. They exist, they’re a core part of the video game ecosystem, they’re a great way to sell a platform, and in a lot of instances, it can lead to games that wouldn’t otherwise exist (when a console bankrolls production of a game in return for exclusivity, for instance). It can be a healthy way to promote competition, and can lift up developers in the process.

In other cases, the exclusivity makes sense. I really dislike the Origin launcher, and I could take or leave Uplay, but I get that I have to use them to play an EA or Ubisoft game; those companies make the games and the launchers.

What I don’t like is when a company shells out a ton of cash to an otherwise unaffiliated developer solely to prevent the customer from having options. I don’t like when Microsoft does it with a game like Tomb Raider, and I don’t like it here. I don’t even play the Metro series, but the way the latest Metro game suddenly went exclusive to Epic two weeks before the game’s launch felt a little sketchy. And now Borderlands is exclusive for the first six months. I understand the business appeal for the developer (likely a big bag of cash up front), but that doesn’t mean I have to like it as a consumer.

And while I may not like it, I’ll also be the first to admit that I’m probably not going to do shit about it. They snagged one of the few game franchises I cannot simply ignore. If it were a single player game, I might decide to vote with my wallet, and simply not play it until next April. But Borderlands is a co-op game, and if the other three friends in my group decide not to wait, I’m not sure I’m prepared to miss out on a game (and time with friends) that I’m looking forward to. I’ll sneer, and grumble and gripe, and buy it anyway.

Which is exactly what Epic is counting on, and that irritates me more than being forced to download some clunky software nobody likes.

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