You might have heard of the Epic Games Store in recent gaming news. Launched with a strong current and coming roster during the Video Game Awards, the Epic Games Store inspired hundreds of rumors that it might become a powerful competitor to Steam. Steam has sat on its high throne for over a decade now, due to being practically the only successful PC game marketplace. Its monopoly-like grip on the PC market has allowed Steam to get away with a lot of things unchallenged; its 70-30% revenue split among the most notable. Here I’d like to lay out each store’s perks, benefits, flaws, policies, and general customer/developer opinion, and hopefully convince you that of the two, more developers (even the big ones) should consider making their next game an Itch.io exclusive.
First I’ll start with the large and advertised positives of Epic Games Store and Steam.
Epic Games Store:
- A free game every two weeks. Epic Games has promised this to players, and the selection is quite impressive. Although mostly older indie games are selected, they’re quite notable and somewhat niche ones that could reach a larger audience with its enticing price tag of Free.
- An 88-12% revenue split (if you’re using the Unreal Engine), in addition to another 5% off for the first 24 months of Epic Games Store’s release. A huge difference to steam’s 70-30% split.
- Exclusives. Indie game powerhouse SuperGiant Games released Hades as a temporary exclusive, and now, critically acclaimed A4 Games are releasing the new Metro: Exodus as a temporary exclusive as well. Many developers are starting to moving over, big and small.
- Also includes an app store for mobile games. A comparison of Epic Games App Store, Apple, and Google Play will have to come another time, however.
- “No store-placed ads or cross-marketing of competing games.”
- Support-a-Creator. “Influencers” (like Youtubers and streamers) will be given special links to the store page that they can share, which gives them a small cut whenever viewers click on that link.
- The largest PC gaming audience on the market. A 15-year monopoly usually accomplishes that.
- Cloud saves for your games
- User reviews. One of the strongest voices the PC gaming community has.
- Mod distribution
- Community hubs to share screenshots, user-created guides, forums.
- Account sharing, perhaps with friends and family. Steam allows every user 5 accounts that it can share games with.
- Steamworks API, which handles multiplayer matchmaking and microtransactions, among other things.
- Steam Curators. Users (usually ones already with a fan base) can create a list of games that they recommend.
That’s the feature and perk list for the most part, one I detailed more than the other due to one being fresh on the market. As you can see, Epic Games Store is missing a lot of features that Steam has, however, most likely due to it being new and still in development. That said, from numerous interviews, there are some decisions that have come into light that are disturbing the gaming community currently, the most notable ones being its lack of Forums and User Reviews.
Epic Games Store has made it clear that it doesn’t like review bombing and “gaming-the-system” problems that Steam has. Just recently, users review-bombed older Metro games, protesting A4 Games’ choice to move the new Metro: Exodus out of Steam.
Screenshot from Metro: Exodus Steam page
Epic Games Store will have reviews, but they will be opt-in by developers, so developers can pick and choose what reviews to show. This spawned more controversy since this essentially gives developers the power to shape their public image, at least on the Epic Games Store.
There’s more drama on the horizon, negatives about each storefront that I’ve barely dug into, and the community is brimming with rage right now and, to be frank, it’s quite exhausting, so let’s take a short break and do some introspection. Taking a step back, out of the heat, here is a survey compiled by Lars Doucet, an indie game developer, about the game development community’s experience on Steam. I would encourage you to give it a good read, as it is fair, thorough, and as unbiased as it can be in its breakdown of survey information.
I’m doing the survey an absolute injustice by posting the following graphs, but I must for the sake of discussion. Again, please read it for context for the following information:
Developers are generally unhappy with the direction Steam is going and are feeling less and less satisfied with the 70-30% split that they’ve lived with for years.
When looking at the alternatives that developers are considering, I see an interesting spike in the number of developers that chose Itch.io. Let’s investigate.
- Pay-what-you-want option. Sometimes games are better off free, however, Itch.io gives players and developers and easy option to donate.
- 100-0 revenue split, or more accurately, open revenue sharing. Developers can choose any split they want Itch.io to have.
- Any content is allowed, assuming it’s legal. Developers of erotic visual novels, for instance, are having a rough time on Steam, getting constant warnings and delays due to the nature of their content. No such problems on Itch.io
- DRM-free builds and extra keys, so buyers can sometimes have it both on Itch.io and Steam
- User reviews
- Comprehensive result filter, including sorting by genre, input methods, average session length, multiplayer features, and accessibility.
- You can host and participate in Game Jams on Itch.io
Now, Itch.io has its own Itch.io has a much smaller userbase than Steam, by a long shot, however, it is a community and sharing platform that encourages positivity, fairness, and a love for games, things that you can see in its business decisions and designs. It’s a breath of fresh air compared to the choking smog of Steam and even the Epic Games Store, free of the AAA drama that we so often hear about. I often think about what would have happened if Metro: Exodus announced it’s defection from Steam to Itch.io instead, what the community response would have been. Perhaps Itch.io is free of the drama Because of its mild seclusion from the mainstream, but nonetheless, it’s service that I want to thrive.