Exclusives are the necessary evil of the gaming world. None of us want them, but on the same level, developers and publishers need them to set themselves apart from the competition. When it has come to consoles and exclusives, we have accepted them, but when it has come to PC gaming, we have been far less willing to do so. Now with the Epic Store taking its first shots at Steam with Metro Exodus announced as an exclusive, we once again are forced to revisit the complex relationship of exclusives on PC.
Traditionally, exclusives have served the important role of providing another layer of what sets one platform apart from another. This is best seen when looking at consoles and the games that they offer. Take this latest generation for example, between the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and the Xbox One. Each offer their own set of exclusives that help set them apart—the Nintendo Switch has The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, PlayStation 4 has God of War, and Xbox One has Halo 5. Of course, there are more exclusives than these, but the ones mentioned provide some of the best examples of the differences between each console’s offerings. If you want to play any of these titles, the only place to play them is on the respective consoles they are exclusive to.
As a consumer—and assuming all things equal—if God of War is the game that carries the most interest, then purchasing a PlayStation 4 is the only option to play the game and becomes the only choice. But, as mentioned earlier, gamers have come to accept this restriction for consoles, in part due to the different dynamics at play when it comes to console exclusives. Consoles are not interchangeable in the same sense as PC’s are, there are no set standards that apply across the board, thus making moving something from one console to another not an exactly straight forward process. Programs may need to be rewritten or changed to assure that one game can run on multiple-platforms—for PCs this distinction doesn’t exist anywhere near the same level, and thus, gamers have come to expect that if a game is on PC, it should be available everywhere on PC as there are no technical limitations preventing it.
This is where Epic Games enters the fray with its string of exclusives, most notably Metro: Exodus, and finds both itself and the company behind Metro: Exodus in a precarious position. On one hand, we have part of the game industry that is accepting of exclusives for various different reasons, and frankly, it is simply a part of the industry that runs differently than PC gaming. On the other hand, we have the PC Gaming side of where exclusives are seen as a stain on the industry, something to be avoided at all costs, and now Epic Games with its store is trying to work actively against that for the sake of giving its store some prominence.
This leaves the PC Gaming market, just like similar efforts have done in the past, with a bit of an odd situation that ends off having two different effects. On one hand, you have those who see that this particular title has been made exclusive and will go ahead and download the Epic Games store to purchase and play it. Potentially, these consumers may move to the Epic Games store and make it as their main storefront to purchase from, or, at least partially after this exclusivity. On the flip side of this, you have Steam, the behemoth of the gaming realm when it comes to PC, who has remained the standard-bearer of PC Game purchasing. But unlike the situation with consoles, where there is a whole purchase of a console to act as a barrier between the games in question, for PC, it’s just another program and this is where the uniqueness of the PC Gaming market comes into play.
If this were the same situation as game consoles, the Epic Game store would likely be able to acquire new customers by creating products to bring them into that console’s ecosystem and would likely continue to make additional purchases in that ecosystem because of the barrier to enter the others is high. But in this scenario, all the ecosystems are free in terms of monetary cost; instead, the currency becomes convenience and features that make purchasing on one over another as the defining factor. When it comes to competing on these fronts, Steam has and will foreseeably, be the winner when it comes to buying PC games. It has more features, more functions, and has everyone’s library of games and friends; consumers are already committed to the platform and don’t want to move because of this.
The Epic Game store, in this case, will still most likely see some sales via their exclusive games, and some will most likely adopt this platform more so than before, but the level won’t nearly be the same as that of a console since a consumer can easily swap to another store. However, it will have an additional effect of also potentially improving Steam by creating some competition, regardless of how successful it will become. This is the complexity of the PC gaming market; in a nutshell, new and different storefronts all seek to compete with Steam but simply can’t. There are either missing features, functions, simply a different store, or many are already invested in Steam. For those who try to create a new path that seeks to force a reason to try another storefront, there is a backlash from the community by adding another storefront. However, it usually does something well that Steam takes note of and eventually adopts.
Exclusives are just another “feature” that will force Steam to better itself, but anger everyone in the process for better or worse.