COMMENT: Competition among online game stores can only be good

Aloysius Low
·Contributor
·3-min read
Steam logo is seen displayed on a phone screen in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland on November 13, 2019.  (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Steam logo is seen displayed on a phone screen. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

There's no doubt that Steam is the best platform to get games right now. The online games store started from being just a client for updates for Valve's early games in 2003, to the juggernaut today with 75 per cent of the market share and over 25 million concurrent users in Jan 2021.

These are crazy numbers, but Steam got to where it is today by delivering consistent quality, great sales, and uptime. Well, the last was a bit debatable in the service's early days, but Steam has generally improved on this, with mostly minimal downtime that you'll hardly notice.

Which brings me to my next point — is Steam stagnating?

We've seen sale after similar sale for several years, and there's nothing exciting now about the next big Steam event.

Meanwhile, we have the Epic Games Store giving away tons of games to entice users over, and signing exclusives with publishers to keep them there.

It may not sound like a good thing. After all, Epic aren't liked for the last move, having drawn controversy from gamers who prefer a more open marketplace.

But the Fortnite game publisher and creator of the Unreal Engine have deep pockets. And they have an advantage for developers to hop on their store — they are only charging a 12 per cent cut of the revenue, compared with Valve's 30 per cent for those on Steam.

Heck, as a gamer, you're probably better off buying from the Epic Games Store if you want to support game developers, since they will benefit more.

Then, there's the GOG Galaxy store, which offers users digital rights management (DRM) free copies of the game — Steam locks up your games to its own DRM, so you need the client running if you want to play. Epic also has DRM for its games, just so you know.

While we haven't seen it just yet, the DRM means that if Steam or Epic ever close their servers, you're going to have a painful goodbye with your games library (and the dozens, if not hundreds of games you bought on sale and may not have even touched). Of course, they could un-DRM the games as a goodwill gesture, but I don’t have much hope.

Factor in the other game stores that offer passes on games, such as the Xbox Game Pass or EA Play, and you, the average consumer, have a wealth of choices you previously never had before if Steam was the only option.

Of course, publishers and game store owners are being aggressive now because they know they need to offer freebies and deals to claw users from Steam. It's the same situation you'll see with any service, such as the battle between Grab and GoJek in Asia, or how Netflix's success has now seen a surge of online streaming platforms, including the new Disney+ in Singapore.

Competition is good, because as we all know, once you have a winner, the freebies end, the prices go up, and we start missing the good ol' days. Then they get stagnant and the cycle repeats itself all over.

For now, let's enjoy the benefits to our wallets, and watch as Steam tries to innovate to fend off the rivals nipping at its heels.

Aloysius Low is an ex-CNET editor with more than 15 years of experience. He's really into cats and is currently reviewing products at canbuyornot.com

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