In my last column of 2018, I discussed the game industry covering game platforms and distribution of games for the personal computing (PC) environment. A lot has happened in the game world since last December, so I thought I would recap and then look at what is changing.
How Are PC Games Sold
In the recent past, PC games were sold on CD-ROMs and DVDs and purchased at department stores or specialty stores like GameStop or Babbages. The specialty stores and the stock of games in department stores have mostly disappeared and have been replaced with on-line, web-based distribution.
Web-based distribution solves several problems that the game studios and publishers were facing. Web distribution allows games to be updated and fixed more easily. Games can automatically be updated in the same manner as the operating systems and other desktop software is updated today. Digital rights Management (DRM) can be applied using the Internet protecting against illegal copying of the game but allowing the game to be deployed to multiple machines and enforcing the rule that only one instance can be played at the same time. The Web platform also allows multiple players to join in a game and play together or against each other across the web. Many game platforms allow communications between players and allow an audience to watch games online as the games are being played.
Steam (SteamPowered.com) is currently the largest PC game distributor. Steam is owned by Valve. Valve is a game developer and publisher and created Steam to address the distribution issues it encountered with its games like Half-Life, Team Fortress, and Portal. The Steam application provides game installation and updating, live chat, cloud storage of game progress, and a web-based DRM scheme that supports offline play. Steam typically charges publishers 30% of the price of the software for distribution, but the developer receives the benefits of the Steam platform. Other primary distributors include EA/Origin (Origin.com) and GOG (gog.com).
An Epic New Player
Epic is the creator of the game Fortnite. Fortnite is a Battle Royal style game. Battle Royal games typically allow about 100 players to play on a computer-generated course. The players are all dropped into the course at the same time and as they explore the field the players must find weapons to kill the other players before they are killed. The last player standing is the winner. Fortnite has been very successful with over 250 million subscribed players and over 2.4 billion dollars of income from the game in 2018. The game is offered for free but generates income through the sales of cosmetic enhancements for the avatars the players use in the game.
Epic decided to push back on Steam’s pricing model. While Steam's pricing is in line with the pricing models of Apple and Google for mobile games, Epic was unhappy with paying and decided to start its own platform that was more developer friendly for pricing (epicgames.com).
Epic has been successfully challenging Steam’s leadership by charging 10% to developers that use its platform and better deals for those developers that commit to exclusive distribution on Epic games for a period of time. Of course, Fortnite is only available on Epic Games now, but other titles like the much anticipated release of Borderlands 3 have made exclusive agreements with Epic as well.
On the consumer front, Epic is offering one or more free games each week. These are often top-tier games like Batman: Arkum Asylum that may be a little older but are highly regarded.
Good Old Games
GOG hasn't been sitting idle either. Best known for reviving older games, GOG now has added a number of newer games to its catalogue. GOG has also released a new games manager to help with tracking, installing, and launching games. The new GOG Galaxy 2 launcher is similar to the Steam launcher but handles games from all of the companies, providing one launcher to launch them all. When you have purchased games from Steam, Origin, Epic, and GOG, the ability to use a single launcher can simplify things considerably. But GOG Galaxy 2 also helps you track your online friends from the different platforms as well. The launcher is free and can be found at gog.com.
That's it for this month. Next month I will talk about technology gifts for the holidays.