Unreal World
PC Gamer US Edition|April 2021
Two years on, EPIC GAMES STORE is still a golden ticket for developers and irresistible bait for gamers.
Rob Zak

The Epic Games Store celebrated its second anniversary recently. You can be forgiven for not setting a calendar reminder. The store’s impact on the PC gaming landscape has been fascinating, but controversial—a suspiciously philanthropic entity that’s provided gamers with dozens of wonderful freebies, fledgling developers with financial security and a foot-up in a tough industry, and Steam with some proper competition.

It’s also annoyed a lot of people. From fairly trifling complaints about having to use a separate launcher other than the de facto PC darling Steam, to the slightly less trifling issues around aggressive platform exclusivity and its poor infrastructure when compared to Steam.

All of this can make for a confused tangle of feelings about the Epic Games Store, and even two years on the merest mention of it seems to instantly inspire discussion and, more often than not, arguments. So as a sort-of birthday celebration (albeit one where I whisper all the recipient’s character flaws into their ear while giving them a hug), I’ve decided to see how far it’s come since its inception, and chat with the developers of games that have launched on both Epic and Steam to get an idea of how the creators themselves feel about the two platforms.

WINDOW SHOPPING

Clicking around the Epic Game Store’s slick, flat pages today, the most striking problem is that it’s largely as threadbare as it was two years ago. Its user interface and frontend features just don’t feel worthy of a platform that continues to snap up swathes of big IPs and indie games alike in exclusivity deals. And there are no community features—no hubs filled with silly memes and in-jokes, no place to chat with strangers (or with particularly gregarious developers), no workshops where players’ passion for a game feeds back into it through mods.

On that last point, the Epic Games Store introduced mod support for its first game, MechWarrior 5, back in July. It’s a start, but the lack of comments or forums strips away the sense of community that’s so endemic to modding. It’s like comparing Bethesda’s controlled, sterile mod pages to the beautiful mess of Nexus Mods—I’ll take the noise and the squalor and the occasional NSFW content over a controlled clean grid of thumbnail images any day. Modding is meant to be a bit messy.

The lack of these little rabbit warrens leads to a lack of discovery. When looking for new and unknown games to play on Steam, the trailers and screenshots only pull me in so far—it’s more often the weird player stories, streams, and community creativity that really show me what a game is about. There’s now a ‘Discover’ tab that serves as the store’s front page, ostensibly to “help users find new interesting games”, but the games it coughs up aren’t exactly ones that anyone needs help discovering.

At the time of writing, five of the games on the first page of ‘Discover’ are big Ubisoft titles, sandwiched between Fortnite, Cyberpunk 2077, Star Wars: Squadrons, and GTA V. Only one of the ten games on display is an indie. The next thing you’ll see when you scroll down is a selection of service games with holiday events—most of them already well known and popular—then you have the daily Christmas freebies. Only after that do the indies really start filtering through, appearing in the ‘New Releases’ section a few scrolls down.

STEADY STEAM

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