In the evolving landscape of PC game distribution, Steam, Epic Games Store, and GOG are major players, each offering unique propositions to game developers and indie studios. This article explores their market shares, advantages, and drawbacks.
Steam: The Dominant Force
Steam, launched in 2003, is the reigning champion in digital game distribution. It's known for its vast game library, frequent sales, and a supportive community. For indie developers, Steam’s prominence offers visibility and access to a large user base. However, its 70/30 revenue split and the challenge of standing out in a crowded marketplace can be daunting.
Epic Games Store: The Challenger
Since its 2018 introduction, Epic Games Store has been a formidable competitor, primarily due to its more favorable 88/12 revenue split with developers. Epic’s approach includes exclusivity deals and financial support for game development, appealing to studios seeking better revenue terms and funding. However, this strategy has led to controversy among gamers, especially when titles previously slated for Steam shift to Epic exclusivity.
GOG: The Niche Player
GOG, short for Good Old Games, offers a DRM-free platform focusing on classic and indie titles. It’s appealing for developers aiming at a niche market and those who prioritize consumer-friendly practices like the absence of DRM. The downside for developers is GOG’s smaller user base and less frequent sales compared to Steam.
Market Share and Growth
Steam remains the market leader with 120 million monthly active users in 2020, whereas Epic reported 56 million in the same period. Epic's aggressive investment in exclusivity deals ($444 million in 2020) demonstrates its commitment to increasing market share, despite operating at a loss. These strategies indicate a shifting landscape, albeit with Steam still in the lead.
Indie developers face a tough choice. Steam’s high market penetration is attractive, but the revenue split is a concern. Epic’s more generous terms and funding options are tempting, but the backlash from exclusive deals can be a deterrent. GOG’s focus on DRM-free content offers a unique proposition, though its smaller market reach is a limitation.
Community Backlash and Developer Strategy
Developers choosing Epic have faced significant backlash from the gaming community, ranging from review-bombing to harassment. Valve’s response to such incidents has sometimes exacerbated tensions. Indie studios often adopt a straightforward communication strategy to mitigate backlash, engaging with their community to explain their decisions.
The future of digital game distribution remains open, with each platform carving out its own space in the industry. As the market evolves, developers and indie studios must weigh these factors carefully in deciding where to place their titles.