Conversations about the Epic Games Store often pivot on one central point of contention: Is it fostering competition with Steam, or is its practice of landing exclusive game releases “anti-consumer” because it keeps them from being released on Steam, the platform of choice (or at least of habit) for the majority of PC gamers? Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney believes it’s the former—and so does Valve boss Gabe Newell, it turns out.
“Competition in game stores is awesome for everybody. It keeps us honest, it keeps everybody else honest,” Newell said. “But it’s ugly in the short term. You’re like, ‘Argh, they’re yelling, they’re making us look bad.’ But in the long term, everybody benefits from the discipline and the thoughtfulness it means you have to have about your business by having people come in and challenge you.”
Interestingly, Newell said that it’s not competition that bothers Valve, but attempts to stamp it out. Newell referenced the Apple store, but the comment could also be seen as a quiet shot against Epic, which very carefully curates what it allows on its store. Valve takes a completely opposite approach with Steam, by allowing nearly unrestricted access to developers.
“We get a lot more freaked out not by competition, but by people trying to preclude competition. If you ask us which is scarier, it’s people falling in love with Apple’s model of controlling everything and having faceless bureaucrats who get to keep your product from entering the market if they don’t want it to, or designing a store in a way that minimizes software’s value-add to experience and stuff like that.”
While Newell didn’t say that Epic directly spurred it to make Steam better, 2019 was a very active year for Valve. It launched the new Steam library after years of work, Steam Remote Play and Remote Play Together, updated its discovery tools and created Steam Labs to try out even more experimental stuff, and did more behind-the-scenes for developers.
Competition notwithstanding, Steam continues to roll along as far and away the big dog in the digital storefront pack: Earlier this week, with people kept home by the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak, it set a new record by surpassing 20 million concurrent users, with 6.2 million of the in game.