PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo gamers all have their own dedicated, first-party stores – and if you want to get on them, you’re going to have to behave.
It took six months for Cyberpunk 2077 to get back in Sony’s good graces and make a return to the PS Store, following its extremely high-profile failure on the PS4, but inclusion (or not) on these digital outlets goes way beyond the provision of the perfect game.
Of course, for PC-based players, the unofficial home of gaming is the Steam store, which, for better or worse, holds a near-monopoly on relevant content. However, less than half (47%) of developers actually choose to sell their games on Valve’s storefront, largely due to concerns about whether it earns the size of its commission, a figure that stands at a fairly standard 30%.
The obvious takeaway from these figures is that PC gamers have only half the catalog of titles to buy as console owners, but that isn’t true. Both third-party and first-party stores continue to crop up on PC, with Ubisoft, Blizzard, and EA making up at least some of the local competition for Steam. In the latter case, though, EA's exit from the storefront was short-lived, and the company returned to Steam in 2019, eight years after leaving.
Unfortunately, due to Steam’s influence, competitors begin at a huge disadvantage – and never seem to overcome it. The only reason Epic has gained a reputation as a potential rival for Steam is that bosses were willing to hedge their bets on better profit sharing with developers, even knowing that it would cause heavy losses to the company’s bottom line.
So, why bother taking on Steam in the first place, if all it seems to do is fracture the PC space into little bits? For one, monopolies only increase prices and reduce variety for consumers. However, storefronts are nowhere near as difficult to create and operate as they have been in the recent past. This is true of all kinds of retail, ranging from clothing and casino games to e-books.
In cases like WordPress, support for shops is built right into the interface, while Shopify, Squarespace, and Wix base large parts of their identity on building online commerce. Etsy and eBay also provide the occasional retailer a way to offload household junk and earn extra pocket money. Of course, these platforms vary in their scalability.
Businesses that require an accelerated start-up do benefit from specialist services. The Pronet Gaming retail solution is designed as an off-the-shelf package but it can be tailored for a specific market, inclusive of its localization needs. This kind of gaming platform is generally used for casinos and sportsbooks, however.
Conventional gaming isn’t as open to this kind of free commerce but anyone can arrange deals with publishers to sell their content, as long as they have the nerve (and capital) to make it worthwhile for everyone involved.
How does the increasingly crowded PC marketplace pan out over a longer time scale, though? While Microsoft has had a great deal of success selling its Xbox Game Pass to PC players, its development arm, Xbox Game Studios, is still active on Steam. Sadly, it seems like the example provided by EA – a retreat from (and back to) Steam – is a much more likely outcome for would-be PC merchants out there.
Monopolies can be a hard thing to break, especially in an industry that struggles to create meaningful regulation. Make the most of your preferred gaming store while you still can.