Gearbox Boss Analyzes Epic Games Store Benefits, Is Really Happy of Borderlands 3’s Short Exclusivity
The debate on the Epic Games Store and the timed exclusives paid by Epic Games continues to sweep across the industry. While Epic managed to score a bunch of high-profile exclusives lately (The Outer Worlds, Control, Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey, the Quantic Dreams trilogy), the news that Borderlands 3 would also launch exclusively on the Epic Games Store for PC stunned many fans of the franchise.
Gearbox founder and president Randy Pitchford decided to address the feedback of his Twitter followers by posting an incredibly in-depth series of tweets on this very topic. We've posted almost all of it below, but given its length, we'll also provide you with the highlights through bullet points.
- Pitchford agrees that the Epic Games Store currently has fewer features than Valve's Steam. However, he believes Epic will rush to add as many features as possible before the launch of Borderlands 3, which will be the biggest new game on the platform when it's released.
- He admits there's a chance Epic won't be fast enough to do so. However, apparently, Borderlands 3 publisher 2K was happy with taking this risk. Ultimately, Pitchford said, in a long-term view the existence of the Epic Games Store will be inevitably beneficial to customers and developers.
- That's because Epic has a proven track record (with the Unreal Engine) that they are willing to reinvest significant amounts of money to improve technology over time. On the other hand, Valve often reinvested in other business ventures than Steam.
- The Epic Games Store is the first significant threat to Steam and Valve will need to adapt quickly. He believes they'll do so as there's a lot of talent at Valve, but ultimately, having worked for a very long time with both companies, he still thinks Epic is likely to come out on top given the respective track records.
- While there are 'bumps on the road' now, the Gearbox boss likened Borderlands 3 on the Epic Games Store to Half-Life 2 on Steam, pointing out that this will ultimately lead to breaking the monopoly on the PC digital market.
First, please understand that although I may have thoughts and opinions about this topic, the authority here truly is in the hands of our publishing partner, 2K Games. So while I may have some influence, I cannot force anything (and this ship has sailed, so to speak).
Currently Steam has a bunch of features that the Epic Games Store does not. That’s a fact. We could probably rank the priority of those features from top to bottom and while we may disagree a little on the ranking, there is probably an optimal priority to go after features.
Also, some features that Steam has may be features that are not part of Epic’s vision and some features Steam never contemplated may be part of Steam’s vision. The vision for how a store should interact with a customer and a developer and a publisher is all part of the equation.
Epic has published a near term road map. This road map includes a look into things they are committing to. If I were a betting man, I would expect that there are more things that happen than what they are committing to.
We also must acknowledge that Borderlands 3 does not exist *today* but rather it will exist in September. The store will be different when the game launches. It will become a boon to their store if they bring sufficient features to make the customer experience great for us.
Epic will suffer (again) if, by the time Borderlands 3 launches, the customer experience is not good enough. This is a tremendous forcing function for Epic.
This is also really good for Borderlands 3 as Borderlands 3 will be the biggest, by far, new game to arrive on the Epic store since they launched and Epic can be sure to invest huge amounts of resources specifically for the features most important for Borderlands 3.
The forcing function of that will, in turn, make all those features available on a faster timeline than otherwise possible and this is good for all games from both the customer perspective and the developer/publisher perspective.
It is possible that the EGS does not successfully complete enough features for the store before Borderlands 3 launches to be “good enough”. That’s a risk. It’s one that our publishing partner, 2K, was willing to take. I’m not mad about that decision or the risk, but it’s real.
So the question on that angle is really about long game versus short game... What’s best in the long run? I hope to die in office, creating entertainment for as long as people want me to. So I tend to think very long game. Some of us think very short game - I understand that.
So the risk that not all the features are perfect by the time Borderlands 3 launches is a risk I am comfortable with *IF* I believe that in the long-run, Borderlands 3 and future games I make will be best served if the Epic Games Store a) exists, and b) is competitive.
So, do I believe that? Absolutely... Why? Track record combined with company values and the situation at the companies. I can explain all of those.
First, track record. Now, I have a bit of authority on this topic of track record between these companies. I worked with Valve for many years (20) both as a developer in the Half-Life franchise and as a developer and publisher on the Steam platform.
I have also worked with Epic for about as long, too, as a licensee of their engine and, more recently, as a retail publisher of their game, Fortnite. I know a lot about these people and these businesses.
From a track record point of view, my expectation is that Epic’s investment in technology will outpace Valve’s substantially. When we look back at Steam in five or ten years, it may look like a dying store and other, competitive stores, will be the place to be.
The competitive store that happens to be the leader in 10 years may not be Epic’s store, but it probably won’t be Valve’s and Epic’s moves right now are opening the door and paving the way for a vibrant competitive economy.
Competition in stores is going to be absolutely best for consumers and probably good for developers and publishers as well. The stores that tend to win are the stores that offer the best to their customers. It’s very difficult for customer interest to be king with one store.
One may look at other stores, like Origin or U-Play. Those aren’t real competitors to Steam. A competitor to Steam needs to have an installed base and be sufficiently neutral in alignment so that all publishers and developers who support the store can trust a fair economy.
That’s just not possible with direct stores that are controlled by publishing interests. It’s also not going to come from adjacent services that have other priorities (like Discord, for example).
Epic has credibility here because they have been supplying engine technology to the industry for over 20 years and we have all come to be able to trust and rely upon Epic’s fair play and goodwill.
With the engine, Epic’s technology has gotten better and better at a faster rate over 20 years than any other game engine middleware on the planet. They have tremendous credibility with how they reinvest in their technology to the benefit of customers and developers.
Meanwhile, as the quality of Epic’s technology improved, so did its success in business. What did Epic do? They used their increased success to lead the way in business terms. They reduce licensing rates for developers and created new ways to become a licensee.
They increased accessibility to the engine so that folks like you can download and learn how to use Unreal Engine to become a game developer yourself - for free. And, when you want to commercially release something, there is a very competitive and fair price for that.
Meanwhile, Valve has taken an absurd cut of the revenue - which would be fine except they have not reinvested it. This is where looking at the values of the company are important.
Also, the way the company is organized and managed is really important to this calculus as well. Valve is a private company and, to the best that we can see, a huge amount of the value that Valve has generated has been used to enrich the handful of people who own and manage the company. There’s nothing wrong with that, BTW! My business is private, too!
Epic’s business, until recently, was private and closely held. It’s still private, but not as closely held as before. This is important to consider.
Every time Valve makes a dollar, they have to make a decision on whether to put in their own pockets or to reinvest it into technology (or whatever). Valve has made significant investments into technology and should be applauded for the resultant innovations.
But they have also taken a significant amount of value off the table and, when they’ve reinvested, they’ve tended to put it to a lot of other activities besides the store that is generating all of the revenue.
They’ve been able to do this because they haven’t had to worry about it. There has been no viable competitor to Steam. They have had no external force sufficient to challenge their revenue share and no external force sufficient to motivate a sufficient reinvestment of revenue.
Now there is an external force that is real. This external force, the Epic store, is a really significant threat to Steam. Steam *must* adapt or it will perish.
Almost immediately, we saw Steam crumble its previously unwavering stance on revenue share. Holy shit! That’s a miracle. I think the folks at Valve are really smart and really great and they are also, probably, starting to redirect investment into their store.
If Valve is smart, and they are, they should preemptively maneuver as many resources as possible towards improving the store and preparing for Epic’s inevitable challenge to Steam from a features point of view.
The faster Valve can maneuver, the longer it can stay ahead of Epic on features. But, if I were to bet on this (and remember I’ve got a pretty good seat with a great view of this competition), Epic will inevitably surpass Valve on features and quality of service.
Epic is differently setup from Valve right now. Epic’s shareholders are *very* motivated not to take chips off the table, so to speak, but to reinvest those shares into the company. They have an incredible valuation right now, but they are motivated to increase it.
And they have the resources to really make some big plays towards that. All of those plays are going to be fed by a business that is not taking cash out of their system and putting it into individual’s pockets, but towards putting all of their cash back into their system.
They recently raised some money. Why did they do that? They have been making more money than they ever have made before? They did that so the owners could sell some of their equity and put *that* cash into their pockets (which is totally cool - that’s what should happen).
But what it means is that this business is not enriching its owners by siphoning from its profits, but rather it is enriching its owners by increasing its value.
That is a HUGE and significant difference between Valve and Epic. Epic is motivated to reinvest 100% of its profits into activities (like the store) that will make Epic more valuable in the future.
Valve is organized such that it is motivated to make decisions about how much of its profit it should distribute to its owners and stakeholders and how much to reinvest. MUCH different.
That they have decided to invest SIGNIFICANT amounts of the money they have made from Fortnite into the creation of a store to create a real competitive landscape is, frankly, a GIFT to customers and developers and publishers. ALL OF US WILL BENEFIT from this competition.
During the competition, there will be some difficulties and setbacks and shit that doesn’t go right - that’s how it goes. But, ultimately, we’re going to be in incredible shape no matter which store you prefer. Steam will have no choice but to either give up, lose or to get better faster than ever before. This is good for Steam customers, developers and publishers.
Because Valve is pretty damn good with some awesome talent, I do not expect them to give up or to lose. They’ll fight for it. And they’ll hang on. There’s even a chance they come out on top. Whatever the case, customers, developers and publishers are going to be better off.
Meanwhile, Epic is the forcing function that is going to make this all happen. It’s really incredible, but they are the only guys who can really come along to disrupt Steam’s monopoly and help all this get fixed. They will bring balance to the force (yeah, Star Wars shit today).
And here we are... It’s a year with fewer huge titles than we’ve seen in years. It’s a year where the consoles are at peak life-cycle and PC storefronts are getting rattled. And in a world where EA and ATVI cannot really be the ones to take the risk to help the forcing function happen, Take-Two shows some balls and steps up with our game, Borderlands 3, to be the content that catalyzes this moment. Holy shit. What a world.
Because, at the end of the day, these kinds of movements in our industry are always precipitated from content. It takes content to move us. It took Half-Life 2 to even get us (not quite) comfortable enough to swallow the Steam pill back in the day.
And so we’re going to swallow the Epic Game Store pill with Borderlands 3. And some of you guys are going to hate it and scream bloody murder and you’ll even blame me, personally, for it. And you can bitch and moan and brigade and stalk my shit, but at the end of the day when we look back at this moment, we’ll realize that this was the moment where the digital stores on PC became unmonopolized.
And we’re all going to look back and see how change happened and how costs for developers and publishers to be on stores went down and how that value was passed on to the customers. Years from now, we’re going to look back at Steam’s current installed base and laugh at how we thought that was a big number when we add up what all the different stores are pushing together.
And we’re going to have a disassociation of features we care about (like friends and achievements and such) from the stores and we can just focus on the games. And we’ll all be able to play together, cross-platform. This will take a minute, but it will happen.
And we’ll look back and realize that Epic’s decision to reinvest their Fortnite $ into this (valuable) step and Take Two’s guts to put Borderlands 3 out there in this situation in order to be that forcing function the industry needs were the pivotal moments.
At the end of this massive Twitter thread, in a follow-up reply, Pitchford also expressed all his satisfaction at the limited exclusivity period of Borderlands 3 (the shortest so far as all other games will be exclusives for a full year).
Honestly, that’s above my pay grade and was something negotiated with 2K and Epic. Exclusivity is important for all those forcing function goals, but permanent exclusivity was, I imagine, a deal breaker for 2K. I’m *really* glad the exclusivity is only six months because, as an entertainer, my mission is to entertain the world and that means that I want as many motivated customers as possible to have access to the game. I was hoping for a short exclusivity window and am happy with it.
Did this lengthy explanation by Gearbox president Randy Pitchford sway you in any way with regards to the Epic Games Store? Tell us in the comments.
Borderlands 3 launches September 13th on PC (Epic Games Store), PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It will be available in April 2020 through other storefronts on PC.