The Epic Games Store is now open for self-publishing (opens in new tab). For $100, the same fee Valve charges for Steam submissions, anyone can submit a game for inclusion in the Epic Games Store library. Epic's system is similar to Steam Direct, which Valve introduced in 2018, and will probably result in Epic's library ballooning over the next year.
There are a few notable differences between Steam and Epic's self-publishing rules, however. In some ways, Epic's game submission guidelines (opens in new tab) are more permissive than Steam's, but Epic also has two big rules that Steam doesn't. Paraphrased, they are:
- No pornographic games
- Multiplayer games must have crossplay with other PC stores
The first of those was expected: Epic CEO Tim Sweeney said in 2019 that the Epic Games Store won't sell porn, whereas Valve has allowed adult games on Steam since 2018—one of the store's most wishlisted games right now is an explicit sex game (opens in new tab). Before and even after making the decision to sell adult games, Valve has struggled with where to draw the line (one thing it currently prohibits is "sexually explicit images of real people") and Epic will likely have same issue: Is an erotic text adventure porn? How erotic is too erotic? Epic will have to decide.
The second rule there is a requirement rather than a prohibition: If you release a multiplayer game on the Epic Games Store and Steam (or another PC store), you have to make it possible for everyone to play together, regardless of where they bought it. Epic offers a free solution for cross-launcher multiplayer called Epic Online Services, but says that developers can use their own online system if they prefer.
Steam does not have such a requirement for multiplayer games, and its free multiplayer API, Steamworks, does not work on any store except Steam. Sweeney has a bone to pick with Valve over that. In a call this week, the Epic CEO told me that "Steam has created a real problem for the industry" with Steamworks.
"They have a classic lock-in strategy where they build these services that only work with their store, and they use the fact that they have the majority market share in order to encourage everybody to ship games that have a broken experience in other stores," Sweeney said. "And we were bitten by this early on with a number of multiplayer games coming to the Epic Games Store. Steamworks didn't work on our store, so they had either a reduced set of multiplayer features or none, or they were just limited to a much smaller audience back in the launch days of the Epic Games Store, so you had a lot of multiplayer games that really felt like they were broken. And remember, Call of Duty went through a debacle launching on the Windows Store a while back in which you could only matchmake with other Windows Store players, and that is not how PC should work."
The Epic Online Services API also supports crossplay between PC and consoles—it's the same technology Epic built for Fortnite—but console crossplay isn't a requirement for EGS submissions, just crossplay between PC stores.
A potential consequence for us is that we'll see more multiplayer games use their own friends lists—or Epic's system—rather than fully integrating with Steamworks. That's already a common sight, though: Many multiplayer games on Steam require separate accounts or only partially use Steam's API. Rainbow Six Siege, for instance, requires Ubisoft Connect. And PC multiplayer functionality of course wasn't tied to the store you bought it from in the pre-Steam era (I'm not sure how you would've made me play Command & Conquer: Red Alert exclusively at Fry's Electronics).
Beyond those two rules, Epic may also be pickier during its "quality and functionality" review process. According to Epic Games Store GM Steve Allison, someone will play each submitted game for 20 minutes to determine whether or not it launches properly and is actually the game depicted on the store page. Valve has a similar process, but has said in the past that, for the most part, it doesn't want to make judgment calls about quality or taste. Epic won't get too specific, but it sounds to me like it does plan to make subjective judgments in the review process. When giving an example of a game that might be rejected, Allison used the term "asset flip," which commonly refers to low-effort clones that replace the art from popular games with free or low-quality assets.
On the flip side, Valve has restrictions that Epic doesn't. Unlike Steam, the Epic Games Store has no ban on blockchain games. Epic also allows developers to use their own payment processing for in-game transactions, which bypasses Epic's revenue cut, whereas Steam requires in-game transactions to use the Steam Wallet. And although Steam did lower its revenue cut to 20% for the biggest publishers, it hasn't matched the 12% cut that Epic made so much noise about back when the Epic Games Store launched in late 2018.
Outside of the submission guidelines, a big question for developers and PC gamers is how well the Epic Games Store interface will handle a potential deluge of new games. When it introduced Steam Direct, Valve prioritized the development of Steam features that helped users discover games they might be interested in, such as the Discovery Queue. The Epic Games Store will continue to get interface updates, but as a matter of principle, Allison says that Epic will not track user behavior and use it to algorithmically recommend games. Epic has said in the past (opens in new tab) that it's more interested in supporting the game discovery that already happens outside of stores, such as on Twitch and YouTube.
Epic talks a little about upcoming EGS features in the Epic Games Store 2022 Year in Review blog post (opens in new tab) that went up today—the company says it's most focused on performance improvements this year.
Epic also announced in that post that it will continue its free games program throughout 2023 (opens in new tab). Epic has been giving away games on the Epic Games Store for years now, including some big ones like GTA 5 and Death Stranding, which is one of the ways it reached 68 million monthly active users in 2022. Sweeney and Allison also spoke to me about Epic's exclusivity strategy going forward.