Devolver Boss Defends Steam Amid Epic Store And Exclusivity Controversy

"Competition is going to come along at some point."

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One of the most talked-about developments in gaming over the past year has been Fortnite developer Epic establishing a new digital store and its pursuit of exclusives--of which there have been many. In addition to paying for exclusives, Epic's store gives creators 88 percent of revenue compared to 70 percent on Steam and others. Publisher Ubisoft no longer releases new titles on Steam because they believe the 70/30 revenue split is "unreasonable."

Now, one of the founders of boutique game publisher Devolver Digital (Hotline Miami, Genital Jousting, Fall Guys) has spoken up to defend Steam and call for a "reset" of the wider conversation that can at times paint Steam as the bad guy.

Devolver is publishing MediaTonic's wacky battle royale game Fall Guys
Devolver is publishing MediaTonic's wacky battle royale game Fall Guys

"I feel like this conversation needs to be reset," Graeme Struthers told GameSpot at PAX Aus. "The conversation never really took place properly in my opinion."

Struthers said the launch of Steam more than a decade ago changed the landscape of PC gaming. Steam was an integral part of the success of Devolver and other studios, he said.

One part of what made Steam appealing then and continues to now is that developers are paid every month, which is not the case with every store.

"Every month we were getting paid, and you were being paid accurately," he said. "We've all got our horror stories about doing audits on our publishers and finding huge discrepancies about what was being reported in sales. Here's Steam--every month, accurate, straightforward, and transparent."

Regarding the revenue share model, Struthers pointed out that Steam's 30 percent cut was a more generous offering than others at the time. The payment scheme that Steam offered allowed publishers to offer more favorable terms to developers, Struthers said.

"To come out of a model [before Steam] where we were, as a games publisher, maybe making 25 percent, and that's if you were successful. To be in a 70/30 relationship, it was transformative in every sense," he said. "And that led to realignment with relationships with developers. If there is more money and it's more frequent, you can have better terms with developers."

"Steam has invested I don't know how many hundreds of millions of dollars in their platform; Epic have yet to do that." -- Struthers

With the launch of competing game stores--including Epic's--developers have more options, and this competition is good overall for the industry, Struthers said. At the same time, Struthers stressed that comparing Steam to Epic directly is not fair or helpful.

Steam has been around for more than a decade; it's a refined platform with important toolsets and features for developers and consumers alike that make for a better overall experience, Struthers said.

"Competition is going to come along at some point. Epic have taken a view that their way of bringing content to their platform is far more generous revenue share and obviously they've been pushing exclusives--that's great," he explained. "And it's giving developers and publishers a choice. You can't compare the two things however as like for like. Steam has invested I don't know how many hundreds of millions of dollars in their platform; Epic have yet to do that. I'm not saying they won't, and hopefully they will. In terms of the features and in terms of the toolsets for developers, there's a ways to go. But competition is good."

Finally, Struthers said all the drama and controversy over Epic paying for exclusives "doesn't really hold up" because exclusivity has been a part of gaming since the beginning.

"The rise about developers and publishers going to Epic and exclusivity, it doesn't really hold up," he said. "I play games on PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch, and Devolver--we've done console exclusives with Sony, with Microsoft--I think it's good, but I think we have to respect Steam for what they've done. Without them, none of this would have been a conversation in the first place."

In addition to paying developers a larger share of revenue, Epic gives studios money up front to convince them to release games exclusively on the Epic Store. Games like The Division 2, Metro Exodus, and Borderlands 3 are all currently exclusive to the Epic Games Store (apart from publisher-specific stores), though they will also release on other PC stores at a later date. The next big exclusive for Epic is The Outer Worlds from developer Obsidian; it launches on October 25.

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