Wednesday, February 08, 2023

The Economy and Ethics of Game Purchasing - Part 2 - Digital Games Platforms

 Continued from Part 1

Publisher Direct Sales Platforms

Basically first party sales where you're buying directly from the publisher. The most prominent game publishers have their own online store-front where they sell their own games directly. They also have downloadable game clients which are used to access the games for downloading, maintenance through patches, cloud saves and to track achievements. 

The platforms currently include include Ubisoft, EA Games, Rockstar and Activision Blizzard among others. It also includes Valve when selling their own games like Half-Life though Steam and CD Projekt Red when selling The Witcher or their other games through GOG. Additionally Microsoft and Epic are included in this category when selling their own IPs though the Microsoft Store and Epic Games Store respectively.

When buying directly from the publisher of the game then the Publisher/Developer get 100% of what you're paying and the 'saintly' moral choice is that publishers and especially developers get the maximum compensation for creating the product. However, the consumer cost is normally 100% of the MSRP, unless the publisher is having a sale on their games.


Third-Party Distribution Platforms

Publishers who don't have their own stores and/or software clients use one or more 3rd Party digital store-fronts and clients such as Steam. Some Publishers with their own direct sales platforms also put some of their games on 3rd Party digital store-fronts because they reach more users or it's economically viable for certain games. For example, Activision Blizzard sell Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II on their BattleNet but also on Steam.

For the most part, games sold on these platforms use the client from that distributor and the resources of that platform for sales, downloading, maintaining through patches and for cloud saves. Others such as with most games by Ubisoft for example use the platform for sales only but require an account with the publisher and the publisher's client such as Ubisoft Connect to use services such as downloading or cloud saves.
The following are the major players in the third-party digital distribution platform space

Steam: This is by far the largest platform for PC Gaming distribution with about 70-75% of the market share and over 62 millions users daily. Almost all major publishers and developers with the notable exception of Epic games, have a Steam presence for some if not all their titles. Steam is the most seasoned operator in the space and has the most fully developed store site and client application design in the market and includes the necessary community contributed content for forum/discussions, reviews and ratings. The consumer cost of a game on Steam is normally 100% of the MSRP. Steam has frequent sales by genre or publisher and has key sales usually once a season.

GOG: Formerly "Good Old Games" have built their reputation on bringing old games back to life on modern hardware without the burden of DRM. Soldier of Fortune, Diablo, Warcraft 2 and many Star Trek games are exclusive to the platform and playable in the 2020's due to GOG's curation efforts. Every game is DRM free, offline games can be played offline, every game can be backed up on your own system, archived and transferred etc. You paid for it it's yours! is the GOG way. Unfortunately GOG has limited game selection (only about a tenth of Steam) and as most publishers want to maintain their DRM and feeding data to them this is not likely to change much.

Epic Games Store: While many titles can be purchased through the Epic Games Store, there is really no need to ever do so as it splits your collection from the vastly superior Steam and better deals are usually available elsewhere particularly through key vendors. Its anaemic feature set barely qualifies it as a serious platform and it's legal but heavily anti-consumer business practices should never be rewarded with your money. Epic does give you free games every week, though that's really all they're good for. I have elucidated my thoughts on EGS in greater detail recently here.

The Microsoft Store: There are many PC gamers who don't realise you can buy games from the Microsoft Store. Do we really care though? Do we play Minecraft? The store is an app that comes with Windows and I'm only mentioning it here to be thorough. There is an "XBox Game Pass for PC" thing the people use but such subscriptions don't suit my habits. My adblockers are working great because Microsoft hasn't reached me with their marketing assuming they do any at all.

With all third-party distributors, they take a cut of the revenue made but the percentage differs per platform. Steam and GOG take 30% from digital sales while Microsoft and Epic charge a 12% cut. In all cases the publisher and developers do not benefit from the full revenue generated (unless the IP is owned by the distributor).

In Part 3

We discuss key vendors and resellers.

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