The Emerging War Between the Epic Games Store and Steam is Just the Beginning

The digital ecosystem is undergoing its biggest shakeup since 2005.

Lost in last week's explosive news that Bungie and Activision were splitting up was a small footnote. "Destiny 2 will continue to be fully supported on BattleNet," Blizard tweeted.

Blizzard's tweet was a practical public service announcement for anyone wondering about Destiny 2's status on its digital distribution platform, but it also was partly in response to the speculation that Destiny 2 would be moving to Epic Games Store, Steam, or both. With Epic mounting the most significant challenge to Valve's digital dominance since Steam's launch in 2004, every bit of news is bound to be analyzed in the context of the burgeoning war between the two platforms.

Since the Epic Games Store's launch last month, it has rapidly become one of the biggest stories of the early part of 2019. There have been other competitors, from Good Old Games to Stardock to Origin, but none with Epic's clout. Epic isn't just the developer of one of the biggest games of 2018, its engine is used in everything from Kingdom Hearts 3 to Octopath Traveler. Epic is everywhere.

Nevertheless, the rise of the Epic Games Store is only one part of a much larger story. As we head into the next generation of consoles, the current digital ecosystem is in the middle of its most significant shakeup since the launch of Steam, Xbox Live, and PSN in the mid-to-late 2000s. Everything is changing, from pricing models to the way we play games.

The last time we saw a shift of this magnitude was in 2005, when the Xbox 360 launched with a little game called Geometry Wars. With the advent of digital distribution in the console space, old genres returned from the dead, indies found a voice, and terms like "DLC" and "microtransactions" entered the gaming lexicon for the first time. Games soon settled into a couple distinct tiers: triple-A retail offerings like Red Dead Redemption 2, and smaller, download-only games like Celeste. Starting in 2011, they were joined by free-to-play service games like Minecraft, which found great success on PC and mobile.

Minecraft was the first sign of things to come, as it successfully captured an entire generation with its freeform sandbox mechanics. When the PS4 launched a couple years later, it brought with it Warframe—an obscure free-to-play shooter that quickly grew to become one of the platform's most popular games. In the years since, Destiny, No Man's Sky, and of course, Fortnite and GTA Online, have all found massive success of their own.

Such games have had a profound impact on how we understand the medium. Games like Monster Hunter: World are now being discussed and covered year-round, moreso even than old multiplayer favorites like Halo 2, with massive content drops being treated as standalone releases of their own. This has put more emphasis than ever on digital distribution—witness the steady decline of GameStop—and forced platform holders to reconsider how they want to sell their games.

Games like Sea of Thieves are a big part of Microsoft's strategy going forward for Xbox. | Microsoft

Fortnite's Battle Pass and the Epic Games Store are both consequences of this trend. Another consequence is Microsoft's continued push to revamp how games are distributed on console, most notably through programs like the Xbox Game Pass, which helped to propel Sea of Thieves to greater-than-expect success. The subscription bubble may already be too big, but it shows no sign of bursting, and both Sony and Microsoft figure to push the boundaries of what's possible with the next generation.

This trend will only accelerate as next-gen consoles arrive and publishers continue to scramble to build their own service games. Bethesda recently put out Fallout 76; EA will soon be releasing Anthem, and Ubisoft is prepping Beyond Good & Evil 2. Those with distribution platforms will be able to leverage them to sell their own Battle Pass-like subscriptions, as well as additional services like Origin Access. Microsoft is already starting to do this with the Xbox One, and Sony is positioning PlayStation Now to do the same.

In that light, the rapidly developing battle between Epic Games and Valve is merely the first salvo in what figures to be a ferocious war for next-gen gaming dominance. And when it's all said and done, the biggest losers will most likely be our wallets.

Ace Combat 7 will bring joy to a narrow cross-section of anime and fighter jet fans. | Bandai Namco.

Major Game Releases This Week: January 14 to January 18

  • The Walking Dead Final Season, Episode 3 [January 15, PC, Xbox One, PS4, Switch]: Telltale may be dead, but The Walking Dead is shambling toward its grand finale with Episode 3. Here's our review of Episode 2.
  • Ace Combat 7 [January 18, PS4, Xbox One, PC]: Bandai Namco's venerable arcade flight game finally returns on PS4 and Xbox One this week. It's not exactly a PlayStation VR game anymore, but its anime stylings and "hard-casual" mechanics still command a loyal audience. If it's half as good as Ace Combat Zero, it ought to at least be worth a look.
  • Travis Strikes Again [January 18, Switch]: Speaking of long lost franchises, No More Heroes is back on Switch... after a fashion. It's hard to even begin to describe this weirdo top-down spinoff, which has Travis Touchdown being stuck in a video game called "Death Drive MK-II." Whatever, if it leads to No More Heroes 3, it's fine with me.

Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Ultima (Final Fantasy XIV)

Final Fantasy XIV is my favorite game that I don't play. One of my New Year's Resolutions is to finally pick up Square Enix's hit MMORPG and start playing, if only to enjoy its story and reams of excellent single-player content. At this point, I'm just waiting for the Viera to come out of hiding and join the party. Until then, I'm just going to sit back and enjoy Final Fantasy XIV's incredible score.

Final Fantasy XIV's Ultima theme belongs to, well, Ultima. "Ultimate Weapons," which usually reveal themselves in epic boss fights, have been part of the Final Fantasy games for some time now (WarMech from the first game might even count). Final Fantasy XIV's iteration of the boss character resembles Diamond Weapon from Final Fantasy VII, who is honestly kind of a wiener. There's nothing wiener-iffic about Ultima's theme here, though. That minute-seventeen build-up is worth every damn second. By the way, all that "Latin" chanting is absolute nonsense; it's the vocal equivalent of Lorem Ipsum. It sure sounds mighty, though.

This Week's News and Notes

  • It's a very special week for USG. In just a couple days we'll be launching our massive redesign, which will bring with it (in my opinion) a lot of very positive changes. Stay tuned for that and lots of great articles to follow, and thanks for your continued support of the site.
  • Late last week, Bungie announced that it was divorcing itself from publisher Activision, and it was getting custody of its only child Destiny in the process. Fans reacted the same way that maybe a kid might who hates their dad: joyous. What could it mean for the future of Bungie and Destiny? I have some ideas.
  • Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford landed in the news again last week, and it wasn't for getting millions of dollars stolen by an assistant! This time, it was because he left a USB drive filled with company secrets and porn at a Medieval Times restaurant, which he talked about publicly on a magician podcast. This strange news came about in the midst of a lawsuit from Gearbox's former general counsel, which alleges that Pitchford's very same USB drive contained "underage pornography." Pitchford has vehemently denied the allegations, saying on Twitter that "It is very painful that a former friend and colleague would lie to try to associate me with such vile behavior in his own greedy pursuit of money."
  • A veritable downpour of Final Fantasy content is coming to the Nintendo Switch this Spring. Final Fantasy 10 and 10-2 arrive on April 16, but the real prize is Final Fantasy XII: Zodiac Age, which lands on April 30. We're hyped. 2019 is also bringing Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy IX to the Switch, but we don't have a date on those yet.
  • Beast units are in Fire Emblem Heroes now, so make sure you get your rabies shot. Nintendo's hit strategy mobile game went wild last week and introduced heroes who take on alternate heron, eagle, and wolf forms for helpful damage boosts. Ten bucks says the Fire Emblem Heroes characters who can transform into dragons glance at the new Beast units and say "Oh. Bless their hearts."
  • Unsurprisingly if you were paying attention to Sega's many channels that were posting sheep, Atlus' sorta-cult hit Catherine made its debut on Steam late last week. Billed as Catherine Classic, the port comes ahead of this year's Catherine: Full Body remaster. Still, it's definitely worth checking out if you haven't before.
  • The scary accurate P.T. remake for PC is disappearing later this week so consider this your last chance to download it.
  • You only have 30-minutes to complete the Resident Evil 2 Remake 1-Shot demo Capcom released last week. Luckily, we have a complete walkthrough on video right here.
  • Axe of the Blood God: We leap back into the Top 25 RPG countdown with the best Dragon Quest of them all: Dragon Quest 5! We explain why its epic sweep, monster hunting mechanics, and odd (but hilarious) romance system make it a classic. Plus, We cover the big Destiny split, Tales of Vesperia on Switch, and more! Subscribe here for the full podcast!

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