Tales of Epic Games Store using lucrative exclusivity deals to poach games away from Steam have dominated the news cycle in recent months. But, in an interview with Destructoid at PAX West, Super Meat Boy co-creator Tommy Refenes shed new light on just how impactful these deals can be for small developers.
Refenes revealed the surprising reason developers don’t hate being muscled into signing exclusivity contracts: those deals “guarantee” a set number of sales.
“They told me they want Super Meat Boy Forever on the Epic Games Store but it would be a year exclusive. At first, I was kind of like ‘Oh…okay.’ Then they said they would guarantee our sales. Even then, I’m kind of like ‘I don’t even know what to ask for. So, run the numbers and tell me what you would offer.’ They did, and I was like ‘Yes!'”
The salient point in all this is that regardless of how well a game sells, Epic guarantees developers a lump sum.
Over on rival digital storefront Steam, there are no such guarantees. Financial returns are very much dependent on how many copies of a specific game are sold, minus Valve’s hefty 30% cut of the profits.
An exclusivity deal completely mollifies the risk of hedging bets against expected sales figures, themselves based on loose metrics like player interest and oft-untrustworthy past results.
Tommy Refenes says that while loathed by fans, the exclusivity deals are a ”a total no-brainer” for developers.
Indeed, it’s difficult to disagree with the financial security an Epic Games Store exclusivity deal provides struggling indie outfits, who often barely keep their heads above water to finish games.
It’s a question of sustainability, and when faced with the choice of taking a stand against exclusivity or keeping the lights on for the foreseeable future, Epic’s proposition is an enticing one, despite having to weather the inevitable backlash from gamers.
The flip side is that the quality of a game becomes less important to financial success when Epic promises a firm sales revenue. Although unlikely, exclusivity does open the door for abuse, especially for hyped upcoming games.
To put it bluntly, exclusivity provides the greatest boon to developers when their games suck.
From the consumer’s point of view, there’s a lot to dislike about the Epic Game Store. That said, maybe we shouldn’t be so eager to bust out the pitchforks and lambast developers looking out for their very survival.