We probably could have seen it coming, but Bethesda confirmed this past week that Fallout 76 would launch exclusively on their Bethesda.net launcher. There are plenty of valid reasons why they would do this, like better analytics, and avoiding having to pay 30% to Steam for each sale. From an objective standpoint, I can see why this makes sense for them, but from my desire not to have another damn launcher installed on my PC, they need to understand that I am now less likely to buy their game, at least right away.
This isn’t the result of some misplaced loyalty to Steam. If anything, this could end up being the kick in the ass Steam needs to start getting their store under control and start building an attractive marketplace again. The thing Steam has always had is convenience. That vast majority of my games are on Steam, launch through Steam, run on Steam’s servers, and it is where my most complete online friends list is. When I need to reach someone, I message them on Steam, even more so than Discord.
The biggest issue is that I don’t think I care enough about Fallout to want to install this new launcher. Is it petty? Probably, but it’s a bigger issue than just my pettiness. Look at the rampant success of Fortnite. What reason did anyone have to install the Epic launcher prior to Battle Royale taking the world by storm? Sure you might have enjoyed Paragon or Fortnite Save the World, maybe you were even a budding developer dipping their toes into the Unreal Dev kit, but there was no reason for the now millions upon millions of active users. It has made Epic bold enough to entirely skip the Google Play Store for it’s Android release (a problem in itself, but a problem for a different article). Fortnite apparently didn’t need Steam, and you can believe a move like this from Bethesda was only made easier by that level of success.
When it comes down to it, everyone can look at the fact that Fortnite is raking in money hand over fist and doesn’t have to share any part of its microtransaction money with anyone else. We see a platform holder like Sony continually locking down PSN and preventing cross-play for fear that players will buy their content on another platform instead of their own. Now even publishers with smaller catalogs are creating their own launchers in hopes of cutting out the middleman and keeping 100% of the profits for themselves. The only people who suffer in that scenario are the players who have to run yet another program to play a game, another hoop to jump through.
EA started this trend with Origin, its PC storefront and the exclusive place to play their extensive library. If you want to play the likes of Battlefield, Titanfall, FIFA, and now Madden on PC, you have to have Origin. Blizzard similarly keeps their content locked down in their Battle.net launcher and Activision as a whole is taking advantage, releasing Destiny 2’s PC version exclusively on Battle.net, and the upcoming Black Ops 4 will also launch there exclusively. Ubisoft runs all of their games, even those purchased through Steam, through their Uplay client, requiring two active launchers to play a single game. Twitch has a PC client and game launcher, GOG, soon Discord, how long until publishers like Square Enix, Take-Two, and THQ Nordic decide it is time for their own launchers as well?
We’re reaching a very important point where we have to either accept having a dozen or so different clients to play our games or speaking with our dollars and say enough is enough. I’m not saying that every game needs to launch through Steam and that Valve needs that 30% to live. I am, however, saying that despite some of their growing pains Steam is still the most complete game client available, at least until major Chinese players start to bring over their own launchers and compete for their 30%. It’s becoming a huge mess and the only way it is going to get better is by putting our money where our mouth is. There must be a better way, a way where publishers can get the money they are looking for while making it easier for us as consumers to access our games.
How many friends lists are too many? How many game libraries are too many? What incentive do these store owners have to offer sales and the like when there is only one place to purchase their game? These are questions we need to answer, and this is where we need to start drawing the lines in the sand. You want to lock Fallout 76 behind your launcher Bethesda? Fine, I can wait. If your sales suffer, you’ll eventually have to release the game where I want it. You’ll launch it in the store where I already keep my games, my friends, and the store that protects me with a refund policy if your game doesn’t turn out to be all that great.
Right now the publishers are listening. They’re spooked from loot boxes and from social media movements to bury games. While we have their ear, it’s time to tell them that enough is enough and that they need to figure out a better way than just another client. We don’t want 14 different launchers each with a handful of games, and we don’t want to have to import our friends list just so you can have more data. All we want is a quick and easy way to play our games.