CD Projekt say The Witcher 3 has now sold enough on Steam to qualify for the biggest sales cut available on Valve’s platform. Hitting $50 million (£38m) means Valve will only take 20% – which is still more than Epic take from all and any sales from any game. Congratulations to The Witcher for reaching that 80% cut, but it is wild that even a game this big has taken so long to score Steam’s best deal.
That’s not $50m total lifetime sales for The Witcher 3 on PC, to be clear, only from October 31st, 2018. The game has been out since May 2015 and CD Projekt also sell it on their own store, GOG. It sold loads before this period but has kept on strong and seen a real surge in popularity thanks to the Witcher show on Netflix. Following the December debut of the show (which is not based on the games, rather the same books that the games are based on), more people were playing The Witcher 3 on Steam than at launch in 2015.
Valve announced a sliding scale of Steam cuts back in December 2018. Valve’s default cut remains 30%, then after $10 million they’ll go down to 25%, then beyond $50 million they’ll only take 20% of sales. It was a transparent bid to keep more big publishers from taking their biggest games elsewhere, like Electronic Arts already had. This was not doing anything for smaller studios, who are unlikely to ever secure a better cut on Steam. In retrospect, it looks like Valve had got wind of a bigger change in the industry and were trying to get ahead of it.
Four days after Valve’s announcement, Epic announced the Epic Games Store and its flat 12% cut. Epic’s store is pretty closed, only accepting games they choose, but it’s nice if you can get chosen. Between the better cut and the promise of big cash advances on sales up front ($10.45 million for Control, for example), the Epic Games Store won over some publishers. Big games including Red Dead Redemption 2, The Division 2, and Borderlands 3 were all kept away from Steam at launch. Big publishers do seem to be able to twist Epic’s arm and get a shorter exclusivity period (e.g. RDR 2 came to Steam after only one month, rather than the usual year, and was also on Rockstar’s store) too.
A number of indie devs have told us the Epic Games Store’s guaranteed money made a big difference to them. I’m happy for them! Developers need to be lucky enough to catch Epic’s eye and fit their secret curation criteria, though, so ‘going on Epic’ is not a blanket solution.
Look, while I’m not going around cussing Epic out on Google, I don’t enjoy using their shoddy client or store either and I do worry that they might be throwing unsustainable amounts of cash around to cause enough problems for them to rebuild the landscape of digital stores in a form which favours them more and us less. I still think it’s wild that Steam’s best rate is reserved for games as big as The Witcher 3 and still worse than Epic’s standard share.