There were shocked faces all round when Metro Exodus was suddenly declared to be exclusive to Epic's increasingly pugnacious new store yesterday. The Fortnite bunch have been making a play to turn their store into a serious Steam rival for a few weeks now, but the much-anticipated third Metro game was a hell of a scalp to take from Valve.
More startling was that it happened while Metro was just a fortnight (ohhhhh) from release, as opposed to Epic making eyes at a mid-development game. It's for that reason that Valve are now claiming that the Metro Exodus about-face is "unfair to customers."
There's a lot to unpack there.
John already mentioned Valve's response in his editorial about why Epic's store has a lot more work to do if it wants to make a play for the iron throne, but it bears highlighting separately. Valve are characteristically rather quiet about their hitherto unassailable dominance of the PC games market, so a few words in this case speak volumes:
"Unfair." I wonder. It's certainly a shock for anyone who's long been planning to buy the game via Steam, but it's unclear how having to use a different storefront is unfair. Irritating, sure: I know I don't want my taskbar cluttered with more launchers.
It's not unfair, either, to people who had previously pre-ordered the game via Steam, as such sales will all be honoured, and those folks will all "be able to access the game and any future updates or DLC through Steam."
But there are three ways, to my mind, in which "unfair" becomes more appropriate. The first is that some of us will have had banner ads for Metro Exodus foisted upon us whenever we load up Steam for some time now, or been directed to the Steam page from ads on sites and videos. Psychologically, "you want this, you want this, you want this, you know you want this" but then "well, you can't have it unless you go to this other place you're not familiar with yet" is a bit rotten.
This is less of a factor for a purely singleplayer game like Metro Exodus, but this'll be an even bigger deal when it happens an anticipated multiplayer title - suddenly, your friends list is split across two clients.
The second unfairness is that the Epic store's regional pricing isn't anywhere near as expansive as Steam's. Though Epic recently stepped up regional pricing and currency support for 130 countries across 30 different regions, there are between 193 and 241 recognised nations in the world, depending on who you ask (e.g. the UN and the US disagree on this point), which leaves an awful lot of people out in the cold.
One RPS reader from India claimed to us yesterday that Metro on the Epic store would cost them $50+$30 tax, whereas they would have been able to get it for an amazing $15 on Steam. Cross-checking that with Exodus's Indian pricing history on SteamPrices.com, they're not wrong. (Note to self: move to India).
So yes, a sudden, enormous price hike in some territories because a game's become exclusive to a different store is indeed unfair. Epic's Sergey Galyonkin notes that more countries will be added over time, but that doesn't solve the problem in time for Exodus's launch.
A third interpretation of "unfair" is that, all of sudden, potential Exoduseers don't have a choice of where to buy it from. Sure, in practice they didn't have much of a choice before the switch, as it was only available via Steam and Steam key resellers, but that was just the state of play, a consequence of Steam's dominance, rather than Valve actively locking the game into their ecosystem and their ecosystem only. Exodus isn't on GOG, for instance, but plenty of other Steam games are.
Plus, as John points out, the Epic client is a bit of a dog at the moment - so Metro buyers are forced to use a slightly grim piece of software instead of one they may or may not feel well-served by.
But there is another kind of "unfair" here, which is to Valve themselves. Steam's been building profile, and anticipation, for Metro Exodus for months now, only for the game to hop over to a different store which hasn't done any of that leg-work. Hell, there isn't even wish-listing on the Epic store yet - it's piggy-backing excitement built by a different service. Sure, neither store owns Metro Exodus - its own publisher, Deep Silver, does - but this does scan like a dirty trick.
I doubt it'll be the last such trick, either.