Another Icon

I can’t say I’m surprised but I’ve definitely been caught off guard by the amount of people discussing Epic’s store as just being another launcher, another icon.

Exclusivity, we’re told, isn’t a problem on the PC because unlike a console where you’re going to have to plump for a piece of hardware if you want to play a videogame, it’s just another store. Just an icon away.

I mean, sure, the Epic store is another icon away but so was Greenhouse, so was Desura, so was Indie City, so was Games For Windows and plenty of other stores and clients that have disappeared over the years. None of those are just an icon away anymore and the libraries of games that people owned vanished alongside them.

Digital libraries are incredibly vulnerable to quite literally disappearing overnight. Maybe you’re lucky and the store gives you a heads up. Maybe you’re lucky and you’ve saved the game onto your hard drive, maybe you’ve remembered to keep a note of the registration details or keys, maybe the game shipped without any restrictions. And hopefully your hard drive hasn’t died in the meantime.

I have fairly large digital libraries myself, I’ve had reasonably substantial ones on other services that aren’t Steam and I’ve got a stash of executables and installers, though I’m absolutely certain it’s not even close to all my purchases. I am fundamentally aware of the transience of digital libraries, of how absolutely precarious they are. How a company going out of business, how a company deciding to just move along, how that can wipe out a library *like that*. Precisely because I’ve lost some of these libraries.

It’s 2019 and we should, given the huge amount of services that have sank or closed over the years – not just in games but with every type of digital media – be fully cognisant of the precarious nature of digital distribution.

We should intimately understand that when people are asked to put their faith and their money into a new store they’re being asked to make a gamble with their libraries. Some gambles like, well, a store that’s been around for ten or fifteen years and have shown themselves to be largely good custodians of folk’s purchases are naturally going to feel like a less risky gamble.

An upstart wading in throwing money around, even if that’s more money than most people can reasonably conceive of without blowing a fuse, does not automatically engender trust. In 2019, anybody paying even the slightest bit of attention is fundamentally aware of just how many companies decide to just stop doing a thing and things people relied on, loved in some cases, invested time and money into are taken away.

In this way, a store exclusive on the PC may not by itself require the kind of financial outlay that buying a whole new console entails but it can be even more precarious a model for the customer. At least with a console you can be fairly certain that (providing it’s not an OUYA) you’ll get at least five years out of it. You can’t say the same for a new PC store. Not yet.

So no, it’s not just another launcher, another icon. It’s time, it’s money, it’s trusting that what you paid money for will still be accessible in five years or more. It’s trusting that you can still access the files if they’re pulled from sale, it’s trusting that stuff will still work if the store closes.

It’s never just another launcher.