All throughout the history of business, it’s the most convenient services that have reigned supreme. The desire for elegant simplicity has guided the evolution of invention since the wagon wheel. Convenience is how society refines itself, and it’s where the money flows. People will pay exorbitant amounts of money to make things easier for themselves.
The digital age typifies this perfectly. From Uber to Spotify, anything that can make something easier stands to crown an industry giant. The gaming landscape is no different. A service like steam exists solely to corral your games, yet it rules the PC gaming landscape. It found a way to make both buying and playing games easier, and made billions because of it.
If it were simply price that dictated the market, services like G2A and Humble Bundle would rule. They can both offer games for a pittance, although G2A does it more dubiously. But they’re both bit players in the market, as neither offers their service conveniently.
Convenience Defines Store-Front Supremacy
The backlash to the Epic Store is often misconstrued as foolish brand loyalty. People ousting the newcomer and rejecting competition, because they with to see Valve ruling the roost. While there’s doubtlessly elements of that at play, it’s far from the sole reason the Epic Store is reviled.
The primary reason people reject the idea of a competitor to Steam is simply because it’s inconvenient. Having your game library divided between two services that reject one another is a pain in the arse. That’s worsened by the fact the Epic Store lacks many of the quality of life features Steam offers.
It has yet to properly implement cloud saves, wish-lists or even a shopping cart. While the value of its presence on the market can be disputed endlessly, its lack of convenience cannot. As of now, that’s also where people’s major gripes with the thing originate. Well, that and the exclusives. But let’s not get into that.
What people forget is that any storefront challenging steam faces the same criticisms. Both UPlay and Origin fell afoul of this during their inception. Lacking in features and in the pockets of Ubisoft and EA respectively, they too were reviled. It may well be little more than a minor inconvenience to launch games through a separate app. But convenience is valued so highly, that’s all it takes to put people off.
Convenience Versus Emulation
Perhaps the most obvious example of convenience defining a market can be seen with retro games. While GoG proves that retro games still have a sizeable audience, very few companies ever capitalize on it. Nintendo has typified this for years, keeping their sizeable and well-regarded back catalogue out of people’s reach.
This is why Nintendo and companies like it struggle so much with emulation. It makes accessing these retro games far more convenient than the esoteric ways they attempt to sell it themselves. They either sell them as part of a self-packaged console like the NES Classic which sells out in minutes, or they release them piecemeal as part of an obscure service like the virtual console.
If Nintendo had a storefront like Steam that sold their retro titles at reasonable prices, they could single-handedly kill emulation. The technical aspects of getting the software running on modern architecture have already been taken care of.
A tech-giant of their budget could easily make a convenient service that served the same function. But neither convenience nor common sense have a place in Nintendo’s business strategy. It goes to show that if you fail to provide a convenient means of accessing content, somebody else will.
Convenience Versus Piracy – Wider Entertainment Media
Piracy is often confused for lost sales. People believe those willing to illegally download a game would’ve never bought it in the first place. However, while that’s true in some cases, it’s a largely inaccurate presumption. There’s an enormous amount of evidence showing that when attaining something legally is made more convenient, piracy statistics decline.
This is demonstrated perfectly through the digital distribution of other entertainment mediums. Prior to services like Netflix and Spotify, there was no real convenient way to enjoy TV or music online. Channels would occasionally have their own websites hosting shows, but those were few and far between. On-demand television was something you could only obtain illegally.
Despite fears that digital distribution would essentially lead to most copies of media being stolen, a study by Vocus Group NZ found that piracy statistics were on a drastic decline after these services became widely available. They don’t offer the same amount of money or control as owner-operated distribution platforms. However, the convenience of the service has made them far more profitable. Vocus Group NZ concluded that piracy was ‘dying a natural death’ as more people flocked to legitimate store-fronts.
Convenience Versus Piracy – Gaming
Gaming remains somewhat of a hold-out in this regard. Despite the existence of convenient distribution methods, piracy remains an issue. There are many reasons for this, but unsurprisingly convenience still remains prime among them.
Most forms of piracy primarily affect retro games, as detailed above. It also affects JRPGs and other such titles that don’t have an official western release. These aren’t necessarily people ‘stealing games’ rather than buying them, just people getting games the only way they can.
The only aspect besides convenience is price, as games are far more expensive than streaming movies or TV. A 2018 Kotaku article asked pirates for their justifications. Most answered simply that they either couldn’t afford games or didn’t have the means to purchase them. There were also responses from those in third world countries that don’t have Steam or an equivalent.
Unsurprisingly enough, the article also revealed that most former pirates migrated to more convenient means as soon as they could justify the expenditure. Once they’d found stable work or got themselves a debit card to actually purchase games, they did.
Piracy will always exist, but the majority of cases can be eliminated by offering services more conveniently. Because outside of a few exceptional cases, piracy doesn’t constitute lost sales from irredeemable criminals. They’re simply people that either want to play a title they can’t obtain legitimately, or those who aren’t in a position to pay for it yet.
Convenience Inside Games
If you need further evidence of how much the gaming populous values convenience, simply look to the modding community. All across the Steam workshop, Nexus Mods and wherever else you care to find them, there are mods that exist solely to address minor inconveniences.
Minecraft mods that make torches work while holding them. Skyrim mods that grant the Stones of Barenziah their own quest markers. Fallout 4 mods that make junk lighter. And these aren’t simply obscure mods to address a problem that irked a couple of people. Behind the porn ones, they’re the most popular mods out there.
Both inside and out, convenience is the most valuable commodity in the gaming world. And if you fail to provide it yourself, someone else will capitalize on that failure.
So, instead of fighting to make games less convenient to combat pirates, or buying up exclusives to compensate for your inconvenient storefront, simply offer the better service yourself. You’ll find the rest falls into place.