Emerging PC Distribution Platforms
Over the past year, we have been watching new platform announcements for PC games distribution with much interest. With PC revenues forecasted at nearly $33 billion in 2018 according to Newzoo’s “Global Games Market Report,” there is much consumer spending to go around. To crack into the market, which is dominated by established platforms, new platforms will need to innovate on service and/or start with a strong userbase—traits that all of these emerging platforms offer:
The leading chat and message service with 150 million registered users, Discord announced in August 2018 it will launch a digital PC store with 11 curated premium indie titles and add another ten games to its premium subscription program called Nitro. Discord also launched a “Universal Library” feature, capable of scanning and launching games bought from other storefronts. Discord retains 30% of sales from its storefront and will offer select indie games support for its “First on Discord” 90-day exclusive program. The store is in beta and only available to 50,000 users based in Canada.
From browser and mobile games platform Kongregate, Kartridge is a PC digital platform targeting indie games and developers. Developers retain 100% on the first $10,000 revenue, and if a game is exclusive and on the platform before the end of its promotional period at the end of October, 90% on the next $40,000 revenues. After the promotional period, Kartridge retains 30%. Kartridge will not only support premium price points but also free-to-play, pay what you want and ad-supported titles, and will offer gamers community and social features with achievements and rewards systems. Kartridge is currently in closed beta.
Robot Cache is a digital storefront for PC games using blockchain technology that will also allow resale of used digital games. Led by esteemed video game veterans Brian Fargo and Lee Jacobson, Robot Cache keeps 5% commissions as opposed to the industry-standard 30%. The platform allows for the safe resale of digital games due to encryption keys and blockchain smart contracts where publishers will receive 70% and individual games resellers will receive 25%. Within the platform, gamers have the option to mine the site’s IRON token which can be spent across the platform. Announced partnerships include 505 Games, Anuman Interactive, inXile Entertainment, Maximum Games, Microids, Paradox Interactive, THQ Nordic and Versus Evil. Early access to the platform begins in October, and they’re taking sign-ups on their website currently.
Announced in March 2017, leading video streaming site Twitch offers select games from more than a dozen partners including Ubisoft, Telltale Games, Digital Extremes, Hi Rez Studios, Double Fine Games, tinyBuild, Devolver Digital, Paradox Interactive, Vlambeer and Campo Santo. Partner broadcasters retain 5% of game sales or in-game items from their channel with the developer retaining 70% and Twitch keeping 25%. Gamers receive free TwitchCrates with purchases of $4.99 or more.
Ultra is a blockchain distribution platform for PC games started by veterans of both games and high-tech companies. With a tokenized ecosystem, gamers can get access to exclusive content, resell secondhand games and earn revenue by writing reviews, watching advertisements, participating in beta tests and through a three-level referral program. Ultra’s streaming tech has been licensed by several companies, including Electronic Arts, delivering more than 100 million game downloads. Ultra retains 15% of each transaction. The platform plans a closed beta in Q3 2018.
Additionally, some well-established companies recently made newsworthy game announcements that boost their own or a close partner’s platform:
For the first time, a Call of Duty game, Black Ops 4, will launch on sibling Blizzard’s Battle.net rather than Steam. Previously, Activision launched Destiny 2 on Battle.net as well.
In August, Bethesda confirmed Fallout 76, a game in its much-lauded franchise, will not launch on Steam. Instead, the game will be available for PC gamers on Bethesda.net, leading to speculation of Bethesda’s plans for its own launcher.
CD Projekt RED
CD Projekt RED recently announced its upcoming card game Gwent Witcher and RPG Thronebreaker will not be released on Steam, relying on GOG. Known for being Steam’s biggest competitor, GOG is owned by the same parent company as CD Projekt RED and offers a heavily curated platform of DRM-free games as well as its own Galaxy launcher that includes social and multiplayer features like Steam.
Epic Games decided not to launch its mint title, Fortnite, on Google Play and Steam. Instead, Android and PC gamers are directed to use Epic’s own installer and bypass those distribution platforms. Additionally, Epic reduced its revenue share from its developer assets storefront, Unreal Marketplace, from 30% to 12%, and made the split retroactive to 2014.
The battle for prominence in the new wave of dominant distribution platforms has started, with numerous bets being placed to draw audiences away from both the handful of emergent competitors as well as the titanic Steam marketplace.
It’s yet to be seen which platform(s) will offer the mixture of service, value, and convenience necessary to win the allegiance of consumers, developers, and publishers, but the promise of new business models and services means that despite the initial fragmentation, games have increasing opportunities to gain an audience, which is a net positive for the industry as a whole.