Earlier this year, we wrote about the rather sudden emergence of Epic Games' entry into the game distribution business. In a move to directly compete with Valve's Steam, the Epic's store has been attempting to gobble up AAA titles into a program of limited exclusivity, typically six months. The lure for all this is a split for Epic and the game publisher that is more generous for the latter. Valve, meanwhile, responded to one of the larger stories about a game going Epic exclusive, Metro Exodus, by complaining that it was bad for gamers generally and Steam users specifically. That quite predictably served as a rallying cry for Steam users to go to the store pages for other Deep Silver Metro games and bomb those pages with negative reviews that had nothing to do with those games and everything to do with the exclusivity deal.
All of which is at odds with Steam's policies and the platform's stated goals of preventing review-bombing of this type. But as the exclusivity wars appear to be upon us, with more games jumping on with Epic, it's becoming clearer that this is probably a purposeful strategy on Valve's end. The latest example of this is the announcement that the next game in the Borderlands series has signed on with Epic to be exclusive for six months. The backlash on Steam was almost immediate.
Over the course of yesterday and today, Borderlands 2 has received nearly 1,600 new negative Steam reviews, while Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel has been hit with 420 and Borderlands: Game Of The Year Edition has picked up 320. These games are receiving renewed attention not just because of the Borderlands 3 announcement, but also because Gearbox recently updated the Borderlands Handsome Collection with new HD textures and put the series on sale. Still, you need only look at Borderlands 2's top reviews to see what much of the negativity is about.
“Love the game, but I can’t recommend it because the sequel will be exclusive somewhere else,” reads one highly upvoted review.
“Scummy company that insults every single person that purchased the game on this site,” says another. “Skip it.”
It's quite obvious that these are not legitimate reviews. They are, however, quite useful as a barometer for how gamers generally see these kinds of exclusivity deals. Much like the market fragmentation that has become the streaming entertainment industry, these types of deals can only serve to frustrate the gaming public. Suddenly, due strictly to business interests, gamers aren't certain where to find the games they want, or if their platform of choice will even have them, or when. That's not a great concept for maximizing the growth of an industry that has exploded mostly without this type of fragmentation. While the console market has always had some of this, expanding it to the PC market makes little sense, since there's no hardware-specific tie in. It's just going to piss people off, and that's already starting.
On the other hand, Steam and Valve sure seem to be taking the most cynical route possible, given that it recently committed to ending this kind of review bombing.
Last month, Valve revealed a solution to Steam’s increasingly ubiquitous review bomb problem: a new system where a human team digs through reeking piles of fishy reviews surfaced by an automated program, and—if they find those reviews to be sufficiently suspicious—they’ll “mark the time period it encompasses and notify the developer.” Then they’ll remove those reviews from the game’s overall score and stop other reviews posted in the same period from counting.
Currently, it’s impossible to say whether or not Valve has reached out to Gearbox, but the company has yet to make any marks or remove these clearly trolling reviews from Borderlands games’ scores.
That sure makes it look like Valve is just letting this all happen to punish a company that chose to do business with another platform. If that isn't what this is, then Valve should come out forcefully and say so. If it is what Valve is doing, then it's hard to conclude anything other than the company is undermining its own user review system, which is one of the most useful aspects of Steam.
Regardless, it appears the exclusivity wars have come to PC gaming. And that sucks no matter the specifics around Borderlands reviews.
Filed Under: competition, epic, exclusivity, platforms, silos, steam, video gamesCompanies: epic, valve