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Steam should start to worry about the Epic Games Store

Epic's latest series of giveaways was an honestly astonishing run of huge titles including Grand Theft Auto 5 and Civilization 6. The freebies didn't boost the Epic Games Store's concurrent user count enough to match Steam's, but it at least put it in the same ballpark. Epic's storefront recently hit 13 million concurrent users, which is quite a ways off from Steam's peak of 24.5 million. Still, that figure is enough to match Steam's user count at low ebbs.

Here's why Epic's growing numbers should be very concerning to Steam.

Steam still reigns supreme over PC gaming, but if Epic continues to grow, it could find itself with a real rival for the first time ever. For some context, remember that the Epic Games Launcher has existed for less than two years while Steam has been around since 2003. It wasn't until 2018 that Epic started down the trail that Steam blazed, and it's already starting to catch up. Epic is just a blip on Steam's radar for now, but the fact that it's a blip at all after so short a time ought to have Steam worried. 

The Epic Games Store is also backed by serious money, not just from its massive Fortnite revenue, but from Chinese games giant Tencent. The company owns 40% of Epic Games, and could very well serve as a large piggy bank if Epic decides to spend more cash going after Steam. Epic clearly isn't afraid to throw that money around, from the free games it gives away every week to giving 88% of game revenue to developers (as opposed to Steam's 70%). In fact, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney has said multiple times that securing exclusive games rights by offering an 88/12 split is a direct attack on Steam's policy to take a 30% cut, which he views as unfair to small game devs. 

Whether you make games or play them, the Epic Games Store is leveraging its resources to become an offer you can't refuse, and it's working. If Epic continues this meteoric rise, it won't be long at all before it's a legitimate rival to Steam, and that's something that should have Valve concerned.

Not to say that some competition would spell the end for Steam. After all, Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have been locked in a console war for decades now, and they're all still going strong. Steam is a massive and well-established platform backed by a company worth billions, and it's going to take more than a rich upstart challenger to bring it down. Shutting down Steam would be like shutting down Amazon — practically unthinkable. 

The real danger would be if Epic gets enough clout to secure exclusive rights from AA or even AAA publishers. For now, the backlash those companies would face for taking Epic's deal isn't worth it to them. Maybe it never will be. But if Epic keeps growing at its current rate, and keeps securing exclusive rights to games, there's a chance that Steam could be in real trouble somewhere down the line.

There's been no word yet on how Steam plans to respond to this threat, or even if it considers Epic to be a threat at all. In fact, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell seems to welcome the competition, though he gave no hints as to what Steam's strategy will be if Epic becomes a legitimate threat. Might it copy some of Epic's tactics and start offering games for free? The massive publisher sales are already a huge draw for Steam, and offering free games from its immense library certainly couldn't hurt matters. Or, will we see the rise of Steam exclusives? If we do, will there be public outcry from gamers like there is against Epic? 

It's a tricky situation for sure. Steam's never had a real competitor in the PC gaming market, and there's no way of knowing exactly how it will respond. If more information comes up on that front, we will be sure to let you know.