It's been roughly two weeks since Gearbox confirmed that the PC version of Borderlands 3 will be released exclusively on the Epic Games Store, a revelation that led to much wailing and gnashing of teeth among the fan base. Over the weekend, CEO Randy Pitchford spent a good chunk of time on Twitter explaining why he supports the decision and thinks it will be good for both Gearbox and Epic—and gamers—in the long run.
Pitchford began by reiterating that while he "may have some influence" on the process, the choice of storefront was ultimately up to publisher 2K Games. He also acknowledged that Epic currently lacks a number of features that are available on Steam, and that some of them will likely never appear, a fact that Epic has previously stated itself. But there's a plan in place—a "vision for how a store should interact with a customer and a developer and publisher"—which Epic has laid out in a development roadmap.
"This road map includes a look into things they are committing to. If I were a betting man, I would expect that there are more things that happen than what they are committing to," Pitchford wrote.
"We also must acknowledge that Borderlands 3 does not exist *today* but rather it will exist in September. The store will be different when the game launches. It will become a boon to their store if they bring sufficient features to make the customer experience great for us. Epic will suffer (again) if, by the time Borderlands 3 launches, the customer experience is not good enough. This is a tremendous forcing function for Epic."
From a track record point of view, my expectation is that Epic’s investment in technology will outpace Valve’s substantially. When we look back at Steam in five or ten years, it may look like a dying store and other, competitive stores, will be the place to be.April 13, 2019
One big upside for Gearbox is that Borderlands 3, in Pitchford's estimation, "will be the biggest, by far, new game to arrive" since the Epic Games Store went live. That means Epic is "sure to invest huge amounts of resources specifically for the features most important for Borderlands 3," which in turns means those features will be implemented more rapidly than they otherwise might have been.
Obviously, there's a risk that Epic can't or won't get enough of those features in place to be "good enough" when Borderlands 3 comes out, but 2K Games was willing to take that risk and Pitchford is "not mad" about it, he continued, because he believes that in the long run, it and future Gearbox games "will be best served if the Epic Games Store a) exists, and b) is competitive."
He also believes that Epic has both the resources to commit to developing new and better technology, and a willingness to invest them. Steam, on the other hand, "may look like a dying store" in within the next decade.
"The competitive store that happens to be the leader in 10 years may not be Epic’s store, but it probably won’t be Valve’s and Epic’s moves right now are opening the door and paving the way for a vibrant competitive economy," he tweeted.
"Competition in stores is going to be absolutely best for consumers and probably good for developers and publishers as well. The stores that tend to win are the stores that offer the best to their customers. It’s very difficult for customer interest to be king with one store. One may look at other stores, like Origin or U-Play. Those aren’t real competitors to Steam. A competitor to Steam needs to have an installed base and be sufficiently neutral in alignment so that all publishers and developers who support the store can trust a fair economy. That’s just not possible with direct stores that are controlled by publishing interests. It’s also not going to come from adjacent services that have other priorities (like Discord, for example). Epic has credibility here because they have been supplying engine technology to the industry for over 20 years and we have all come to be able to trust and rely upon Epic’s fair play and good will."
And we’ll look back and realize that Epic’s decision to reinvest their Fortnite $ into this (valuable) step and Take Two’s guts to put Borderlands 3 out there in this situation in order to be that forcing function the industry needs were the pivotal moments.April 13, 2019
Pitchford covered quite a bit more ground in his weekend tweetstorm, touching on things like Epic's efforts to improve accessibility to its technology versus Valve's "absurd" revenue cut, the differences in company ownership, and the future of cross-storefront integration. And he's entirely unapologetic about throwing his lot in with Epic.
"At the end of the day, these kinds of movements in our industry are always precipitated from content. It takes content to move us. It took Half-Life 2 to even get us (not quite) comfortable enough to swallow the Steam pill back in the day," he tweeted.
"And so we’re going to swallow the Epic Games Store pill with Borderlands 3. And some of you guys are going to hate it and scream bloody murder and you’ll even blame me, personally, for it. And you can bitch and moan and brigade and stalk my shit, but at the end of the day when we look back at this moment we’ll realize that this was the moment where the digital stores on PC became unmonopolized."
Obviously Pitchford has a dog in this fight: At a bare minimum, Gearbox wants to ensure that anger over the Epic Games Store isn't still burning hot enough to have a meaningful impact on sales when Borderlands 3 comes out. But I think a lot of his commentary is pretty thoughtful, too. You may not agree with everything he says but I don't think it can be reasonably argued that he hasn't at least given the matter due consideration.
Borderlands 3 comes out on September 31, and will be an Epic Games Store exclusive until April 2020.