At a conference in South Korea, the CEO of Epic Games made comments about breaking down the walled gardens between game platforms. It sounds like he wants to expand cross-buy between as many platforms as possible, but getting publishers and competing platform holders to agree to something like that could prove difficult.
The Coalition for App Fairness held a conference in Seoul in mid-November, where Epic CEO Tim Sweeney spoke on multiple topics. He criticized Google’s collecting fees for in-app purchases and called Apple a monopoly that “must be stopped.” Epic and Apple spent much of 2020 and 2021 in a court battle over whether Epic could sell in-app purchases without paying a cut to platform holders like Apple and Google. Sweeney also called for a sort of unified digital store for game platforms.
“What the world really needs now is a single store that works with all platforms,” he told Bloomberg.
Sweeney said Epic is already working with publishers and “service providers” to create a system where customers could buy their games in a unified store and have confidence they would work on all platforms.
Apple and Microsoft employ systems that work somewhat like this between different devices within their respective platforms. Buying certain games on Microsoft’s store entitles users to play them on Xbox and Windows while downloading an app, movie, album, or book on Apple’s store lets users enjoy them on any Apple device.
Sweeney describes what sounds like a video game equivalent of Movies Anywhere, a service that lets viewers link digital purchases across multiple platforms like Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, VUDU, and Google. Buying a movie on one entitles them to copies on the others. Big studios like Disney, Sony, Universal, and Warner Bros. participate in Movies Anywhere. Examples of cross-buy between different game platforms operated by different companies, however, are rare.
For instance, GOG Galaxy tries to organize users’ libraries across all their accounts. However, it still uses each account’s PC client to launch titles. It sometimes offers free copies of certain games already linked to users’ Steam accounts, but this is as close as it gets to a “Games Anywhere” system.
When talking about purely digital purchases, cross-platform entitlement makes some sense. There’s little reason someone would pay for a game repeatedly on PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, Steam, the Nintendo eShop, and Epic. Though some games have staggered releases with timed exclusivity in the hopes, customers might double-dip.
Movies Anywhere can do what it does because digital movies are hardware agnostic. No matter where you purchase it, you can play the content on any device you have, whether it’s a PC, smart TV, or PS5. Games are not the same, and neither Sony nor Microsoft wants to miss out on that software sale. Conversely, Microsoft owns Xbox and Windows, so we are now starting to see some cross-buying here.
Of course, Epic has a vested interest in making its store the center of a cross-buy ecosystem, and Epic would probably love to have console users among its customers.