Fallout 76 and Sea of Thieves Steam releases show the failure of exclusive PC stores

After years of exclusivity on the Microsoft Store, Sea of Thieves is finally making its way to Steam — and it’s being joined by the Bethesda.net exclusive Fallout 76. While there hasn’t been a specific Sea of Thieves Steam release date announced just yet, both of these games coming to Steam is a sign that they didn’t perform as well as the creators hoped.

Take Sea of Thieves for example. Earlier this year, the developers boasted about it crossing 10 million total players across all platforms. That’s a big, impressive number — and it’s also meaningless without context.

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There are several important stats when it comes to online services like this. One of the most important is MAU, or “Monthly Active Users.” This is a stat that shows how many people are actually using a service in the space of a month and is one of the best judges of its health and popularity.

Notably, the MAU a number that has not been shared by Microsoft or Bethesda. The “10 million players” for Sea of Thieves is just the number of unique accounts, but we don’t know how many of those people are actually playing every month. Bethesda, too, had only put out the rather vague statement that there are “millions” of people playing the game last year.

Sea of Thieves Steam release date is a defeat for Microsoft

Sea of Thieves Steam release date page

The popularity of Xbox Game Pass was driven by games like this being available from day one. PC and Xbox One players snapped up the game in droves. However, the Sea of Thieves Steam release is likely a good indication that it probably wasn’t performing up to par.

Take Halo as an example. Fans had wanted to see the Halo games on PC for the last decade, but Microsoft only just recently released The Master Chief Collection. It’s not as if it wasn’t capable of doing it. I think it probably didn’t make much financial sense to bring Halo to Steam until now. A game being ported to another sales platform (especially from a big company like Microsoft) can be viewed as a sign that it’s seeking a larger customer base, either due to the game’s age or poor performance.

With Sea of Thieves hailed as a big Microsoft Store exclusive, a Steam launch taking place in only two years is a sign that it didn’t perform as well as the company would have hoped. After all, why move to a competitor if it’s doing well on the Microsoft Store?

Falling on your face

Fallout 76 Steam release date faces

The Sea of Thieves Steam release isn’t the only big exclusive coming soon. Much like Microsoft and Rare’s epic open-world game, Fallout 76 is now finally coming to Steam. What’s more, Bethesda is letting existing PC players transfer all of their data over to the Steam version.

Fallout 76 coming to Steam is just as much of a bad sign for Bethesda. The same argument applies: if an exclusive is still selling well on your own platform, there’s no reason to hand more traffic and revenue to the competition. The only reasonable conclusion is that these games are not performing well, and that’s why they’re making the move now.

One must also consider the “Fiscal Year.” Most companies start measuring their year starting on April 1 and ending on March 31; Fiscal Year 2019 just ended a couple of days ago. Odds are, neither game was meeting internal performance metrics and the decision was made to move them to Steam as early as possible. That will let both companies show respective increases in player count and revenue to investors for Fiscal Year, and that’s always a good thing to have.

Did Epic Games find the perfect middle ground?

Metro Exodus Steam release Epic Games Store Anna

When it comes to exclusives, the Epic Games Store might have actually got it right. Don’t get me wrong, I’d prefer to keep all of my games in one place, but Epic Games has smartly put a 1-year time limit on their exclusives.

Any entertainment product makes the majority of its sales in the first few weeks. You can see this in action by looking at the box office numbers for any movie or how a game performs on a chart; most will stay in the top ten for 6 weeks or so and then drop off as most people have experienced it.

By restricting their exclusivity to 1-year, Epic Games has probably created the best exclusivity system. Developers get some financial assurance, Epic Games gets the impatient players to join their platform, and patient gamers won’t have to wait a decade to play these games on Steam. Metro Exodus — one of the first Epic exclusives announced — is estimated to have 500,000–1 million new owners on Steam. That’s pretty good for a year after launch.

The Sea of Thieves Steam release date isn’t yet available, but you can add it to your wishlist in the meantime. Fallout 76, for its part, will have its Steam launch on April 14, 2020.  For now, we can hope that the inevitable influx of new players will mean more quality content getting delivered to players for both titles.