Destiny 2 is coming to PC … eventually, but it’s not coming to Steam. But this doesn’t signify that Activision Blizzard is preparing to battle Valve over selling third-party games.
Bungie unveiled Destiny 2 yesterday, and the blockbuster game studio revealed that the PC version of the sci-fi cooperative shooter is due out on just the Blizzard app at some point in the future (the studio did not confirm that Destiny 2 will hit PC alongside the console versions on September 8). This means that you’ll find it sitting with Hearthstone, Overwatch, and World of Warcraft on Battle.net — although Blizzard has dropped that as the official branding for the service.
I’m sure you can guess the reasons why Activision Blizzard would make the decision to use the publisher’s own service as opposed to Valve’s Steam. This is all about avoiding splitting 30 percent of the revenue from each game sold with Valve.
“It really is that simple,” Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter told GamesBeat. “It’s more profit for [Activision].”
For its part, Blizzard provided a slightly more diplomatic justification for adding the first game from an outside developer to its service.
“We loved Destiny and think Destiny 2 is going to be a great game,” reads a Blizzard blog post. “Blizzard has an established and successful global internet infrastructure we’ve used for years to support our own games. Creating a new network client for Destiny 2, which is bringing the franchise to PC for the first time, would needlessly extend the development period for the game. We want to get our hands on Destiny 2 as soon as possible like everybody else, so we offered to share our PC platform with our sister companies for this release.”
You know that old saying: If you love something, don’t let it go to Valve.
Is Activision Blizzard competing with Valve?
It’s easy to read into this move as the first step of a bigger plan that could turn Blizzard’s app into a potential competitor against Valve’s nearly ubiquitous Steam. Electronic Arts and Ubisoft have attempted that with Origin and UPlay, respectively, but Steam still eclipses both in terms of third-party sales. But Blizzard? Now that’s a company that understands PC gaming and could maybe have a chance of really stealing some market share from Valve. Right? Not quite.
Blizzard claims it has no plans to add third-party games to its app.
“Our focus in terms of supporting non-Blizzard games is solely around Destiny 2,” reads the company’s blog. “Aside from potentially evaluating needs or opportunities for future Activision games, we don’t have any short- or long-term plans to support third-party games with Battle.net. It’s important to us to maintain our quality standards for any experience or service we’re putting in front of our players, which represents a big investment of time and effort on our part, so this is not something we’re jumping into lightly.”
So Blizzard sees itself almost as the opposite of Steam. Where Valve is OK with some degradation of quality in favor of operating an open marketplace, Blizzard wants to maintain its rigid, hand-picked experience. Of course, it’s worth noting that the company left the door open to putting other Activision games on the Blizzard app.
I look forward to a time where the Blizzard app has more Call of Duty games than Blizzard games.
This isn’t real competition for Steam
Activision Blizzard isn’t going to establish a marketplace where third-party developers and publishers can sell their games — at least not yet. But will keeping Destiny 2 off of Steam force Valve to innovate to compete anyhow? Probably not.
Think about it from your perspective as someone who buys and plays games. If you prefer Steam, I bet the biggest reason is because it’s where you already own most of your games. It’s convenient. It’s probably not the destination for you in and of itself. The same is true of the Blizzard app. For most people, they think of it as nothing more than their Overwatch or World of Warcraft launcher. It’s about getting to the content.
When Destiny 2 comes out, no one is going to window shop between Steam and Blizzard in an attempt to figure out which they like better. If they want to play Destiny 2 on their PC, they’re going to download whatever app they need in order to make that happen. And when it’s time to buy their next game, they’re going to go with the service that provides a combination of the easiest access and lowest price. In those terms, Steam and the Blizzard app aren’t even in the same conversation.
But this is real marketing
If you’ve ever played a mobile game from one of those development houses that has dozens of apps on iOS and Android, you’ve probably noticed that they often market other games inside their apps. A lot of times, they own the other games that they are advertising. This is all part of a marketing-network strategy where game makers try to save money on player-acquisition costs by funneling players from one game in their ecosystem to the next.
That’s what Activision Blizzard can do with Destiny 2 on its app. In recent months, we’ve seen Blizzard amp up its cross-promotional campaigns between games like Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm. Overwatch has millions of active players, all with their credit card information already stored in Blizzard’s system (at least on PC). And you can see that the company really wants to get those people also playing Heroes of the Storm, which is why it has created events to give Overwatch awards to those players who come over and play a handful of matches in the free-to-play multiplayer online battle arena. Overwatch players spend money, and Blizzard is leveraging its internal marketing network to funnel some of that cash into its other games.
Valve, Origin, and UPlay all feature ads for their own games, but they also all sell third-party games that dilute their service as a marketing network. Activision Blizzard isn’t trying to get a 30 percent cut of an outside developer’s game; it wants to build a self-perpetuating gaming environment with games that can attract long-term engagement.
And Destiny 2 is an ideal addition to that ecosystem. It has some overlap in terms of how it plays compared to Blizzard games, so it’s possible that a Destiny 2 player could pick up Heroes of the Storm, Diablo III, or Hearthstone if they begin to see ads or promotional events for them as they are logging into Destiny 2.
The opposite is true as well. Blizzard may use Destiny as a way of keeping World of Warcraft players hooked into its network between major content drops and expansions. It is likely a lot easier to get a player to renew their subscription if they are still logging into the Blizzard app on a daily basis.
This is why Blizzard probably wouldn’t consider adding third-party games to its app. It’s trying to create the right mix of games that will maximize the lifetime value of a player for its games, and Destiny 2 serves that purpose well.