The Axiom Verge “steam” bug & Epic Store’s shortcomings

Posted on February 13, 2019

Programming is a challenging skill to master. As a student of the profession, you are finding bug after bug to squash. A wise teacher told me, “Every game you will ever work on is broken, until its finished”. But there is something to be learned in examining how something is broken. Consider Behaviour Interactive. They produced games for both Fallout and Westworld mobile games, with similar code, and more damningly similar bugs. Axiom Verge was released recently on the Epic Store for free, but with it came an interesting little bug. So, what can Axiom Verge’s botched launch the Epic Store, teach us about the online marketplace’s shortcomings?

Axiom Verge

The bug was a pretty simple one. When the developer of Axiom Verge, Tom Happ, wanted to port over to the epic store they had a few basic changes they needed to undertake. They would have to strip out all the files related to Valve’s store, Steam, and add in files for the Epic Store. So they set about, searching for all “steam” files and removing them. All seems to be going well. Axiom Verge is cleared and is put up onto Epic’s game store. People buy it, people play it, all is good in the world. Except obviously, something goes wrong, otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this article.

See, as people played through the indie title, people started to run into a snag. During a stage of the game, it would suddenly crash. Why? Well as it would later become clear, deleting all of the files labelled “steam” was a bit of a human error. See, there was one extra file hidden in all the steam marketplace files. “steam.xnb” (presumably steam of the boiling water variety) is the culprit. Being an XNB file (a binary file associated with XNA Game Studio Express), the file is integral to running a game. So when players reached that stage of the game, unable to locate the file, the game would simply crash.

This was purely a mistake, not a statement on Epic and Steam’s battle for online retail. But the ensuing chaos does demonstrate problems inherent in the Epic Store’s construction. Despite the attention Epic is accruing, the store is still lacking in functionalities that seem integral to online games storefronts. In this case, the feature needed was a forum or some kind of feedback system.

In the fallout, people had to search elsewhere for help, perhaps most amusingly, in the Axiom Verge’s Steam forums. On all sides, people have been rushing to get things out and making mistakes, and fair enough. But Epic really needs to take a step back and have a look at the store and think about how to get the business running properly, before working on expanding.

Axiom Verge

In an effort to attract market attention, the Epic Store’s focus has been on exclusives. Perhaps most famously, Metro Exodus’ sudden departure from Steam into a timed exclusive with Epic has seen quite the backlash. Conversely, there are smaller things that really should be the current focus for Epic. The higher priority should be on the side of improving the store. I have no doubts that the Epic Store could be a great competitor in PC Gaming.

Epic is doing a lot for indie gaming. Competition is the best way consumers and developers get the best deal. But Epic need to build the store on a solid foundation, or this story will be far from the last of their blunders.