2019 was quite the year for Epic. Basking in the glow of Fortnite’s meteoric rise from Battle Royale contender to global phenomenon, Tim Sweeney and co set their sights on destabilizing Steam’s stranglehold on the digital storefront space.
Disillusioned by Steam’s almost monopolistic position and the platform’s 70/30 split with developers, Epic launched the Epic Games Store in December 2018.
Timed exclusives were to lead the charge to tempt players over. Developers would sign up for a comparatively generous 88/12 split with Epic forking out a minimum guarantee on sales to dampen the impact of switching to a smaller market share compared to competitors, Steam in particular.
For developers, the package offered by Epic was a tantalizing one. Big-name developers made the jump. Gearbox Software’s Borderlands 3 launched as an Epic Store exclusive. As did Control, Metro Exodus, The Outer Wilds, and 2019’s indie sensation Untitled Goose Game.
All that was needed now was for people to break the decade-long habit of immediately jumping onto Steam for their PC gaming needs. Exclusives were a crucial part of the puzzle as Epic CEO Tim Sweeney remarked on Twitter mid-way through 2019;
We believe exclusives are the only strategy that will change the 70/30 status quo at a large enough scale to permanently affect the whole game industry.
And, as Epic rightly estimated, there’s no better way to attract a gamer than with a free game. In Epic’s case, a free game every week and good games at that. Subnautica, Celeste, Moonlighter, Hyper Light Drifter, and more.
As the Games Store debuts its second year, Epic has offered an update on the fruits of this strategy to take on Steam . Uncharacteristically for an industry where numbers are oft-handled like depleted uranium, reserved for the eyes of tailored suits, Epic is open about the financials of the store.
108 million PC players spent $680 million in the Epic Games Store since the storefront launched. Yes, Fortnite is responsible for the lion’s share of spending, but $251 million is attributed to third-party titles. Not bad for a platform just over a year old.
This is out of 300M total Epic accounts across all platforms, including console and mobile. Epic Games Store third-party game revenue in 2019 is roughly 60% higher than our initial forecast at launch, and the pace of free game installs is several times higher than we originally expected.
As for those free games, players have claimed over 200 million of these to date.
From Epic’s point of view, the Epic Games Store is a success.
While Epic’s aim of offering developers a better deal is commendable – too many small studios fade into obscurity as the struggle to keep the lights on becomes too much to bear – the company is in the game to make money. Let’s not forget that.
But, developers earn more money from their games and players benefit from Epic’s luring strategy. There’s a sense that the storefront is a win-win for everyone involved.
To expect concern from the average player for the plight of developers may be a tall ask. The predatory monetization from the likes of EA has left many jaded and low on empathy for game makers.
Epic’s genius is in its ability to entice players and developers with bounties that are uniquely alluring to both parties. As time edges forward, criticism of the Epic Games Store doesn’t resonate as loudly.
Epic still has work to do, though. The store lacks many basic features users comes to expect (wish list, shopping cart, etc.) and Epic has been sluggish about implementing these.
With Epic confirming the continuation of the weekly free game drop for 2020 and a raft of exclusives on the horizon, sustained growth will define the storefront’s prospects for the foreseeable future.