So long as capitalism remains the law of the land, nothing in this world is free—not even “free” video games. But, by giving them away, Epic managed to lure new users to its fledgling store for next to nothing, so there’s a lot to be said for the appearance of free stuff.
As part of the ongoing Epic v. Apple court trial, Epic (preemptively, according to game industry veteran Simon Carless) published a document revealing what it paid for specific games users were able to download for free on the Epic Games Store. The list covers games Epic gave away weekly from the promotion’s launch until September 2019, and it’s mighty eye-opening.
Some standout details: Epic spent the most money upfront on Batman Arkham ($1,500,000), Subnautica ($1,400,000), and Mutant Year Zero ($1,000,000). It spent the least on Metro 2033 Redux ($0), RIME ($45,000), and a few other indies—Super Meat Boy, World of Goo, and Canary—all of which cost the company $50,000. Epic’s spending on free games for the full period totaled out to $11,658,000.
It’s not hard to trace a general trend: Major publishers got a lot, while indies only got a little. Admittedly, some smaller games went free long after their figurative sell-by dates, but those are still some pretty paltry prices.
The real winner here is Epic. As many industry figures pointed out on Twitter, those user acquisition cost numbers are awfully low, with Epic picking up nearly five million new users for dollars or cents per person. It is not easy to attract new users to a barebones store when a veritable monopoly like Steam is sitting just across the way—with everybody’s friends also on it—but Epic’s spend-to-win strategy appears to have paid off. Now it can boast a large user base to both publishers and players. Many other stores have failed where Epic is now improbably succeeding.
And if any of those users purchase even a single full-price game, Epic makes bank, even factoring in that it only takes a 12% cut of each sale, rather than Steam’s cut of 30%. Imagine, for example, that somebody who made an account to grab Overcooked goes on to purchase a $60 game. According to Epic—admittedly a biased source—it spent $1.09 to make $7.20. Now multiply that by hundreds of thousands or millions. That’s a big return on investment.
With all that in mind, here’s hoping that Epic is paying indies better these days—or, at the very least, that these numbers give indies ammo so that they can get paid better in the future.