Here’s What Epic Paid To Give Away All Those ‘Free’ Games

Here’s What Epic Paid To Give Away All Those ‘Free’ Games
Image: Epic Games

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.

Image: Epic GamesImage: Epic Games

Some standout details: Epic spent the most money upfront on Batman Arkham ($US1,500,000 ($1,933,650)), Subnautica ($US1,400,000 ($1,804,740)), and Mutant Year Zero ($US1,000,000 ($1,289,100)). It spent the least on Metro 2033 Redux ($US0 ($0)), RIME ($US45,000 ($58,010)), and a few other indies — Super Meat Boy, World of Goo, and Canary — all of which cost the company $US50,000 ($64,455). Epic’s spending on free games for the full period totalled out to $US11,658,000 ($15,028,328).

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 $US60 ($77) game. According to Epic — admittedly a biased source — it spent $US1.09 ($1.41) to make $US7.20 ($9.31). 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.


  • Yeah, I feel like I’m shilling for Epic at this point. Best I can say is that I’ve not actually given them a cent, I’m just booting up EGS once a week and clicking buy on the freebie. Make of that what you will.

    Still, as far as marketing costs go that’s virtual peanuts and every cent of that went into the hands of the people who actually make games, which has got to be a good thing. Furthermore, few if any of those would have been lost sales; if you’re a fan of the game you’ve probably already picked it up on Steam a long time ago, and if you haven’t you were likely waiting for a 90% off sale as one of the 100-odd random items already on your Steam wishlist. More likely, you never had any interest in playing in the first place, but free is free.

    I mean, the Super Meat Boy devs got $50K easy money for a 9 year old game that has been bundled and given away dozens of times before.

    Somewhere between devs getting more money in their pockets (and more exposure, increasing the profile of their newer games and DLC), and pretty much every shopfront now playing with dropping their cut of sales, it’s a good time to be a game developer.

  • “Epic picking up nearly five million new users for dollars or cents per person”.

    Yeah, I’d like to see the numbers on how many of them ever went on to spend a single dollar on the Epic store after claiming the free stuff. Of my circle of mates who’ve claimed freebies from them, about 15ish people, I’m fairly certain not a single one of them has actually bought anything. As one said, “nah, f**k buying anything from them, that’s what Steam is for”.

    • I think I’ve bought one game. During a sale. With a $15 voucher. So net cost was well under $10 to me for whatever game it was. Cant even remember which one it was now. Might have been Before We Leave, which co-incidently launches on Steam next week, just a couple of months short of 2 years after it launched on EGS. Good game.

      But it took all of that for me to decide to buy from them. Any other game I’ve been remotely interested in has been on other platforms, like Borderlands 3 being on PS4, so I’ve supported those games on those platforms.

      They got ~$10 out of me, versus hundreds of games worth thousands of dollars coming my way. And I’ve installed and played plenty of them. Winner is easily me in all that.

    • Haven’t paid for an EGS game.

      They have an Australia Tax problem in their prices for the games I wanted to buy. It’s cheaper to buy Steam Keys from third party stores or buy the box copy from JB HiFi.

      Would be interested to see if anyone bought game DLC after getting the initial game (like Alien Isolation was on EGS was just base game) that would be a far better return for developers than the 2 to 30 cents per game that Epic paid them.

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