When the Epic Games Store launched in December 2018, it stirred up quite a bit of controversy in the gaming community, and many people are still uncertain how they feel about the online storefront’s growth strategy. In an effort to grab a large portion of the digital game market, the Epic Games Store worked aggressively to secure a number of exclusivity deals with developers and publishers, and a lot of gamers weren’t happy about it.
While the move certainly made the Epic Games Store a known resource for buying online games, also due largely in part to the site’s biweekly free game giveaway, it hasn’t proven a lucrative strategy for Epic thus far. CEO Tim Sweeney recently revealed that the Epic Games Store is not currently profitable and likely won’t be for several years.
The lawsuit between Epic and Apple began this week, and a number of corporate documents have been made publicly available as a result, revealing that from 2018 to 2019, the company invested $359 million in exclusivity deals and free game offers. One title that received a substantial portion of this investment was Borderlands 3 whose PC exclusivity deal with Epic cost the company $115 million. This included $15 million in marketing, an $80 million advance paid in anticipation of the game’s future performance, and an additional $11 million for Epic’s giveaway of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection.
Borderlands 3 was originally planned for concurrent release in September 2019 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC via Steam, but the exclusivity deal with the Epic Games Store meant that the game didn’t become available on Steam until six months after release. Many fans of the series voiced discontent with being forced to purchase the game from what some saw as an inferior storefront. This led to a number of people boycotting the game entirely or review bombing previously released Borderlands games on Steam.
The CEO of Gearbox defended the decision to sign an exclusivity deal with Epic, though he stated that it had been an agreement between Epic and the game’s publisher 2K Games, with Gearbox having no input on the matter. According to Pitchford, the competition created by the growth of the Epic Games Store would force Steam to adapt and improve in a digital marketplace where it had heretofore maintained a near monopoly. “They’ll fight for it,” stated Pitchford. “And they’ll hang on. There’s even a chance they’ll come out on top.”
Considering that Tim Sweeney has confirmed that the Epic Games Store is “hundreds of millions of dollars” short of being profitable, Steam coming out on top is indeed a possibility. However, Epic hasn’t given up on its marketing plan of timed exclusivity deals. Other court documents in the Epic vs. Apple suit seem to have revealed that the upcoming games Dead Island 2 and Saints Row 5 will be Epic Games Store exclusives, which is particularly curious because Saints Row 5 has not even been officially announced yet.
The Epic Games Store offers a lot of different things to attract customers. Establishing a firm place in the marketplace of PC games storefronts is not easy, especially not when Steam's dominance of the space is extremely strong. Valve's dominant position in the market is undeniable, but Epic Games hopes to eventually step up to the plate. To do so, Epic is employing numerous techniques to try and build its customer-base, and releasing free games is one of those things. In recent months, the store became increasingly generous in what it offered.