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How Epic Games gives away free games every week – and why

Have you ever wondered how Epic Games is able to give away high-quality PC games for free every single week? As a fellow gaming enthusiast, I was curious about the economics and strategy behind Epic‘s free games promotion. So I did a deep dive into researching how and why they‘re able to pull this off.

In this detailed guide, I‘ll share with you everything I learned, including:

  • The history and motives behind Epic‘s free games
  • How much Epic spends on all these freebies
  • Whether it‘s helping or hurting game developers
  • How sustainable this model is long-term
  • And most importantly – tips on how you can claim the weekly free games!

Let‘s dive in.

A quick history of Epic Games and their store

Epic Games started out in 1991 and is now one of the largest video game developers in the world. They struck gold creating the global phenom Fortnite, which earned a record $9 billion in revenue by the end of 2018.

With Fortnite‘s success making them flush with cash, Epic decided to open their own PC gaming marketplace called the Epic Games Store. It launched in December 2018 as a competitor to Steam, GOG, Origin and other digital stores.

Epic‘s store charges game developers and publishers a 12% cut of sales revenue, compared to Steam‘s 30% cut. This more favorable revenue split is part of how Epic attracted big publishers to sell on their store.

But Epic knew they needed more to compete with Steam‘s massive market share. Enter their headline-grabbing weekly free game giveaways.

Epic gambled millions to hook gamers with freebies

When the Epic Games Store kicked off in 2018, they made a bold move by offering a free game every two weeks. At the time, this was unheard of among major gaming platforms.

Epic soon ramped up the frequency to a new free game every single week. This was a calculated loss leader strategy to hook gamers into using the Epic Store.

According to remarks made by Epic CEO Tim Sweeney in 2019, in the first 10 months of their free game promos, Epic spent at least $11.6 million dollars compensating developers.

Sweeney added that this short-term loss resulted in gaining 85 million registered users in the first year. Epic essentially paid to acquire users at a rate of around $0.14 per user.

Other sources estimate Epic may have spent over $300 million to fund these freebies so far. While costly, this investment could pay off by cementing customer loyalty among 200-300 million users in the long run.

Epic foots the bill so gamers can enjoy AAA titles for free

You might be wondering – how can Epic afford to just give away games for free every week indefinitely?

The answer is Fortnite money. Epic gained a huge war chest from Fortnite‘s revenue, which was estimated to be $5.1 billion in 2020 alone.

Some quick napkin math shows that Fortnite earned Epic approximately $14 million per day in 2020. So they definitely have the cash reserves to burn through on the free games for now.

Epic can pay developers handsomely while offering their games at no cost on the Epic Store. It‘s win-win – gamers get free games, and publishers still earn revenue they desperately need.

Speaking of the publishers, let‘s look at whether these promotions are actually helping or hurting developers.

Does Epic‘s free game model help or hurt developers?

On the surface, you might think giving away games for free could hurt creators. But based on the data, these promotions seem to provide moderate but real benefits for developers, especially indies.

According to a GDC survey of developers who offered free game promos on Epic:

  • Average gain of 4,500 new customers on launch day during the promo
  • 20% increase in sales after the promotion ended
  • 750% increase in wishlists during the promo period

While a 20% sales bump isn‘t huge, this exposure helps smaller studios gain brand awareness and new fans. Plus they get paid upfront by Epic for the free release.

However, I did find concerns that the quality of games being given away is declining. In the early days of Epic‘s store it was big AAA games, but lately it‘s been more filler grade indie titles according to critics.

Some gamers feel Epic relies too much on these giveaways rather than improving their store experience and features. But on the whole, these promotions are a rare win-win for gamers and developers alike.

Now you might be wondering…

Is this business model sustainable long-term for Epic?

Nothing lasts forever. And analysts debate how long Epic can bleed cash to fund this user acquisition strategy.

Sweeney stated the weekly free games are "not going to be profitable in the short term, but it‘s an investment in the future."

Expert forecasts vary on how long Epic‘s free game flywheel can keep spinning before running out of momentum:

  • Piers Harding-Rolls, research director of games at Ampere Analysis, estimates Epic may reach 100 million active users by end of 2023 based on their current growth trajectory.

  • However, Adam Blacker, managing director at DFC Intelligence, thinks after 3-4 years and 300+ free games, the promotions will stop driving as many new users as they did initially.

  • Gaming industry veteran Geoff Keighley speculates the free games could continue for another 2-3 years before tapering off.

While the clock may be ticking, Epic still has plenty of time and Fortnite funds to cement their store as a major player for the foreseeable future.

How gamers can claim Epic‘s weekly freebie

Alright, let‘s get to the good stuff. Here is the step-by-step process to get each free game every week:

  1. First, download the Epic Games launcher on your Windows PC or Mac.

  2. Create your free Epic Games account if you haven‘t already.

  3. Each Thursday at 11AM Eastern Time, simply open the Epic Games launcher and go to the Store section.

  4. You‘ll see the current free game(s) advertised on the front page – just click Get to permanently add the game(s) to your account!

  5. Once claimed, these free games are yours to keep forever. You can download and play them whenever you want.

Some key tips:

  • Claiming the game is enough – no need to install it right away if you don‘t have space or time.

  • Epic offers a free game EVERY Thursday, so check back each week.

  • Occasionally they offer a "mystery game" whose title is revealed when you go to claim it.

  • You can see a history of all your free games in the store‘s Account section for future reference.

It really is an amazing deal for gamers. Now let‘s look at…

Which publishers and games has Epic given away?

The selection of free titles spans from AAA blockbusters to quirky indie darlings. Here are some highlights:

Big Name Franchises

  • Grand Theft Auto V
  • Civilization VI
  • Borderlands (Multiple games)
  • Batman Arkham series
  • Assassin‘s Creed Syndicate
  • Star Wars Battlefront II

Well-Known Titles

  • Celeste
  • Enter the Gungeon
  • Slime Rancher
  • Axiom Verge
  • Fez
  • The Witness

Surprise Hits

  • Stick Fight: The Game
  • Hand of Fate 2
  • Hyper Light Drifter
  • Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
  • Offworld Trading Company

Epic has partnered with almost every major publisher to give away games, including 2K, Ubisoft, Warner Bros., Capcom, SEGA and more.

While initially focused on AAA games, Epic began mixing in more indie games and smaller titles each week too. This helps provide exposure for developers that otherwise struggle with discoverability on crowded storefronts.

Why gamers prefer Epic‘s freebie model over other platforms

Console makers like Sony and Microsoft offer monthly free games and discounts for their subscribers. So why has Epic‘s free game giveaway resonated so much more with PC gamers?

A few key reasons:

  • No subscriptions or strings attached – you just need a free Epic account, no credit card required. PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live require ongoing paid subscriptions.

  • Higher value games – PlayStation Plus games are often smaller indie titles, while Epic routinely gives away $40-$60 major releases.

  • Own forever – once claimed, Epic‘s free games are yours permanently. With PS Plus, if your membership lapses you lose access to claimed titles.

Simply put, what Epic is doing – handing out hot new release games every single week with no catches – is unmatched among gaming platforms.

Does Epic also help developers with exclusivity deals and special offers?

In addition to free game promotions, Epic provides financial incentives to developers in a few other ways:

  • Minimum guarantees: Epic pays developers a guaranteed minimum amount upfront to release their game exclusively on Epic for a set period of time (typically 1 year). Even if the game fails, the dev gets paid.

  • Waiver of Unreal Engine fees: For games using Epic‘s Unreal Engine, the usual 5% royalty on engine licensing fees is waived if sold through the Epic Store.

  • Discount offers: Epic partners with devs to offer coupons like $10 off for their game launches to entice buyers. Epic reimburses the devs the $10 discount amount.

While exclusivity deals have frustrated some PC gamers, these incentives give developers much-needed financial security and marketing support. And Epic foots the bill while taking on risk.

Does Epic giving away games impact Steam and GOG?

Epic‘s free game strategy puts pressure on competitors like Steam and GOG to offer better deals. For example:

  • Steam now holds more seasonal sales like summer and holiday events with steeper discounts.
  • GOG frequently offers old classic games for free without requiring an account.
  • Both platforms may offer free game trials for 2-3 days to incentivize purchases.

While Steam and GOG haven‘t copied Epic‘s exact model, the increased competition forces them to improve their offerings to remain attractive to consumers.

However, some analysts think the Epic Store‘s growth is coming more from new PC gamers rather than poaching users away from Steam specifically. Only time will tell how much market share each store ultimately winds up with.

Common criticisms and controversies around Epic‘s free game promos

Despite the obvious appeal to gamers, Epic does face some backlash for their freebie giveaways, including:

Devaluing games: Some gamers argue that giving away $60 AAA titles for free could negatively impact perceived value of games and make paid games harder to sell at full price.

Favoring exclusives over features: People criticize Epic for relying on exclusives and freebies rather than developing a feature-rich platform to compete with Steam on the merits.

Spammers and bots for giveaways: Due to the popularity of free games, bots and fake accounts try to claim them, undermining the promo‘s goals. But Epic tries to limit this with 2FA requirements.

Deceptive mystery games: When a free game‘s title is kept secret initially, some feel shortchanged if they claim a game they have no interest in.

Data/privacy concerns: Requiring an Epic account to get the free games raises privacy issues around mandatory accounts and launchers.

Strained studios: The surge of new users during a free promotion can overwhelm smaller indie studios technically and support-wise.

While Epic attempts to address many of these concerns, no promotional model is perfect. But the vast majority of gamers remain ecstatic to claim their weekly freebie.

Key takeaways on how and why Epic gives away games

Let‘s recap the major points:

  • Epic spends millions per year to fund free games as user acquisition for their store.

  • Fortnite earnings enable Epic to eat these costs and pay developers for each free release.

  • The model helps indies gain exposure, but sales increases are modest after promotions end.

  • Experts debate how sustainable the spend is long-term with diminishing returns.

  • Gamers prefer Epic‘s no-strings-attached model over paid subscription programs.

  • Steam and GOG now counter with steeper discounts and sales due to competition from Epic‘s freebies.

While not without controversies, Epic‘s weekly game giveaway has completely changed expectations around game pricing in the PC market. As a gamer myself, I love exploring new titles risk-free every week.

What do you think about Epic‘s free games model? Has it changed your purchasing behavior or saved you money? Let me know in the comments!



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.