SAN FRANCISCO—The Epic Games Store’s much-ballyhooed 88-percent revenue share has been great news for developers who are no longer forced to accept Steam’s de facto 70-percent standard. But this new behind-the-scenes monetary split hasn’t resulted in savings for gamers, who thus far have seen the same price tags for games on Epic’s storefront as on Steam (when titles are available on both).
Speaking to Ars Technica, though, Epic co-founder and CEO Tim Sweeney says that players should look forward to paying less on the Epic Games Store in the future. While Epic leaves pricing decisions completely in developers’ hands, Sweeney said, “after you go through several cycles of game developers making decisions, you’re going to see lower prices as developers pass on the savings to customers, realizing they can sell more copies if they have a better price.
“This sort of economic competition is really healthy for the whole industry and will lead the industry to a better place for all developers and for gamers as well,” he continued. “It’s a supply-side thing, this revenue sharing, it’s some sort of business arrangement between developers and a store that [a] gamer generally doesn’t see… [but] as developers reinvest more of that 18 percent of additional revenue into building better games, that’s key to the long-term health of the game industry that we all have to look out for.”
Show me the numbers
In launching the Epic Games Store, Sweeney said the company talked with each participating developer to set a benchmark for the kinds of sales they might expect if they launched on Steam. “We felt we would be lucky if games were selling at 40 to 50 percent of the rate of Steam, just because of the small size of the [Epic] user base,” he told Ars. “[But] in most cases we are on track to match or exceed the Steam revenue… it’s all proceeding faster than expected.”
Sweeney wouldn’t share too many specifics but did throw out a few numbers to highlight that faster-than-expected growth: 85 million total players with Epic Games Store installed and 4.5 million downloads for a free game like Subnautica, including one million downloads from newcomers to the store.
As far as specific games, Sweeney said that Deep Silver’s Metro Exodus is selling 2.5 times better in its first weeks as an Epic Games Store exclusive than its predecessor Metro: Last Light did on Steam. For context, Sweeney added, a similar comparison for the console versions only showed 1.5 times as many sales for the latest game in the series.
The most surprising number Sweeney shared, though, is that fully half of all Fortnite players on PC had never used Steam before. That represents “a new audience ripe to discover new games” that Valve was not reaching, he said.
Aside from the Fortnite fans, though, Sweeney stressed how giving away a new free game every two weeks has been an efficient way to attract the attention of PC players that might otherwise not want a new launcher on their desktops.
“There are two ways to bring users into something,” he said. “You can run Google and Facebook ads and pay massive amounts of money to them. But we actually found it was more economical to pay developers [a lump sum] to distribute their game free for two weeks… We can actually bring in more users at lower cost by doing all these great things for great people rather than paying Google and Facebook.”
Keep it small
Sweeney said that the limited game selection on the Epic Games Store so far was a “conscious effort… to release games at a pace where we were confident each game could find an audience. If we released thousands of games on day one, they would crowd each other out.”
That limited selection will start growing faster later this year, when Epic opens up its store to submissions from all developers, rather than handpicked partners. But that doesn’t mean the storefront will become a Steam-style clearinghouse where practically any game in existence can find a home.
“Epic is going to apply a high quality standard to games,” Sweeney said. “That doesn’t mean scope; we welcome high quality indie games, all budget levels. But it does mean quality. We don’t want asset flips, we don’t want porn games or controversy.
“We’re not going to be that sort of venue [that accepts everything] because we don’t think we can help those games to reach users. So it’s going to be driven by quality.”
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