Don”t look the other way, you fell too. Surely you have installed a free game on your digital platform. Have you ever wondered why these offerings exist? Well, there is much more than you might think behind these marketing practices. We delve into the matter with one of the best examples, that of the Epic Games Store.
Few years ago no one would have believed it, but in recent months we have witnessed a veritable explosion of free games. The question we ask ourselves is: what is this phenomenon due to? We have seen similar offerings in the past, although not with such virulence or continuity. Much of the blame lies with the Epic Games Store, with a free games policy that is driving the current structure of the digital video game business.
Tim Sweeney”s company entered the battlefield dominated by Valve and it’s – until recently – untouchable Steam platform. It was very recent, with this trailer presented at The Game Awards in December 2019. The claim? 12 days of free video games for all those who signed up for their platform. In other words: they went big. And they continue to do so. The recent addition of GTA V as a free video game is its latest effort to battle the rest of digital stores.
The question we ask ourselves is: what is behind this phenomenon? We are going to study the particular case of Epic Games, for being the cause of this commotion, but the keys that we are going to give are easily extrapolated to other companies that are following the trend of free play. Basically, we differentiate three explanations: the attraction of new users, loyalty through the construction of a brand image and, finally, the visibility of developers and their games (something that in the end has more support for platforms). But surely you also have a lot to contribute, so we are waiting for you in the comments.
Attract new users
It is impossible to understand what is happening with the offer of free games without attending to the great battle that is being fought between digital video game stores. Valve has led the online sales business with Steam since its inception, back in 2003. Many years of monopoly that may be ending. Without taking credit to GOG, which contributed a lot with its anti-DRM policy, or to Humble Bundle, with usually interesting packs, the candidate for the throne right now is the Epic Games Store.
How to explain the situation we are currently experiencing? Again: history. Steam implemented an aggressive bidding policy over several periods (winter sales are popular) in which discounts are usually over 50%. It was the situation that there were packs so highly discounted, that you simply bought them without thinking. Over there I have receipts for a GTA Complete Pack for less than ten euros or a Sonic Hits Collection that went to euro per game. We were joking with the proliferation of Diogenes syndrome among the players. You bought impulsively even if you never got to play. No one could resist, and no one could compete with Valve … or maybe they could?
It is then when we go from crazy sales to free games. It is not something that Epic Games premiered, but it has become their strategy to gain users. Since the launch of its ‘store” in December 2018, the Fortnite company has been giving away more than 70 games every two weeks (without a break), which adds up to a value of $ 1,455 per person. And they have not been exactly trash: Super Meat Boy, Limbo, For Honor, Metro Redux, SOMA, The Messenger or the most recent Grand Theft Auto V. Who more and who less has made an account just to redeem these titles. The effect of gratuitousness is not quantifiable, but if we see that more than 200 million of these games were claimed, and that they currently have more than 100 million users, you can see a bit of the impact. It is brutal … and at the stroke of a checkbook, something that not all companies can afford.
It”s not all about getting users: you have to keep them happy. Steam has grown for years because there was simply no competition. They reached unexplored terrain with a great business vision and succeeded. Of course, they came out with rivals, but they had the key to success: user service, with a platform that has shone for the best services: continuous updates, interface renovations, its own operating system, sharing the game libraries or the applauded one return policy. There are many aspects in which Epic Games must learn from Valve (although they are doing it little by little, as with the recent introduction of self-reimbursements).
Still, Steam is still far ahead in terms of services. In addition, the image of the Epic Games Store has been seriously damaged controversy after controversy with its repeated exclusives with various video game companies. Founder Tim Sweeney explained that it is an essential strategy to face Valve, given its imposing position in the market, but many players still do not understand it and criticize the company for trying to gain positions by checkbook. How to resolve the situation? Of course, here the popular free games enter our particular chess board again.
At the same time that important exclusives were signed with Metro Exodus, The Division 2 or Detroit, the Americans of Epic gave away great games like Celeste. The best proof that the tactic is working is that this policy of offering free video games has been extended in 2020. Although there are still suspicions in the community about this way of operating, the reality is that the strategy is paying off, and if not … what do we do to make it clear? Well give away one of the games that the community values the most: GTA V. The strategy is very clear, and after this last movement the results are being explosive. So much so, that the online store collapsed.
More visibility for developers
One of the great successes of the Epic Games Store with respect to the competition has been its “royalty” policy. Valve charges developers 30% of the profits. Epic lowered this figure to 12%, almost three times less. In other words, they have won the support of video game creators, who see very advantageous conditions, this being another reason why various companies have relied on exclusives. Also pay attention to Unreal Engine 5, which is following this trend of convincing creatives.
Free games are the other link in the chain, serving as a promotion for the Epic Games Store, but at the same time for companies. Let”s take a look at the shocking offering of GTA V for a moment. Why has Taken-Two joined the free games with this title, knowing that it is still in the top sales, with more than 120 million copies so far? If we see the impact on Twitch, there is a brutal increase in the last few days. This means that more people are playing, and therefore GTA Online is even more visible if possible, which is currently an important source of income for Rockstar. Double play. If you want more proof of the positive impact of these free offerings, you only have to see Sweeney”s words, in which he defended that “the sales of games increased on Steam and consoles after being free on Epic”. In other words, these gratuities served to give popularity to the games.
But let”s continue. Now let”s see what people are searching for in Google. From the GTA V offering, again we see something especially notorious: searches for “Epic Games” in the search engine were fired. That is, it is not a banal maneuver, but the company has used an ultra-popular game to gain impact. So behind so much generosity, there is always a why. Now you can apply much of what is explained in this article to other similar maneuvers, related to brands such as Xbox , PlayStation , Origin , UPlay with Assassin”s Creed 2and a long etcetera, including free trials, especially important in online games (to gain user base). In the end, everything has a reason, although the important thing is that we all win, right?
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