The Epic Games launcher — the client used to distribute battle royale megahit Fortnite — relaunched last night as the Epic Games Store, a new entrant in the PC gaming digital distribution landscape, with an enticing offer. While users may be very likely to have a copy of the free-to-play Fortnite in their new library on day one, Epic is looking to accelerate the growth of players’ collections by offering a free game every two weeks, beginning with Subnautica on Dec. 14, followed by Super Meat Boy on Dec. 28.
Offering free games to help grow a digital game library, in addition to mitigating the difficulty of asking players to split their collection across multiple PC gaming ecosystems, has become something of a table-stakes strategy these days. Epic is hoping to use its massive Fortnite-fueled install base and some developer-friendly terms to propel its platform into the rarefied space currently dominated, though not exclusively, by Valve’s Steam platform.
Here’s a quick summary of the field:
- Steam: By dint of being the alpha predator in this digital distribution biome, Valve doesn’t have to give free games away to pad out your Steam account and increase your devotion to its platform. Instead, a decade-plus of Valve exclusives, Steam sales, et al have resulted in most of us having backlogs that our grandkids will still be working through. It’s worth noting that three of the top 10 games on Steam are free-to-play Valve games: Dota 2, Team Fortress 2, and the newly free-to-play Counter-Strike: GO.
- GOG: This project from CD Projekt, the Poland-based developer behind the Witcher series and the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077, was originally launched as Good Old Games. And to this day, classic games remain one of its core strengths. Periodically, GOG will offer free games during sales or special events, like Shadow Warrior 2 in October, or Sunless Sea over the summer. On occasion, GOG will also let you sync your account with Steam and unlock select games on GOG, for free, via a feature called GOG Connect.
- Twitch: An Amazon Prime account still gets you free games on Twitch, even though Twitch just unceremoniously shuttered its game store. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- Discord: A $10-per-month Discord Nitro account also nets you access to a growing selection of free games (some 72 by our count today).
- Origin: When EA launched Origin, it came with an “On the House” program to fill up your library with free titles (though EA ended that initiative over the summer). Instead, EA wants to move consumers to its subscription plans, where a massive library is just $15 per month away.
- Uplay: Ubisoft’s storefront occasionally offers freebies to celebrate anniversaries, or attract new signups, but thanks to knitting its service into Steam so well, libraries grow when you buy Ubisoft games from Steam or directly from Uplay.
- Bethesda.net Launcher: Bethesda Softworks’ client is relatively new, and until the release of Fallout 76 last month, Bethesda’s own titles were available on other storefronts like Steam. But outside of free-to-play games like Quake Champions or Fallout Shelter, there isn’t anything free here. No classic Doom promotions or free Elder Scrolls titles.
- Battle.net: Blizzard offers some of its classic games for free right here; while this isn’t really dependent on the Battle.net client, we’re just always looking for an excuse to share links to Blackthorne.
- itch.io: While it doesn’t offer the familiar AAA games the others do, if free games are what you want, this indie-focused storefront has a lot of them.
With exclusive games from Epic, and some exclusives from third parties as well, coupled with an aggressive strategy to fill your libraries with (if Subnautica and Super Meat Boy are any indication) high-quality titles for free, Epic appears well-positioned, not to mention well capitalized, to make Epic Games Store a contender, even if you’d just as soon ignore it.