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Here’s what Epic Games Store paid for those ‘free’ games

List turned up by Apple lawsuit says Epic paid $11.6M from December 2018 to September 2019

The Epic Games store logo Image: Epic Games

If you’ve ever wondered what it actually costs when one of these big video game services are giving away “free” games, well, the bill for the Epic Games Store was $11.6 million for the first 10 months of its existence.

The information came to light on Monday as part of Epic Games’ lawsuit vs. Apple Computer. Writer and video game historian Simon Carless said a spreadsheet showing 38 titles, given away between December 2018 and September 2019, was “accidentally published early” as part of a trove of lawsuit documents and exhibits.

The giveaways released during that period reveal interesting data points about how much Epic Games paid for the privilege to hand out free games in an effort to lure in new users. The first game released as part of that promotional push, Subnautica, proved to be one of the store’s most popular, with 4.6 million entitlements, netting Epic more than 800,000 new accounts. Subnautica was also one of the most expensive buyouts for Epic at $1.4 million. That worked out to a cost of $1.74 per new Epic account, which would appear to be a solid return on Epic’s investment here.

Other games, like Super Meat Boy, Rime, For Honor, World of Goo, and the Jackbox Party Pack, earned Epic new users for about 50 cents each — in part because Epic paid far less (between $45,000 and $63,000) for those older titles than it paid for games like Subnautica, Mutant Year Zero ($1 million), or the Batman Arkham series ($1.5 million).

Metro: 2033 Redux is listed as costing Epic zero dollars to buyout, but that apparent anomaly seems to be a result of Metro Exodus’ Epic Games Store one-year exclusivity in 2019.

What the data does not show is how much Epic paid for a week of free Grand Theft Auto 5 giveaways on the Epic Games Store, which it did in May 2020.

In-court proceedings for Epic and Apple’s lawsuit began on Monday (with shouting from Fortnite fans who had gotten one of the public spaces available to the proceedings). The two dragged each other to federal court late last summer, after Epic circumvented Apple’s App Store on the in-game sale of Fortnite currency, to avoid paying royalties it considers too high and undeserved by Apple.

Apple has countered that Epic and its “Coalition for App Fairness,” protesting Apple’s practices, are disingenuously trying to avoid paying fair and customary royalties for selling to an iPhone installation base numbering more than 1 billion devices, worldwide.

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