Epic Ripped Off Indies with Their Free Game Strategy

Epic’s lawsuit against Apple reveals how much Epic ripped off indies

 Nathan Grayson for Kotaku talking about how much Epic paid for both games from big and small games to give out for free on the Epic Games Store:

It’s not hard to trace a general trend: Major publishers got a lot, while indies only got a little. Admittedly, some smaller games went free long after their figurative sell-by dates, but those are still some pretty paltry prices.

The real winner here is Epic. As many industry figures pointed out on Twitter, those user acquisition cost numbers are awfully low, with Epic picking up nearly five million new users for dollars or cents per person. It is not easy to attract new users to a barebones store when a veritable monopoly like Steam is sitting just across the way—with everybody’s friends also on it—but Epic’s spend-to-win strategy appears to have paid off. Now it can boast a large user base to both publishers and players. Many other stores have failed where Epic is now improbably succeeding.

Epic has been offering different free games to users daily or weekly in order to get more people to sign up for the Epic Game Store and the loser in this is absolutely smaller developers. One look at the numbers makes it clear that the developers got absolutely ripped off as Epic got their users for pennies and then the developers of these games may have missed out on actual sales.

I can’t believe Epic isn’t more embarrassed by these numbers, I wonder if the free games experiment is done now that it has been running for years and they don’t mind giving it up or they may feel that the developers won’t have a choice but to ship with their store now because the deal is still slightly better than you get with Valve.

Some part of Epic’s sentiment isn’t wrong: Apple screws developers over just like every rent-seeking business that isn’t big enough to earn a special deal, it’s just that Epic is at least as awful as the facts the lawsuit reveals over and over again, Epic is just less successful and wishes they could put their own app store out on iOS so that Epic could be the ones taking rent even if it is at a more reasonable 15%.

For example, this lawsuit also revealed that Epic would have stopped campaigning against Apple if Epic had gotten a special deal like other businesses have on iOS. And of course Epic doesn’t sue Sony or Microsoft or Nintendo, because they do get special deals on consoles there and you’ll even see Fortnite editions of consoles.

I hope that in some way Apple is forced to make some of their platforms more open, because that would enable great things to be done there, but it’s clear that there’s nothing good natured in this fight between two large companies. We don’t win in the end and these numbers made it clear that small developers certainly aren’t getting enough out of it.

Fortnite Skipping Google Play to The Detriment of User Security

Epic is skipping Google’s Android app store (the advertising publisher calls it Google Play as if that meant anything) for their upcoming Android version of the free-to-play Fortnite (which is already on iOS and almost every gaming and computing platform.) There’s a beta signup here and the compatibility situation on Android is already a nightmare, check out the list of supported devices. It is extremely specific and the few Android devices I have aren’t supported.

Epic’s Tim Sweeney was pretty straightforward about why they’re avoiding Google’s app store in this interview with Dean Takahashi:

There’s typically a 30/70 split, and from the 70 percent, the developer pays all the costs of developing the game, operating it, marketing it, acquiring users and everything else. For most developers that eats up the majority of their revenue. We’re trying to make our software available to users in as economically efficient a way as possible. That means distributing the software directly to them, taking payment through Mastercard, Visa, Paypal, and other options, and not having a store take 30 percent.

I’m not sure how well this is going to work out for people playing Fortnite. Google’s app store security is awful and routinely distributes software that compromises user privacy and security already, but at least they can moderate that. To get started with Fortnite on Android users are going to have to disable built-in security functionality that disallows third-party apps. Sideloading applications is useful and should be possible on any computer we use, but there are going to be negative consequences for users who don’t fully understand the risks involved.

Parents and tech savvy folks helping their friends and family are going to be busy when they realize their devices are compromised by installing a phony version of Fortnite, or a version that works but steals their credit card data. Try searching your favorite web search engine for the premium currency in the game, “Fortnite Free V-Bucks”, those scammers are oiled up and ready for anyone who falls into their trap.

Julia Alexander investigated the versions of these “V-Buck” scams that run on YouTube:

Since Fortnite’s meteoric rise, there have been multiple YouTube videos running as ads that pitch Fortnite players easy ways to get free V-Bucks. (V-Bucks are Fortnite’s premium in-game currency, which lets them purchase limited-edition skins, gear and weapons.) Search “free V-Bucks” in YouTube’s search bar, and more than 4.3 million results will populate.

Epic Sues 14 Year Old Fortnite Cheater

Sarah Jeong has an article up about Epic suing a 14 year old cheater in their free-to-play game Fortnite.

It’s absolutely twisted that a business can sue anyone for cheating in a video game. It’s slightly more understandable to get litigious with people making and selling cheats, but then Epic should really just strengthen their anti-cheating software and review system.

Epic should alter Fortnite to give players tools to understand cheating and report it when it happens. Of course they’d need to hire people to review reports. Maybe they’re doing that as well, we don’t know, but suing people for cheating in an online multiplayer game is boneheaded.

Jeong also talks about Epic using YouTube’s copyright infringement reporting tool to take down the cheater’s videos. That shouldn’t be possible. It’s absolutely a broken system that developers and publishers can make videos disappear via copyright notices just because they don’t like the content of the video. If YouTube doesn’t want videos about game cheating on their site then video game cheating should be in their stated policies.

Fortnite vs PUBG

Epic MegaGames has been in development on a game called Fornite for a long time, but just released it for free with a surprise PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds + crafting game mode called Fortnite: Battle Royale. This wouldn’t be a big deal, except for the fact that Epic is the licensor to Bluehole for the engine behind PUBG. So the licensor is undercutting their licensee with a free game that is very similar, and they didn’t even speak with Bluehole before announcing and releasing it.

Christopher Livingston at Windows Gamer interviewed Bluehole’s Changhan Kim:

Changhan Kim: There are a lot of different issues but everyone else that released a battle royale game mode made their own thing, but it was Epic Games that made this game that is similar to us that has similar elements, and that’s the concern, that it was Epic Games.

We use Unreal Engine to develop PUBG, and we pay a large amount of royalties based on the size of our success to Epic Games, and Epic Games always promoted their licensing models [saying] “We want to support the success indie developers”, and [Bluehole is] this indie developer that has been the most successful one using the Unreal Engine this year, and that’s the problem that I see.