Mar 9, 2023 - Technology

Epic Games has big plans for its store, has its mobile apps ready

Photo illustration of a phone displaying the Epic Logo, with video game title screens displayed behind the phone

Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Epic Games is moving full steam ahead with its 4-year-old online store, launching tools today to self-publish video games and prepping it for the day it can finally appear on iPhones and Androids.

Why it matters: The company behind Fortnite and Unreal Engine has major ambitions to change global marketplaces for games and apps.

What they’re saying: “I've always believed there's a tipping point that we're getting closer and closer to," Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney tells Axios, "a new breakthrough, a new Cambrian or evolution type of event in the history of stores, that gets us out of the doldrums we've been stuck in for so long.”

  • Sweeney says most digital marketplaces “have a single store per platform charging fees that are far, far higher than any real store would charge as a markup on goods, because they’re the only ones.”

State of play: The Epic Games Store is trying to close in on its PC rival, Steam, which it immediately challenged at launch in late 2018 by offering an 88%/12% revenue split for developers rather than a traditional 70%/30%.

  • Epic is also tilting at Apple and Google, suing both companies — with mixed success — over their app store policies.
  • The end-game there, Sweeney says, is to get Epic’s store on iOS and Android, which he believes legal challenges and regulatory pressure will eventually allow. (Asked if Epic has the apps for those platforms built and ready to deploy, Sweeney says: “Yes, we have them.”)

There’s more: While Sweeney doesn’t express a vivid ambition to put Epic Games Store on an Xbox, PlayStation or Switch, he says Epic wants to work with all platforms to “agree to some industry standards to recognize player entitlements and also player social systems.”

  • In other words: buy a game on one device and own it everywhere; connect with a friend on one platform and be linked to them anywhere.

Numbers: For 2022, the fourth full year of operation, Epic says its store drew a peak of 68 million monthly active users, up from 62 million in 2021.

  • Valve reported 132 million monthly active players on Steam in 2021, but switched to emphasizing record-breaking concurrent player counts in 2022.
  • Epic Games Store’s library is far smaller, at about 1% of the games sold in Steam, estimates Steve Allison, general manager of Epic’s Store.
  • The new self-publishing tools, launching from Epic today, are meant to address that by opening the marketplace to many more games, though with tighter restrictions than Steam on content — no porn, for example —that Allison says will prevent them from fully catching up on overall game count.
  • The operations of the store are profitable using Epic's 12% cut of revenue, Allison says, though the company is spending beyond that on exclusives and marketing (reportedly keeping it deep in the red for now).

Between the lines: The Epic Games Store’s popular release of monthly free games will continue in 2023, but the company is de-emphasizing EGS as a place for exclusive games.

  • In the early going, Epic paid millions, in at least one case nine figures, to exclusively sell some major PC games like Borderlands 3 and the celebrated Hades.
  • A sustainable approach can’t rely on shelling out for expensive exclusives, Allison says, noting the portion of store revenue coming from exclusive games has healthily declined from 75% in the store’s first year to 40%-45% in 2022.
  • “The message is definitely changing from 'we're the place to go to do exclusive partnership deals' to 'we're a great option that you should be launching with the same time you launch everywhere else across console and PC,'” says Allison.
  • Epic will generate some PC exclusives through its nascent game-publishing division, which has about 15 PC/console games in the pipeline, including Remedy’s Alan Wake II. Games from acquired studios like Psyonix and Mediatonic help, Sweeney said, though he downplayed the chance of Epic buying more teams. Epic, he says, has “no intent to expand to become a massive game conglomerate, like Activision or Electronic Arts.”

What's next: Sweeney wants Epic's store going well beyond games and the relative handful of non-game apps it currently offers.

  • "It's the ‘Epic Games’ store,” he tells Axios, “Not the Epic ‘games store.’"

Sign up for the Axios Gaming newsletter here.

Go deeper