Epic Games Store: who is it the bestest for?
And who gets more marginal results? Also: why key art matters for streamers!
[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & company founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]
Welcome to a week. It’s definitely a week. That’s about all we can say about it, at this point. (Other than this week will immediately be followed by Game Developers Conference. Which is next week!)
Anyhow, our lead story for this newsletter is about Epic Games Store. And yes, it’s somewhat about the new self-publishing tools & 2022 results for the Steam competitor. But it’s about some bigger trends, too…
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Epic Games Store: open to all devs, but who wins?
So, last week Epic Games put out two notable announcements - a recap of 2022 Epic Game Store revenues, revealing a DAU peak of 34.3 million and MAU average of 68 million, and the launch of self-publishing tools for EGS - making it simple for PC games to publish there at an 88% dev royalty rate for the low, low cost of $100.
Third-party game revenue - likely aided by the success of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands on EGS - was up 18% from $300 million in 2021 to $355 million in 2022, though first-party Epic revenue was down 14% from $540 million to $465 million. (Tim Sweeney told The Verge why: “The funny thing that’s happened post-pandemic is that Fortnite monthly active users have held up, but playtime, hours played, and spending has gone down.”)
When you own a store platform which Fortnite for PC is exclusively accessed via, and when you give away high-quality games weekly on that store, you’re going to have some pleasant high-level stats. But what’s really going on? Here’s what we think:
Paid platform exclusives & smart collabs do the best on EGS: looking at the top ‘Mythic’ level of highest-grossing EGS games in 2022, they are: Fortnite & Rocket League (Epic-owned, solely buyable via EGS), Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands (a paid EGS-first deal), Genshin Impact (not on Steam, so being on EGS was good discovery collab for miHoYo!), and Grand Theft Auto V/Online.
Epic has an audience of AAA-friendly gamers who will spend on GaaS: if you can onboard masses of players, perhaps via a giveaway, as GTA V did on Epic back in 2020, your Epic players can long-time monetize. (You can see Red Dead Redemption, Valorant & Dead By Daylight also in top-grossing 2022 EGS titles, doing just that.)
For ‘premium’-only smaller games, EGS is lower revenue than you think: we’ve referenced a small amount of public data on this before. But most games launching on Steam & EGS on the same date gross 1-2% of the Steam revenue every week/month on the Epic Games Store, at least pre-’open platform’. (It ain’t that much different to GOG and other platforms - Steam is properly dominant.)
Still, if you’re hoping to gross a couple of million dollars over time on Steam, who wouldn’t sign up to EGS to get a ‘free’ $20-$40k USD from Epic players? (These $ numbers used to be higher when Epic did the ‘$10 off $15+’ coupons out of their own pocket, btw, which they stopped because it was too much of a loss leader…)
There’s really only two ‘gotchas’ in the new self-publishing program: firstly, now you have to make Epic Games Store achievements if your game also has Steam achievements, and secondly, “multiplayer games must support crossplay across all PC stores”, which can be a lot of work if you used Steam’s tech to set yours up.
This second point has Epic CEO Tim Sweeney a bit ‘steamed up’ (haha!), as he told PC Gamer: “[Steam] have a classic lock-in strategy where they build these services that only work with their store, and they use the fact that they have the majority market share in order to encourage everybody to ship games that have a broken experience in other stores.”
I mean, we suspect Steamworks’ multiplayer services were built for free to help other devs, and weren’t say, intentionally nefarious. But it’s true they have become an aid to lock-in - much like Steam Workshop has vs. Mod.io for UGC - for some games.
Anyhow, both Sweeney and head of Epic Games Store Steve Allison spoke to a few outlets for the EGS self-publishing roll-out. And there were some fascinating extra tidbits revealed:
Epic Games Store free giveaways get 6.5m to 25m redemptions: Allison told The Verge that “The smallest free games on any given week get between six and a half and 7 million claims”, and the biggest 20-25 million. Install Base Forums compiled some examples of public stats on those - Star Wars Battlefront II was 19 million. (But remember: people who end up playing the game are likely, what, 10-20% of most redemptions?)
Epic isn’t (really) paying for third-party exclusives, just for overall publishing deals: there are a number of leftovers - like Dead Island 2 - still ‘PC timed exclusive on EGS’ in 2023, due to the old deals. But if you listen to Sweeney, and look at the EGS recoup data leaked in the Epic vs. Apple suit you’ll see why these deals largely ended: “A handful of major exclusives really moved the needle… [and for smaller games] we found that a lot of those players weren't willing to move over.”
‘Exclusive to EGS’ revenue is going down over time: as noted in this Axios piece on the announcements: “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.” Although that’s still, uh, quite a lot!
The new Epic Games Publishing titles will be EGS-exclusive for longer: many third-party EGS titles had 12 months paid exclusivity. Yet now Epic is directly funding multi-platform titles like Alan Wake 2 & new games from the Limbo & Last Guardian devs, they can more fully control exclusives. As PC Gamer notes, EGS’ Steve Allison said these new Epic Games Publishing titles will be EGS exclusive on PC for "a long time”.
Epic still has an eye on a bigger multi-platform prize: given its fights with Google and Apple, you shouldn’t be surprised, but also talking to Axios: “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.’)”
Finally, how come Epic Games Store doesn’t have user profiles? An interesting answer from Allison: “There’s a lot going on there that… we’ll be talking about in the future… It’s not just an Epic Games Store thing. It’s like a metaverse kind of thing that will connect to the Epic Games Store and Fortnite and other things that we haven’t announced yet.”
So - it’s not that Epic Games Store is uninteresting. But in all honesty, it hasn’t made much market-share headway for the average small and medium-sized game on PC since its launch. Steam - due to robust features and ‘first mover’ advantage - still feels like it has things locked down.
However, Epic does have a big, voracious user-base for ‘free stuff and exclusives’ to upsell on Epic Games Store, it’s been amplifying otherwise off-platform PC titles like Genshin Impact and Valorant well, and the company has made some great acquisitions outside of Fortnite. (Both Rocket League - in particular - and Fall Guys continue to perform really well on console and PC.) So… roll on whatever’s next?
Why press kit ‘key art’ can be vital for streamers!
As we continue to monitor how streamers interact with your games, we wanted to highlight one particular section of a new Wanderbot blog - which is mainly focused on providing email and press kit templates to game devs.
You may recall Wanderbot is a popular indie game YouTuber who receives tens (or hundreds!) of these ‘please check out my game!’ emails weekly. So any advice from him on the best ways to send info is appreciated.
Among many other things, he shows an example as to why press kits having good quality logos and key art is vital. Why? It comes down to this:
Video thumbnails are key to success on YouTube: Wanderbot says “they have a huge influence on whether or not our videos will perform well by reaching the largest possible audience” and “without high quality assets & promo materials to work with, creators have to resort to making do with screenshots and ripping logos off of SteamDB.”
There’s a real-world example where better assets = more views: as shown above using YouTube back-end data, Wanderbot’s Return To Abyss video got a 3.9% ‘impressions to clickthrough’ rate on YouTube, compared to 2.9% for Jianghu Survivor’s video. Both are Chinese made Vampire Survivors-likes, and we agree, Return To Abyss just looks nicer, due to the stylish key art.
Wanderbot may cover games more if they provide more key art/visuals (!): OK, even we were a bit surprised about this: “Unfortunately if I want to do more videos [on these games] I’ll either have to reuse my thumbnail (which isn’t great), or use a screenshot (possibly worse.) As such, I’m far more likely to just move on and cover something else instead.” So if a YouTuber likes the game, more key art = more vids?
Maybe this isn’t a surprise to many of you. But the idea that you could make or commission 3-5 different pieces of key art specifically to help streamer pickup - and make sure there’s a nice clean hi-res logo available - is worth repeating.
Of course, your game still has to be ‘streamer-friendly’. But Wanderbot concludes: “If they had presskits with ample assets, content creators would have a far easier time covering their games, and would likely get far more coverage as a result.”
Oh, and the kicker here? Neither of the above games actually had public presskits! So Wanderbot had to grab the logos from the Steam pages (via SteamDB). But Return To Abyss had hi-res art in its Steam news updates, and one of the Steam update header images got cannibalized for the thumbnail. (So some public hi-res art = better than 0.)
The game discovery news round-up..
OK, it’s a new week, and is there some new game discovery and platform news out there? Damn right there is, and we’ve got it all laid out for you below:
Steam recapped the latest (February) Next Fest, revealing “8.7 million unique visitors, the highest number yet for this event… 675 playable demos, which is right in line with most Next Fests”. They also broke out a couple of lists - “overall most wish-listed games from the run of the fest” and “overall most-played demos during the event.”
The latest Microsoft x Activision Blizzard foofah? There’s more UK gov filings, during which “Sony goes off the deep end… [&] outlines a scenario in which Microsoft would intentionally produce ‘bugs and errors’” into Call Of Duty on PS. And Activision’s EVP of bee’s nest poking Lulu Cheng Meservey claims Sony’s Jim Ryan told MS - behind closed doors - “I don’t want a new Call of Duty deal. I just want to block your merger.”
In startling UGC news: did you know about that Roblox mod that looks like Call Of Duty (above)? Here’s a small chat with its creator and his small 5-man team: “Took millions of iterations and over 4-5 years of work to get it to where it is right now”, with help from Roblox’s game fund.
Sony released its U.S. and European top PlayStation download charts for February, and Hogwarts Legacy is by far the dominant title, of course - with Atomic Heart & Wild Hearts also making lower new entries for PS5. There’s also a PSVR2 chart, with some resemblance to our estimates from the other week - although Kayak VR: Mirage charts a bit higher than we even thought!
E3 2023’s biz dev guy, coincidentally also a Guy (Blomberg), made a useful Twitter thread explaining plans for the B2B part of the June event in LA - industry passes now open, free after ‘vetting’, no consumers Tues & Wed, MeetToMatch access, they’re building a hang-out bar inside LACC, etc.
We’ve been talking about the middle of the market (budget-wise!) being a rough place, and Square Enix has been releasing a lot of ‘premium only’ midbudget $60 PC/console titles recently. The results? “Many of the new small and mid-sized titles we launched this year did not perform as well as we had expected.” Mmhm.
We’re not ‘bank failures weekly,’ here. But quite a lot of VC-adjacent U.S. video game-related startups used Silicon Valley Bank. And as Techcrunch notes, Roblox had $150 million in SVB, so the whole situation with its failure has been hair-raising to many. (ICYMI, the U.S. gov is now guaranteeing all deposits via “bank-funded federal insurance money”.)
Making an ‘interesting’ indie game you want to showcase during Summer Game Fest? Day Of The Devs: Summer Edition just opened its call for submissions - it doesn’t accept a ton of titles, but those it does often get some good SGF billing!
Nintendo releases almost no eShop ranking data officially. But it does email a European ‘top 15 paid games of the month’ chart. February’s has the surprise Metroid Prime Remastered drop atop it, with with the evergreen Minecraft at #2, and Disney Dreamlight Valley and Among Us notable third-parties in the Top 10.
More fodder for our ‘please don’t put too much gambling in your games’ take from a few weeks back? MMO Guild Wars 2 has an in-game casino which somebody with a gambling problem relapsed and spent $10k in, recently. Sigh.
Finally, how could we end without featuring one of the defining commercial partnerships in the history of video games… Diablo x fried chicken sandwiches?
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]