Epic will lose over $300M on Epic Games Store exclusives, is fine with that

Epic will lose over $300M on Epic Games Store exclusives, is fine with that

Here's how much money Epic is burning to make the Epic Games Store a Steam competitor.

Epic will lose over $300M on Epic Games Store exclusives, is fine with that - image2
(Image credit: Epic Games)

To ᴛᴀᴋᴇ ᴏɴ Sᴛᴇᴀᴍ, Epic Gaᴍᴇs hᴀs spent tʜᴇ pᴀst ᴛᴡᴏ yᴇᴀʀs shovelɪɴg Fᴏʀtnɪᴛe ᴍᴏɴᴇʏ ɪɴᴛᴏ tʜᴇ Epic Gaᴍᴇs Stᴏʀe, makɪɴg ᴏᴠᴇʀ 100 exclᴜsivɪᴛy ᴅᴇᴀʟs ᴀɴd givɪɴg aᴡᴀʏ ꜰʀᴇᴇ ɢᴀᴍᴇs ᴇᴠᴇʀy ᴡᴇek. We ᴋɴᴇᴡ Epic wᴀs spᴇɴᴅɪɴg a ʟᴏᴛ ᴏꜰ cᴀsh ᴛᴏ ɢᴇᴛ cᴜsᴛᴏᴍᴇrs ᴏɴᴛᴏ ɪᴛs stᴏʀe, ʙᴜᴛ didn't ʜᴀᴠᴇ mᴀɴy specɪꜰics ᴜɴᴛɪʟ ɴᴏw. Thᴀɴks ᴛᴏ Epic's ʙɪɢ ʟᴇɢal ꜰɪɢht wɪᴛh Apple, ᴡᴇ lᴇᴀʀned tʜɪs ᴡᴇek thᴀᴛ Epic commɪᴛted aʀᴏᴜɴᴅ $444 ᴍɪʟʟɪᴏɴ ᴛᴏ Epic Gaᴍᴇ Stᴏʀe exclᴜsivɪᴛy ᴅᴇᴀʟs ɪɴ 2020 aʟᴏɴᴇ. Pʜᴇw.

More precisely, that's $444 million on "minimum guarantees" for games that release on the Epic Games Store but stay off of Steam for a year. A "minimum guarantee" is just another way to refer to an advance. It means that Epic guarantees the publisher a certain amount of money whether or not their game actually sells enough to cover it. For example, Epic put down $10.45 million for Control.

Apple says that Epic lost $181 million on the Epic Games Store in 2019, projected a loss of $273 million last year, and projects another loss of $139 million this year.

In its end-of-year report, Epic said that players spent $700 million on the Epic Store in 2020, but third-party game sales only accounted for $265 million of that spending. That $444 million in advances to third-party devs isn't close to being recouped, then. Some of those deals probably haven't started making money yet (as in, the game hasn't released), but according to Apple's learnings, Epic is going to eat "at least $330 million in unrecouped costs from minimum guarantees alone" if you consider 2019's deals, too. 

As for how much the Epic Game Store will have lost in total by the end of 2021, factoring in exclusives and all other expenses, projections say it's less than $600 million. Just a bit of spending money, then.

These estimates come from Apple's (pretty spicy) summary of the arguments it's bringing to court next month as it defends its App Store policies against Epic's antitrust complaint. As part of its defense, Apple's lawyer army wants to show that the Epic Games Store isn't comparable to its iOS App Store, and so its fact finding includes everything Epic has said about how unprofitable the Epic Games Store is.

Upcoming Epic Store Exclusives

Epic will lose over $300M on Epic Games Store exclusives, is fine with that - image3

(Image credit: Torn Banner Studios)

Here are some of the big timed Epic Store exclusives (or semi-exclusives, "not on Steam" being the important part) that are coming soon:


Chivalry 2
Darkest Dungeon 2
Far Cry 6
Axiom Verge 2

Citing depositions from Epic Games Store VP and GM Steve Allison and Epic VP of business development Joe Kreiner, Apple says that Epic lost $181 million on the Epic Games Store in 2019, projected a loss of $273 million last year, and projects another loss of $139 million this year. Added up, that's an estimated $600 million that the Epic Games Store will need to recoup before it'll be profitable on the whole. Apple points out that Epic doesn't think that'll happen until 2027.

In its new filing, Epic puts a more positive spin on its business plan, saying that it expects the Epic Games Store to start earning annual profits in 2023. And what Apple calls 'losing money,' Epic would probably call 'investing money.' This spending is all part of the plan, says the company, and its 12 percent revenue cut will eventually be enough to sustain the store, something it has said from the start.

"EGS is not yet profitable at its current scale and stage of development because it has front-loaded its marketing and user acquisition costs to gain market share," reads Epic's filing, citing CEO Tim Sweeney.

Why Epic and Apple are fighting

All of this shin-kicking between Epic and Apple is over the App Store, which Apple makes developers use if they want to distribute legitimate iOS applications for the iPhone and iPad. As part of that compulsory deal, Apple makes developers use its payment processing system, which gives Apple a 30 percent revenue cut. Epic says that's not fair, arguing that Apple and Google have all the power when it comes to smartphones, so developers are forced to pay their fees if they want to make successful mobile apps. Apple doesn't agree, and would like to continue getting 30 percent of all the money Fortnite players spend in the iOS version.

Epic called its plan to go after Apple and Google "Project Liberty."

Epic has even bigger plans than bypassing Apple's fee in Fortnite. It wants to put the Epic Games Store on iPhones with its own payment system, and hopes US courts will rule that Apple's behavior is anti-competitive so that it can do that.

Apple is eager to point out that the Epic Games Store has been burning money because it expects Sweeney's lawyers to argue that Epic doesn't make developers use its payment processing for in-game purchases on its store. That's true in Ubisoft games on the Epic Games Store, for instance, which have their own in-game transaction system. Apple doesn't want that comparison to be taken seriously, so it's saying, look, the Epic Games Store is just a bonfire they're dumping money into, and that's not the same thing as the App Store.

While it has resulted in some interesting numbers for us to look at, I doubt the comparison will be a big part of the case. Epic's issue with Apple isn't just that it runs a store with a mandatory fee. Epic's complaint is that Apple also makes that store unavoidable on a huge portion of the smartphones in the world. That's what makes it an antitrust issue, in Epic's view. Part of Apple's response is that Microsoft and Sony do the same thing with the Xbox and PlayStation. Epic says, no, that's not the same, because game consoles "do not include general computing features like smartphones," aren't very portable, and don't connect to cellular networks. "Smartphones are critical platforms for developers," says Epic. Apple says, alright, but "consumers can and do switch away from iOS devices to Android devices," so it's competitive.

The companies go back and forth like that for a few hundred pages in these most recent filings. Apple even takes some jabs at Epic for the same thing many gamers have: "By its own admission, the Epic Games Store—two years after it launched—is still missing 'critical' features," it writes. In its document, Epic points out that it has been building new features, such as self-service refunds, but its tone is more explanatory than Apple's.

Here are a few other tidbits from Apple's interpretation of the evidence presented so far, which, against my expectations, is the more aggressive of the two documents:

Fortnite's average monthly users declined between 2018 and 2019, and Epic noticed when #RIPFortnite trended on Twitter. (See? Developers do hear you. And then they develop elaborate plans to sue Apple.) Epic believed Fortnite could be reinvigorated by turning it into a platform for creators, but felt that platform fees, like the App Store fee, might hinder the plan. Epic called its plan to go after Apple and Google "Project Liberty." Sweeney was "in the loop" on it "100 percent." (I mean, obviously, he tweets about it all the time.) 100-200 Epic employees were involved with "Project Liberty." Epic knew the public wouldn't necessarily sympathize with it when it defied Apple's rules, and was concerned about looking like "the baddies." It paid a PR firm $300,000 to work on Project Liberty.  Epic has made more than $700 million just through Fortnite iOS transactions. (Which is one reason its Epic Games Store losses are no big deal.)

Epic and Apple go to court on May 3. It should be interesting! 

Author's other posts