The Epic Games Store is hitting its stride. Epic revealed today that its PC gaming portal hit 61 million monthly active players on PC. It also had an average peak-concurrent player count of 13 million on PC. This came as Epic gave away free games as part of “The Vault” promotional event. Free games included Grand Theft Auto V, Ark: Survival Evolved, Civilization VI, and Borderlands: The Handsome Collection.
The Vault was a major event for Epic and its store. It didn’t just spend money to acquire the rights to give away the games, it also had a huge marketing budget. You could find ads for the free games on websites, podcasts, and more. And it looks like that has paid off.
Bringing in massive numbers of active gaming fans is crucial to building up Epic Games Store as a competitor to Steam. Up until this point, Epic was trying to do that with timed exclusives. Or, in other words, Epic was paying developers to keep their games off of Steam for a certain period of time. Epic isn’t sharing exact numbers, but it seems like giving away free blockbuster games is more effective.
But all of Epic’s spending is done with the goal of turning its game store into a self-sustaining platform. And that is where active users come in.
For comparison, Steam had 95 million monthly active players in 2019. It also vacillates between 14 million and 20 million peak concurrent players each day. Those gigantic numbers make Steam the default leader in PC gaming. If you have a new game and want it to reach the largest potential audience, Steam is your first (and often only) choice.
But now, at least through one month, Epic is within a 9-iron of Steam’s numbers.
If Epic Games Store can maintain this momentum, then it could continue to peel support away from Steam through head-to-head competition. That’s especially true because Epic takes just a 12% cut of store revenues, whereas Steam takes 30% until a certain threshold.
Is Epic winning?
Epic’s stated goal is to force Valve to reduce its cut. To put that into other words, Epic wants access to the Steam audience without having to pay Valve’s set price. If Epic Games Store continues to grow, maybe Valve will feel that pressure. But it’s hard to imagine that at this point.
Even as Epic was giving away games, Electronic Arts was returning to Valve after years of trying to build its own Steam competitor in Origin. You can now get games like FIFA, Titanfall 2, and Mass Effect 3 on Steam.
Titanfall 2 is even seeing a resurgence in engagement thanks to the Steam audience. And while players surged onto Epic Games Store to get GTA V for free, would the Epic Games Store audience surge into a $10 shooter from 2016 just because it suddenly appeared on Epic? That still seems unlikely.
In fairness to Epic, competing with Steam doesn’t seem as preposterous as it once was. It’s obviously serious about drawing this battle out over years. And if it continues to commit millions of dollars in resources to promotions like The Vault, maybe it can buy the audience that Steam built up over years. And Epic is looking to raise $750 million from investors.
But Epic’s real opponent here isn’t Valve — it’s time. The video game industry is volatile and ever-changing. Right now, services like Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation Now, and EA Access are looking to shift a significant portion of consumer spending to a subscription model. Few people buy music or movies anymore because of Spotify and Netflix, and the same could happen in gaming. And if that happens, Epic’s fight with Steam won’t matter.