The Free Games Faceoff

The Epic vs. Apple trial came and went back in May.  We won’t have a decision for some time yet, and if you want the legal analysis of it, there’s plenty of better educated (maybe) places you can go elsewhere for it.  But, in between all the grown professionals degenerating to high school level drama, a whole bunch of private information was revealed, as is common for these trials.  One of those bits was that Epic Games had spent $11 million dollars in its first nine months on the free game giveaways they do every week.  Which is a lot of money.  As you may have guessed.

PCGamer put out an article around the time that was revealed raising the question of how many of those games have their staff, you know, actually played?  And the answers were, univerally, few to none.  And had me thinking as well.  I’ve been picking up on Epic’s Free Games pretty religiously.  I have this thing, where if you offer me a free game, I’m probably going to take it.  So right now, I’ve got a library with Epic Games Store of 160-something games.  None of which I’ve spent a dime for.  How many of those have I actually played?  Exactly 10.  

Now, to be fair, some of the games in my EGS library are backups of games I own in other formats or storefronts, which I redeemed because consoles might break down or discs scratch, and I don’t quite trust a service like say, Amazon to keep their games launcher active in perpetuity.  So those shouldn’t really count.  And given how common it is for players, PC players especially, to have massive backlogs, to the point of being a joke these days, many of us have already got a glut of choice, and although we might be interested in the games we’re picking up, if it’s not one we’ve chosen ourselves, it’s not likely to be at the top of the to-play list.  And frankly, you get a lot of free games through Epic Games Store.  1-2 a week.  If you habitually add them to your library whenever they’re available, as I do, it’d be very difficult to keep on top of all of them unless you were focusing all your play time on the Epic Games Store exclusives.  

But, all of that also applies to Amazon’s Twitch Prime/Prime Gaming service.  5 free games a month, at least, if you have an Amazon Prime subscription.  I’ve built up a massive library through them without spending a dime.  And yet, although I’ve still have more unplayed than not, I’ve played around 20% of my Twitch Prime library, well more than the 6% of the EGS.  And that has me wondering, why is that? Epic’s giveaways are generally of higher-profile games, giving out a lot or really notable, if mildly aged, AAA productions and some notable darlings as opposed to the mostly unknown indies you get through Amazon. You’d think I’d be going for the more known quantities. But I don’t.  And I know why.  Because I’m a genius.  

I like starting up new games.  Getting into something anew, learning brand new systems, and going through the generally more highly polished opening stages of the game is good times.  And it can be extra fun trying out a completely unknown game.  So sometimes, I just get in the mood to pull something I’d never heard of from my library and give it a try.  Usually kind of a whim of the moment thing.  The thing about digital games though, as well as current gen gaming in general, is that it requires a bit of lead time.  Games have to download and/or install. How much time specifically depends on the game.  Could be mere minutes, or it could be, on my slow rural internet, an all day affair.  Epic Games Store is definitely a much more robust launcher than the Twitch Desktop App I use for my Prime Gaming, but one really basic feature that Twitch has and Epic doesn’t is that it’ll let you know how big the darn game is before you start installing it.  How much downtime you’ll need in advance.  And for my whim-based “I’m gonna wanna try something new in like 15 minutes” tastes in those moments, being able to see what games I can actually get ready in that time is invaluable.  

The Epic Games Store launcher has had, in my experience, some reliability problems as well.  There was one notable time where the whole thing hardcore crashed on me, and required a reinstall to work again, in the process severing its connection to every single game I installed through it and requiring a lot of manually sorting through program files to get my hard drive space back from those then-inaccessable games.  And even without that, the Epic Games Store app takes a long time to load, even when I’ve got a shortcut to the game I want to play.  It’s got a lot of other features that Twitch Prime does not, like the super valuable ability to pause a download, but overall, it’s not an easy one to work with.

The Epic Games Store overall has been an experience that Epic is obviously putting their big fat Fortnite profits towards bringing people to and getting initial customers from, but not so much into making an easy or pleasant thing to use.  I’ll keep going for it as long as it continues to give me free games, such as it is, but I imagine usage rates are probably still going to be low until the storefront gets a bit easier to use.  Until then, the Twitch Desktop App may be a bit clunky and featureless, and obviously not especially meant as a game delivery service, but it gets me what I need in a more convenient manner.  And my games used seems to reflect that.

4 responses to “The Free Games Faceoff

  1. While the free games are nice, I like to have all my games on one platform. Makes it a lot easier seeing all the games I don’t play. The only game I can remember regretting not getting was Subnautica.

    • Heh, man, I’m still working on not getting Backlog Panic when I look at a lot of these things. Having them all in one place would probably make it worse for me. Although you do have a good point there, it’s certainly a lot easier to manage that way. I think I’m juggling like 6 libraries on my computer overall; Steam, GOG, Twitch Prime, Epic Games, Origin, and UPlay. And it is really hard to keep track. Sometimes I get in the mood to play a specific game and forget which launcher I have to use for it.

  2. Interesting post! Clearly Epic are in it for the long haul with their giveaway strategy but, yeah, I wonder how much of it translates into new players/shoppers. Their storefront is still pretty clunky and I think most PC players have too much of a stake in Steam to really jump ship by now.

    Personally, I haven’t really given all the freebies much thought and I’m in a similar boat to you in that my actual usage is pretty low. I think part of it is general lack of interest in the Epic/Prime libraries but more so I already feel pretty stretched between Steam/Itch/Switch. I have a horrendous backlog of games I’ve paid for and not going to lie it can get overwhelming to look at…so I tend to just add the free games mindlessly. The only recent thing that has disrupted my usual preferences is Apple Arcade and that’s because I forced myself to play the games I wanted quickly to maximise subscription fees. That said, I’m planning on stopping my subscription this month so it’ll be back to usual soon 😅

    • Stretched, I think that’s a good way to put it. Especially with Itch.io in the mix; I don’t have anything with them myself, but seeing the massive bundles they’ve put out, I imagine the Backlog Panic can get extreme there. But yeah, with as many games as it’s easy to amass for minimal investment on PC these days, it feels like there’s a need to plan or plot out your gaming time, and it’s hard for the free games, as desirous as they are, to break into that, when there’s already so many we’ve deliberately added to our library.

      I don’t think I’d do well on a subscription service. So much temptation to PLAY ALL THE GAMES before I end it. More power to you for letting that one go.

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