Opinion | GTA 5, Civilization 6, Borderlands, and just maybe The Witcher 3: great, but who exactly are all these Epic games for, anyway?
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Following up on its CDN-destroying free release of Grand Theft Auto V, the Epic Games Store is now offering Borderlands: The Handsome Collection for free. Rumors indicate that The Witcher 3 - widely regarded as one of the greatest RPGs of this generation - will itself be offered for free soon enough on the platform.
The pattern of the AAA games on offer raises some questions. Most importantly: just who are these games being made free for?
"Grand Theft Auto 5 goes free" is a headline grabber, for sure, but why? It's because Rockstar's US$6 billion juggernaut is the single best-selling piece of entertainment ever created in all of human history. GTA 5 has sold over 120 million units across platforms over the past seven years. This amounts to almost one purchased copy for every 50 human beings on the planet.
In addition to the 120 million copies of GTA 5 sold, millions more pirated copies are out there. Just about every street-side CD store in India, Russia, China, and elsewhere sells unauthorized copies of Rockstar's opus. Unofficial GTA V "repacks" from the likes of Fitgirl are among the most seeded torrents on most public torrent trackers. To put it succinctly, everyone who can buy GTA V already has. Just about everyone else in the world has pirated it.
Considering that "Transfer Pirated GTA V to Epic Games Version" is a highly upvoted post on r/PiratedGTA, it's likely that a good chunk of the recent server-busting GTA V rush comprised of users who already had a cracked copy of the game but wanted in on GTA Online's alien actioni.
Piracy is undeniably a major problem for the industry. It puts indie studies at risk of having to close shop and can lead to AAA games getting cancelled or scaled down when they don't meet sales targets.
However, in a number of countries, especially those at lower-to-middle income levels, piracy appears to be a social norm. A Microsoft study found that a shocking 100 percent of surveyed machines in South Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand were loaded with pirated software. In a separate survey by ESET, fewer than 10 percent of Russians claim to only use paid-for content.
When it comes to games as old as and as popular as GTA 5 and a number of other recent Epic free offer titles, a massive chunk of gamers have already either paid for them already-or experienced them for free without Epic's help. Epic's free offers then are ostensibly targeted at the minority of users worldwide who can't afford to buy popular AAA games but also refuse to pirate them.
Another factor to consider is that most of the free titles Epic puts up have been selling at low prices for years now. The Witcher 3, for instance (a prospective new free Epic game) sells for INR 240 on Steam, barely US$3. These kind of titles are AAA for sure, but after this many years on the market, they generally sell for less than the price of an indie (or a Starbucks coffee, for that matter). With those low price thresholds, a free week is unlikely to hurt either the publisher or the developer in these cases.
Considering all this, and factoring in the sheer volume of people who've signed up on the Epic Games Store for the first time this month, it seems that cavalcade of free Epic games is mostly for...well...Epic.
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