An Epic miss: why isn’t Rocket League on the Epic Games Store and free to play?

Author: Rhys Elliott

As he mentioned in the most recent IGP, Rhys recently jumped back into Rocket League for the first time since 2015—mostly as a means to socialize with friends in the lockdown period. He’s loving his experience so far but feels Epic’s missing a trick strategy-wise. Rocket League’s Fortification (those carrot-on-a-stick mechanics) are definitely keeping Rhys and millions of players coming back for more. But there’s so much more Epic could do to reach new players.

Epic bought Rocket League developer Psyonix halfway through 2019. While this acquisition came out of left field for many, the signs were always there. Epic and Psyonix collaborated closely on Unreal Engine tech for years, and Epic CEO Tim Sweeney vocally praised Rocket League’s introduction of cross-play at the start of 2019. In fact, Psyonix was one of the only smaller developers to stand alongside Epic as it pressured Sony to be more open about crossplay.

In wake of the acquisition, I’m glad to report that the fun-as-hell gameplay that made the game such a hit in 2015 is still here in full force. But Epic simply isn’t leveraging the strong Rocket League IP enough—a stark contrast to the innovation happening in Fortnite.

Epic’s Original Plan Was to Bring Rocket League to Its Store

Shortly after Psyonix announced Epic’s acquisition, Epic sent its own press release claiming Rocket League will be coming to the Epic Games Store before this year (while still being supported on Steam.)

“The PC version of Rocket League will come to the Epic Games Store in late 2019. In the meantime, it will continue to be available for purchase on Steam; thereafter, it will continue to be supported on Steam for all existing purchasers.”

Notice that Epic specifically mentioned existing purchasers. To me, this all-but confirms that the original plan was to stop selling the game on Steam.  

Still No Rocket League on the Epic Games Store?

That’s not how it played out. We’re now midway through 2020, and Rocket League remains exclusive to Steam on PC. If you search ‘Rocket League’ on the Epic Games Store, you get no search results. Weird, right?

What makes the situation even weirder is that Epic’s been doubling down on attracting new users to its ecosystem, by means of (timed) exclusives on the store, consumer-friendly lowballing, and free games. Such tactics initially drew huge backlash from the PC-gaming community, but Epic didn’t relent.

For the past year, Epic has bombarded the PC community with free games. Grand Theft Auto V and Civ VI were free on the EGS recently, and the upcoming Total War Saga title will be free on the store on day one. No matter how you look at it, the narrative is turning and even the staunchest of Steam fanatics are seeing Epic’s crusade against Steam more positively (or less negatively, at least).

Now, most PC gamers willing to pay for Rocket League have already done so via Steam. As mentioned, Psyonix and Epic will continue to support that version of the game together. Which begs the question: Why doesn’t Epic release Rocket League for free on its store? Heck, it could even keep the game for 20 bucks on Steam to offset backlash from the Steam community.  

Console Case Study: Launching Free on PS Plus Helped Drive Rocket League’s Early Success

Honestly, Rocket League going free to play just makes sense. A large part of the game’s initial success was that it was free for PlayStation Plus subscribers for a month at launch. This promotion led to a huge influx of players on PS4.

The hype was palpable, and everyone was talking about ‘’that cool car soccer game’’. Word of mouth spread, leading to more people checking out Rocket League well beyond it’s initial free month. Adding to this, Rocket League did gangbusters when it was ported to Xbox One six months later.

While the market has drastically changed since 2015, Epic could recapture some this word-of-mouth success by making Rocket League free on its store. Sure, the game is old hat (old topper?) for many at this point, but there are plenty of new gamers entering the market each year who aren’t familiar with Rocket League yet. Where did many of these new players come from? You guessed it: Epic’s Fortnite.

Due to Rocket League’s recent Fortnitification, there is a renewed potential for Epic to spike both its revenues and userbase—all by making it this car soccer game free on the Epic Game Store.

The Fortnitification of Rocket League Makes It Ripe for Reaching New Audiences

When I played Rocket League for the first time in five years, the game’s parallels to Fortnite instantly stood out. A lot of these similarities—including the battle pass, daily challenges, and in-game brand promotions—were in motion long before Epic’s acquisition. But other aspects seem to be a direct result of Epic bringing Psyonix on board.

Half a year after the acquisition, this Fortnitification became even more evident. In a December 2019 patch, Rocket League removed all lootboxes, replacing them with ‘’blueprints’’, which let players see the item they’re buying.

That same patch introduced a Fortnite-esque item shop (updated daily). Just like in Fortnite, Rocket League players can buy items using the in-game currency (which they can buy with real money or unlock in the Rocket Pass.)

A Missed Opportunity: Will Epic Take the Next Shot?

Rocket League is huge. I now play daily, and I’ve never seen the concurrent player count dip below 100,000. And thanks to Fortnite, there are millions upon millions of untapped PC gamers out there, and some of them have never engaged with Steam.

I’m pretty sure the demographic Venn diagram between Fortnite players and Rocket League players is a big fat circle. Cross-promotion seems like a no-brainer : There are countless potential Rocket Pass buyers out there, so what’s Epic waiting for?

Like I mentioned before, Epic’s likely playing it safe for now to avoid pissing off the core PC crew (and therefore wasting more than a year of goodwill-building). Yet, I have another theory that would be far more interesting. Puts on tinfoil hat. Maybe Epic is playing the long game, working behind the scenes to perhaps merge this titles.

Beyond Cross-Promotion: Merging Fortnite and Rocket League?

Hear me out: gameplay aside, the makeup of Fortnite and Rocket League (in terms of game engine, monetization mechanics, and audience) is so similar that Epic could simply combine aspects of them. Fortnite is already turning into a metaverse of sorts, with a Party Royale mode for musical performances, movie trailers, and brand promotions.

I’m no developer, but it’s not so hard to imagine something like a Rocket League stadium in Fortnite, where Fortnite players could spectate RL matches from the sidelines (think the gulag in Call of Duty’s Warzone mode). It’s cross-promotion taken to the next level, even if it’s just match spectating. Removes tinfoil hat.

We know that Epic recognizes the revenue potential of going free to play. Heck, it’s the reason Epic was able to fund its store (dat Fortnite money). So there’s likely some kind of new Rocket League strategy brewing at Epic. Here’s hoping they break the silence soon.  

What do you think? Will Epic bring Rocket League to its store? And will it be free to play? We can’t wait to hear your thoughts, so join the conversation on the @IGPubcast Twitter!


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