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Why Did Epic Games Make GTA V Free? A Detailed Look at the Epic Promotion That Crashed the Servers

Epic Games shook up the gaming world when they made Grand Theft Auto V free on the Epic Games Store for one week in May 2020. This huge promotion gained massive attention, crashed Epic‘s servers, and raised a lot of questions about why Epic gave away one of the best-selling games of all time. In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll analyze the likely motivations behind Epic‘s decision and the impacts it had on players and the industry.

Driving Epic Games Store Growth

The free GTA V promotion was primarily designed to rapidly grow Epic Games Store‘s user base. According to Epic‘s own stats, they went from having 108 million registered users in 2019 to over 160 million by the end of 2020 – a 48% increase in just one year.

Making such a high-profile AAA game free was a calculated loss leader strategy. Epic gambled that giving away GTA V would attract masses of new gamers to their platform, many of whom would become long-term customers of the store.

This seems to have paid off, with Epic reporting strong continued growth in monthly active users even after the promotion ended. Between free games and attractive exclusives like Hades, the Epic Games Store has cemented itself as a major contender in the PC marketplace.

The Staggering Response that Broke Records

The GTA V promotion was so popular that it temporarily broke the Epic Games Store and launcher for over 8 hours. Epic later revealed that the free release of Grand Theft Auto V resulted in 7.8 million free redemptions in just one week.

To put that into perspective, Red Dead Redemption 2 on Epic Games Store took 4 months to reach a comparable 7 million sales. Giving away one of the top 10 best-selling games of all time for free yielded absolutely staggering results.

This influx of traffic exceeded Epic‘s wildest expectations. But it proved the immense value of free high-profile games for rapidly expanding their user base.

Transitioning GTA V to Next-Gen Consoles

The well-timed promotion also supported Rockstar‘s overall strategy around GTA V. Offering the PC version for free just months before the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S console launches helped retain and expand the GTA player base during this transition period.

PlayStation even followed suit by offering GTA Online as a standalone free download on PS5 for the first 3 months after launch. These free offers encouraged console players to stay invested in GTA Online, carrying over their progress and in-game purchases into the next generation.

Ongoing Success of GTA Online Microtransactions

Giving away the core game for free also drove increased engagement and spending in the wildly profitable GTA Online mode.

GTA Online has grossed over $6 billion from in-game microtransactions since launching in 2013. Even in 2020, it still generated over $900 million, demonstrating the staggering longevity of this online world.

Epic‘s free promotion introduced GTA Online to 7.8 million new players all at once. Even with a small conversion rate to paying customers, this would substantially boost ongoing revenue from the platform.

Permanent Ownership – Not a Limited Free Trial

Importantly, the free Epic Games promotion was not a limited-time free trial of GTA V. Players who claimed the game during the week-long giveaway got to permanently keep and own GTA V on Epic Games Store.

This created incredible value for gamers, giving them full access to GTA Online and all future updates without any strings attached. Any other in-game purchases were optional.

Could GTA V Return for Free?

While there are no confirmed plans yet, there‘s certainly a chance GTA V could once again return as a free promo, likely timed alongside a big GTA Online update.

The Epic Mega Sale in December 2022 gave away a free game every day, so future holiday sales could see GTA V come back for a round two. Epic knows the immense promotional power of free megahits, so it would not be surprising to see this come back.

Pushing Gamers Towards the Epic Games Ecosystem

Stepping back, the broader motivation becomes clear. Epic was willing to sacrifice profits in the short term to bring millions of new users into their ecosystem.

Once players are invested in the Epic Games Store with a library of titles, they become long-term customers who view Epic as their default PC game provider. This helps chip away at Steam‘s dominance in the market.

Free games also attract players to other services tied to Epic accounts, like chat, multiplayer servers, cloud saves, achievements and the Epic Online Services development toolkit.

So whether it‘s to play the latest Fortnite update or grab the next free game, players now have many reasons to regularly engage with the Epic Games ecosystem.


Epic Games‘ record-breaking promotion of GTA V highlighted their massive commitment to using free games to expand their user base. The response was so overwhelming that it temporarily crashed their servers.

But it succeeded in attracting millions of new gamers into the Epic Games ecosystem, driving future revenue through game sales, in-game transactions, and platform engagement. So while shocking at first glance, the promotion delivered immense long-term value for Epic Games Store.

For gamers, it was an unprecedented chance to permanently claim one of the most legendary games of all time at no cost. The Epic Games free GTA V promotion will go down as a landmark moment in the evolution of the digital games marketplace.