Last year, CEO of Epic Games, Inc., Tim Sweeney, made his debut on Forbes' '400 Richest Americans' thanks to a net worth estimated to be around $4.5B USD. A healthy enough figure by anyone's reckoning, and one big enough to win him a very respectable spot on Forbes' list. But since then, that net worth has taken on even more giant proportions. By Forbes' latest estimation, he's now sat on a mammoth $5.3 USD fortune. Even more staggeringly, Bloomberg has gone one step further and assigned him a worth of $9.4B USD. Without being privy to his financial records, we can't say which publication is right. But even if we play it safe and take Forbes' more conservative estimate as gospel, that's still more money than most of us could even dream of. So, how exactly did he make it? Let's find out about this gaming industry icon.
If you're not into video games, there's a chance Tim Sweeney's name means nothing to you. To make sure we're all singing off the same hymn sheet, a round of instructions might be in order. In brief, Tim is reigning CEO of Epic Games; mastermind behind gaming toolkit, Unreal Engine; holder of several highly lucrative software patents; creator of multiple video games; and owner of app sensation (and lockdown sanity-saver), Houseparty. In his spare time, he's also a committed philanthropist with a predilection for conservation. But while saving trees might be a very noble pastime, our main interest (for now, at least) is his business activities. After all, that's what's helped bring in those billions. If we want to find out how he turned an interest in computers into a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, we need to retrace our footsteps back to 1970.
The Child Prodigy
Our hero was born in small-town Potomac, Maryland in 1970. Just five years later, he gave his parents an inkling that they weren't dealing with any normal preschooler when he broke a lawnmower to bits to better understand how its mechanics worked. Fast forward another 6 years, and Tim’s eldest brother asked him to visit his newly launched computer company in California. While there, 11-year-old Tim was given a crash course in coding; when he returned to Maryland a week later, he'd decided his future lay in programming. From that point forward, he dedicated himself entirely to learning as much about his craft as he could. And when he wasn't programming (although it was rare that he wasn't - he's since confessed he spent more time at his computer than he did in bed, at school, or anywhere else), he was making money hand over fist. After taking inspiration from his entrepreneurial older brother, he set himself up as a gardener-to-hire, building up an impressive list of customers (and a good amount of pocket money) after touting himself as a cheap and cheerful alternative to licensed landscapers.
Making Money with Mail Order
After high school, Tim studied engineering at college. But in his heart, he was still a programmer. For a while, he dabbled as a consultant, even launching his own firm, Potomac Computer Systems (PCS), in his 2nd year at college. But it wasn't enough to satisfy his hunger. After coming up with an idea to create a computer game of his own, he started developing one over his free time. In 1991, he started testing his final creation (which he'd named ZZT) among a group of friends and fellow students. Sensing from their positive reactions that he had a hit on his hands, he decided to market it to a wider audience. After resurrecting PCS to act as its distributor, he began peddling copies from his dad's garage to mail-order customers. Within next to no time, he was pulling in a few hundred dollars a day - plenty enough for him to realize that he could make his interest in game development a full-time career. So that's exactly what he decided to do.
The Launch of Epic MegaGames
After re-naming PCS 'Epic Megagames' (later to be simplified to Epic Games), Tim set to work on his next project. But it was here that he ran into a problem. Gifted programmer though he was, his talents alone were no match to his ambitions. He needed help, and help was exactly what he found in Mark Rein, an ex-employee of Texas-based video game developer, id Software, who managed to take Tim's plans for worldwide domination and turn them into reality. The turning point for Tim came in 1998 with Epic's debut first-person shooter, Unreal. An immediate hit, it's since become successful enough to scoop three Guinness World Records.
But if Unreal put Epic on the map, its follow-up, Gears of War, sent it stratospheric. According to Business Insider, Gears of War (which now consists of five equally successful installments) has generated over one billion USD and sold close to twenty-two million copies worldwide. By 2012, Epic was drawing attention from tech's biggest hitters, earning Tim a nice payday when multinational conglomerate Tencent handed over $330,000,000 USD for a forty-eight percent stake.
The Making of a Billionaire
If Tim thought he was successful already, it was nothing compared to how successful he'd become when Fortnite dropped. Within just a few short months of its 2017 launch, his first free-to-play, cross-platform game had taken off on an epic scale. By 2019, it had become Epic's most popular (and lucrative) creation to date, drawing over a quarter of a million players worldwide and bringing in an estimated $1.8B USD in revenue for Tim and co.
Thanks to Fortnite's stellar reception, Tim has skyrocketed from a workaday millionaire to one of America's richest men. And he's far from done. At just 50 years old (or possibly 49 - his exact date of birth is slightly shrouded in mystery), he's still very much on top of his game. With so many profitable gaming years still ahead, who knows how big that fortune will be when he's done? So, to answer the question of how Tim achieved a net worth of $5.3 billion? Simple. Hard work, copious amounts of talent, and an ability to tap into an existing market before bursting it wide open. That, and a masterful way with code.
Written by Allen Lee
Read more posts by Allen Lee