Everything Is Going As Planned For Epic’s Big Fortnite Plans
The race to build a linked, avatar-driven virtual world didn’t stop over the last year, even though the M word isn’t used as much these days.
It doesn’t matter what we call the metaverse—a tech buzzword that came out between the talk of NFTs and AI—it’s still being built. And because of recent events, one company is becoming more and more likely to rule in the near future.
Epic Games and Disney said on Wednesday that they are working together to create a “entertainment universe” with Disney-themed games and other items to buy. Under the hood technology from Epic and Fortnite’s social game ecosystem will be used in the multiyear project to bring characters from Disney’s huge library of intellectual property to life. In the deal, Disney paid $1.5 billion for a piece of Epic.
In a picture used to promote the project, Disney and Epic show their work together as a group of futuristic, colorful islands floating in space connected by roads, with a Magic Castle shining in the middle as a sign of easy money. In a real or symbolic way, those highways will link to Epic’s hit game Fortnite, which has grown into a huge online social ecosystem.
Fortnite’s Growth Over Time
In Fortnite, 100 players fight to be the last person left on a virtual island that is shrinking. The game is best known as a third-person shooter. Funny maximalism is a big part of the game, and players are encouraged to dress up in custom “skins,” which they can get by playing or buying in Epic’s lucrative virtual swag shop. In Fortnite, you can be Darth Vader and drop your target from a slingshot through the attic of a suburban foursquare home. You can then roll over them. They could be dressed as Goku from Dragon Ball Z, Ariana Grande, or Meowscles, a buff cat from Epic who doesn’t wear a shirt.
In its early stages, Fortnite was nearly everywhere and as well-known as a game can be. Hundreds of thousands of people regularly watched streamed games on Twitch, where a small industry of professional Fortnite players grew, all focused on Epic’s well-made battle royale. By 2020, there were more registered players of the game than people living in the United States. The game came back in a big way in 2023, and 100 million people logged in last November.
People who still only think of Fortnite as that silly battle royale game will be shocked by how big Epic’s real goals are.
Over the past few years, Epic has slowly turned its most popular game into something more like a platform or store than a simple stand-alone game. Over the years, Fortnite’s psychedelic seasonal events, Travis Scott shows with kaiju, and user-made sandbox worlds have all given hints about these big plans. Epic launched three new games within the game at the same time in December. These were Lego Fortnite, which is a mix of Minecraft and Animal Crossing, Fortnite Festival, which is a music game from the same studio that made Rock Band, and Rocket Racing, which is a fast-paced racing game from the same company that made Rocket League.
It was already a big list of new games, but the surprise news this week that Disney is coming to Fortnite (or the other way around) takes it to a whole new level. There is already a connection between the two companies; Disney invested in Epic through its accelerator program in 2017 and has licensed many of its Marvel and Star Wars figures to be used as skins in Fortnite. However, the new $1.5 billion investment shows a much deeper, longer-term relationship.
Fortnite Is Nneeded By Disney
Disney is in an interesting spot with Fortnite because it needs something that it probably couldn’t do better on its own.
Many of Epic Games’ competitors are years behind it when it comes to making online group games work well together. It’s hard to keep millions of people in smooth, fast, and detailed virtual worlds at the same time, and it costs a lot of money to do so. Anyone who plays Fortnite could be forgiven for not knowing that because Epic’s core experience works perfectly most of the time, letting people on different devices play and chat at the same time. Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 5 is what makes Fortnite look and move so well. Square Enix, a partner of Disney, will also use it for Kingdom Hearts IV, the latest game in the hit series with Disney characters.
As part of the news, Disney CEO Bob Iger said that the relationship with Epic was “Disney’s biggest entry ever into the world of games.” No matter what the two companies make, it will work with Fortnite. This means that Disney could get Fortnite’s 100 million monthly players right away, instead of starting from scratch.
The benefits will also go the other way; Fortnite may be able to pass Roblox’s numbers, which are at least twice as high as its own right now. Like Lego, Disney will bring more people to Fortnite than just people who play battle royale and the other shooting games in the series. Adding games from other genres to Fortnite could bring in players of all ages, including women who like the rise of cozy games and parents who want games that are good for the whole family.
The way Fortnite makes money is also important to the possibility of the Disney partnership working. You can play any game in Fortnite’s ecosystem for free. The company makes money by licensing its games to other companies and selling things inside the games, like skins, dances, and emotes, which are updated every day in its virtual shop.
Character skins from Disney properties like Star Wars and Marvel are very popular in Fortnite. Players will want to collect their favorites and show them off on the game’s smooth-moving models. From Elsa and Mickey to Princess Leia and Iron Man, Disney’s huge library of characters is a treasure trove of ideas that can help both companies make a lot of money.
How The Metaverse Is Doing
The company that used to be called Facebook got the math for the future wrong when it came to Meta, which changed its name to reflect the metaverse. Meta ended up with a how without a what when it focused on VR hardware. This was because the company had pretty much cornered the market on VR hardware after buying Oculus for $2 billion in 2014. Even though Apple’s new Vision Pro is technically very amazing, it may have the same problem getting people to buy it.
While Meta was focused on turning its Oculus purchase into a popular consumer product, Epic, Roblox, Mojang (the company that made Minecraft), and other companies were making avatar-based virtual worlds that people loved to spend time in. Importantly, these worlds are widely available and don’t care about hardware. This means that a PlayStation 5 player could fight someone on a PC or even an iPhone, despite Epic’s complicated legal battle with Apple.
Meta’s response to those experiences was Horizon Worlds, with its creepy avatars that didn’t have legs. But by that time, millions of people were already involved in a virtual world that fit them, without the need for headgear. All of these social game worlds are very addicting, and people love to hang out in them, make purchases, and do other things without VR.
Because of how well they did, Epic, Roblox, and Mojang all did the smart thing by turning things we used to think of as games into platforms. Fornite, Roblox, and Minecraft all have user-generated content, which is also known as UGC. This means that players can post their own game types and virtual goods for other players to try or buy. Epic says that 70% of Fortnite players play user-made content on top of the main game. This content is very, very popular. It’s what Roblox makes people think of. User-generated content doesn’t cost these businesses anything, gets people coming back, and can bring in money with little work.
You can play Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft, and other avatar-based virtual worlds at the same time, but Fortnite has some benefits that make it stand out. Another game like Fortnite relies on looks that bring back memories. But Fortnite’s high-fidelity graphics and complex movements (so complex that they’ve been sued over dance moves more than once) are more brand-friendly and will last longer. Both Minecraft and Roblox are huge, but Minecraft is more of a game than a community, and Roblox needs to show that it can keep its young core users as they get older. Epic, on the other hand, has a deep knowledge of how people want to express themselves online and the technical know-how, and now partnerships, to make that possible.
Also Read: Disney’s Stock is at a 9-year Low, and Fewer People Are Going to the Parks. Why Not Make a Clean Break, Asks Wall Street?
Online group games aren’t really social networks in the traditional sense, but games are becoming more like social networks and social networks are getting more and more full of games. With the addition of Lego, Rock Band, and now Disney to the Fortnite cinematic universe, Epic is about to bring a huge number of new people into a virtual world where it’s more about who you’re with than what you’re doing. Wasn’t that the whole point of the metaverse?
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