Disney are taking out a $1.5 billion minority equity stake in Fortnite publisher Epic Games, and have announced “an all-new games and entertainment universe that will further expand the reach of beloved Disney stories and experiences”. According to Disney CEO Robert A. Iger, it’s “Disney’s biggest entry ever into the world of games”. Friends, we are witnessing the birth of a franchising megamoeba of titanic proportions – a new, Unreal Engine-driven “persistent universe” of playing, watching, shopping and other content-tickling opportunities, featuring characters and stories from Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, Avatar “and more”. Where are your puny gods now?
Disney and Epic’s new “persistent universe” thingy will be a “world-class games experience” that “interoperates” with Fortnite. “Disney was one of the first companies to believe in the potential of bringing their worlds together with ours in Fortnite, and they use Unreal Engine across their portfolio,” Epic CEO and founder Tim Sweeney comments in a press release. “Now we’re collaborating on something entirely new to build a persistent, open and interoperable ecosystem that will bring together the Disney and Fortnite communities.”
Disney Experiences chairman Josh D’Amaro is similarly high on life. “This will enable us to bring together our incredible collection of stories and experiences from across the company for a broad audience in ways we have only dreamed of before,” he writes in the release. “Epic Games’ industry-leading technology and Fortnite’s open ecosystem will help us reach consumers where they are so they can engage with Disney in the ways that are most relevant to them.”
I’m sure Epic’s leadership are particularly pleased with this transaction – which is “subject to customary closing conditions, including regulatory approvals” – given the setbacks they’ve recently faced with their metaverse ambitions for Fortnite. The Unreal publisher announced plans to lay off 830 people last September, with Sweeney conceding that the goal of “growing Fortnite as a metaverse-inspired ecosystem for creators” remained incomplete. He observed back then that Fortnite’s latter-day growth has been “driven primarily by creator content with significant revenue sharing, and this is a lower margin business than we had when Fortnite Battle Royale took off and began funding our expansion”.
As of November 8th last year, Epic have also yet to make any profit from the Epic Games Store – their would-be St George to Steam’s dragon. But they’ve had some notable public successes of late, including a court victory over Google following the latter’s disallowing in-app purchases in the Google store version of Fortnite. They’ve also recently launched a Lego version of Fortnite – itself a rather terrifying merging of brands.
The press release ends by recapping prior Disney and Epic collaborations like Marvel villains turfing up in Fortnite, the 2017 Disney Accelerator Program, which appears to be some kind of R&D mentoring program rather, as I’d initially assumed, a gamified version of the launch ramp from Disneyland’s Space Mountain, and the extensive usage of Unreal Engine by Disney games including Kingdom Hearts 3. Disney’s designs for gaming remain ambiguous in places – the company were rumoured to be considering buying an EA-scale publisher last year.