Disney invests $1.5bn in Epic Games, announces new “entertainment universe” Fortnite project

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Epic Games is getting a $1.5bn cash injection from Disney, as the two companies announce a new “entertainment universe” connected to Fortnite.

Following a financially iffy 2023, The Walt Disney Company is evidently keen to reassure investors that it has some big, lucrative ideas for the future (hello, Moana 2). To this end, Disney has announced that it’s partnering with Epic Games, the makers of Fortnite and Unreal Engine, to create a “new persistent universe” connected to Fortnite.

Announced as part of its shareholder meeting held on the 7th February, the new deal will also include Disney’s acquisition of a $1.5bn equity stake in Epic. That’s a lot of money, and the “entertainment universe” the two companies are creating sounds like an ambitious one; Disney describes it as a “multiyear project”, and one that, once finished, will “offer a multitude of opportunities for consumers to play, watch, shop and engage with content, characters and stories from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, Avatar and more.”

Fortnite is itself as much a gigantic venue for players as it is a videogame, and has provided a platform for everything from virtual music events to crossovers with the likes of Capcom and Namco IPs (Street Fighter, Pac-Man) to DC Comics. Disney has long had its properties pop up in Fortnite, whether it’s Marvel superheroes or characters from Star Wars. Exactly why Disney needs to create its own hub world, separate yet connected to Fortnite, rather than simply embed something within Fortnite itself, isn’t clear.

Judging by a graphic shared by Disney on its website, the media giant’s virtual space appears to be called World Of Disney (that’s the name we can see in the middle of the hub), with each of its wedge-shaped sectors dedicated to a different property under the firm’s banner. There’s a familiar building from Wreck-It Ralph, a Stark Industries skyscraper, an area dressed up like The Nightmare Before Christmas, and so on. Further in the distance, there’s a ‘magical’ Disney castle, some Star Wars stuff, and what looks like an area where you’ll be able to go on a pretend Disney cruise.

Interestingly, the word ‘metaverse’ doesn’t come up once in Disney’s lengthy press release – which is odd, because that’s essentially what Disney and Epic are embarking on. The shine quickly wore off the word a year or so, though (AI’s in now), so everyone involved is instead describing it as a “persistent, open and interoperable ecosystem,” to quote Epic boss Tim Sweeney.

In his shareholder meeting, returning Disney CEO Bob Iger spoke enthusiastically about the popularity of videogames among younger generations, as though he’d only just noticed that the multi-billion dollar industry was sitting right there next to him all along.

“When I saw Gen Z and Gen Alpha, and Millennials – the amount of time they were spending in terms of total media screen time on video games, it was stunning,” Iger said. “Equal to what they spend on TV and movies. The conclusion I reached – we have to be there.”

In 1988, what would eventually be named Disney Interactive Studios was first founded. For years, it put out scores of games based on the company’s characters and properties. This all built up to Disney Infinity, an ambitious hybrid of NFR-enabled toys and virtual sandbox that launched in 2013 and was closed two years later. Disney Interactive Studios was shut down with it, resulting in the losses of hundreds of jobs.

“Our exciting new relationship with Epic Games will bring together Disney’s beloved brands and franchises with the hugely popular Fortnite in a transformational new games and entertainment universe,” Iger said of Disney’s latest sandbox. “This marks Disney’s biggest entry ever into the world of games and offers significant opportunities for growth and expansion. We can’t wait for fans to experience the Disney stories and worlds they love in groundbreaking new ways.”

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