Disney acquires 1.5bn stake in Epic Games, making «games and entertainment universe» in Fortnite

The Walt Disney Company has announced it’s acquiring a $1.5bn USD stake in Epic Games as it launches a multi-year partnership to create an «expansive and open games and entertainment universe connected to Fortnite».

This new Unreal Engine-powered «persistent universe» will «interoperate» with Fortnite to offer a «multitude of opportunities for consumers to play, watch, shop and engage with content, characters and stories» from across Disney’s vast IP portfolio.

Explicit mention is made of Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and Avatar, with users able to «create their own stories and experiences, express their fandom in a distinctly Disney way, and share content with each other in ways that they love.»

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A bit of concept art accompanying today’s announcement looks quite a lot like the ultimate interactive entertainment dystopia: an in-Fortnite digital theme park where digital Disney Cruise ships go on fake tours, where a cyberpunk-esque corporate ‘zone’ sees Disney+-branded skyscrapers loom over an ESPN arena and Star Wars themed Lucasfilm real estate, while an AT-AT battle nudges up against Pandora in the distance.

«Disney was one of the first companies to believe in the potential of bringing their worlds together with ours in Fortnite,» Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney said in a statement shared alongside the news. «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.»

Epic, of course, has made no secret of its desire to expand Fortnite far beyond its battle royale core and out into a metaversal mishmash of experiences, and today’s announcement merely looks like another step in that journey. It’s already dramatically expanded the core Fortnite offering, with last year’s in-house Lego survival, racing, and rhythm-game modes, and has launched its Unreal Editor for Fortnite tools, enabling developers to create their own in-game experiences similar to the strategy employed by the hugely successful Roblox.

Today’s announcement of Epic’s multi-year partnership with — and $1.5b investment from — Disney follows the Fortnite maker decision to lay off «around 830 employees» last year — news accompanied by Tim Sweeney’s admission that «For a while now, we’ve been spending way more money than we earn.»

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