Unreal Engine and Fortnite maker Epic Games is valued at $28.7 billion. That's a lot of money for, say, me, but compared to Apple it's not that much money. Added up, all of the shares of Apple's stock are currently worth over $2 trillion.
There's room for Epic to grow, in other words, and the company (which isn't publicly traded like Apple) just received another $1 billion in funds to help with that growth. $200 million of that total came from Sony, which previously invested $250 million into Epic in July of last year. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney remains the controlling Epic Games shareholder following this investment.
The $1 billion will be used in Epic's work "building connected social experiences in Fortnite, Rocket League and Fall Guys, while empowering game developers and creators with Unreal Engine, Epic Online Services and the Epic Games Store," says Sweeney. In a nutshell, Epic says this funding will go toward its efforts to build the "metaverse."
"Metaverse" is a term Sweeney likes to use now and then, and I sort of wish he wouldn't, because it has more than one meaning. For most people, I think what comes to mind is a virtual reality space where people live virtualized lives, like in Snow Crash or the more recent Ready Player One. A very advanced MMO, in other words, with its own economy. To some degree, I think that is what Sweeney is talking about. Fortnite went from a game to more of a place where people can hang out and watch movies and experience unique events simultaneously—very metaversey.
But if we accept that we already live in virtual spaces—in games, Instagram Stories, YouTube videos, Twitch streams, Zoom calls, emails, Discord servers, and so on—then the "metaverse" is the thing that connects all of those little universes and allows people to pass between them, so that existing online is more like existing in the material world, where you don't, for instance, need to present a different ID at every bar you want to go to. That is also what Sweeney is talking about: things like single account logins that work across services, cross-platform game ownership, shared development APIs, crossplay, and so on.
In his 2020 DICE Summit keynote, embedded above, Sweeney explained his metaverse vision pretty clearly: "A move away from a whole bunch of walled gardens into something that's increasingly open and comes to resemble, by the end of this decade, an open metaverse, in which players get together with their friends and they go from game experience to game experience, staying together as a group as friends, going across all platforms and not having to worry about what company made the device they're on, or what company's operating the servers they're playing on as they go through these experiences."
He concluded the talk by saying that he fears we could be entering "another lost decade" during which platform holders like Microsoft and Apple keep warring. His goal is to stop that from happening.
That's the brief version. The full 30 minute DICE keynote is worth a watch if you're curious about what Epic is really up to aside from suing Apple, spending hundreds of millions on Epic Games Store exclusives, and buying an empty mall. Sweeney pretty much lays out the plan.
Sony's cash aside, this $1 billion mostly came from big investment groups, the sort of companies that have names you could use for a group of cyberpunk bad guys: Luxor Capital, BlackRock, Fidelity Management & Research Company… the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan Board. (Teachers have to put up with kids constantly playing and talking about Fortnite in class, so perhaps they deserve a cut of the action more than anyone else.)
You can read a bit more about the funding in the blog post, though Epic doesn't say explicitly what it's going to use the money for. Neither does Sony, and it's not entirely clear to me what the company's aiming at, although the investment aligns with its purpose to "fill the world with emotion," according to Kenichiro Yoshida, chairman, president, and CEO of Sony Group Corporation. Looking forward to seeing what $200M worth of emotion feels like.