The secret to Epic Games’ success? Partnerships and cultural crossover
Simon Richardson, strategy director at Amplify, argues that gaming is more than a passion point...
To read the original article, published on 18th May 2022, visit The Drum.
Gaming is the new frontier of immersive entertainment, generating eye-watering revenue and attracting an audience in the billions. For The Drum’s Gaming Advertising Deep Dive, Simon Richardson, strategy director at Amplify, argues that gaming is more than a passion point. It’s a channel for reaching new audiences for whom digital identities are as important as IRL ones – just look at Epic Games.
If we’re going to get past web3’s awkward and underwhelming experimental phase, we should look to the innovators and pioneers defining the new wave of digital experience. Instrumental in shaping our understanding of the potential of the metaverse, Epic Games stands out as the outlier with a few lessons up its sleeve: global, virtual communities such as Fortnite; and expanding the frontiers of virtual world building with Unreal Engine 5.
Winning the battle royale (with friends)
Fortnite captured the imagination of gamers the world over when it introduced its winner-takes-all battle royale game mode. While Epic Games was by no means the first to introduce this type of gameplay, it was the one to use it to inspire and unite a global community. It’s a format that has since been adopted across many games, so why does Fortnite retain such a loyal audience?
A crucial pillar in turning Fortnite into a ubiquitous, cultural brand that transcends gaming is partnerships.
Epic Games has consistently revamped its product, with each Fortnite season sustaining interest with new themes, storylines and skins. Each of these seasonal refreshes provides opportunities to introduce new cross-cultural IP.
In an entertainment era that is seemingly defined by the concept of the multiverse, cultural crossovers and collaborations, it stands to reason that many expect meta-experiences to become a space in which cultural passions collide. A space like the IP-smashing visions of Ready Player One or the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where Spider-Man dukes it out with John Wick. Why not?
On top of realizing players’ wishes to have their favorite IP accessible cross-platform, Fortnite has had a big hand in re-imagining live entertainment for digital. The much-lauded and endlessly cited examples of the in-game Travis Scott or Ariana Grande concerts aren’t just inspiring case studies for the potential of virtual gigs; they illustrate the need to supercharge meta-experiences by bringing in talent partners to feed the entertainment needs of your audience.
Our audience’s ‘passion points’ can’t be thought of in silo (they never could); they bleed into and complement one another. Epic’s recent acquisition of community and artist-first platform Bandcamp is perhaps further evidence that Epic is pushing for a cross-cultural realization of the metaverse that caters to the diverse interests of its user base, both as creators and consumers.
Epic’s approach to collaboration isn’t just evident in its IP-sharing with some of the biggest names in entertainment. The studio recently announced a partnership with Sony and Lego, with a shared goal of defining ‘the future of digital entertainment,’ as well as building a safe, digital platform for kids to connect, free from the malicious forces of the internet.
In the face of what is at present a fragmented realization of the metaverse, with multiple platforms that lack interoperability and major issues with safety and representation, this collaborative approach promises a more joined-up offering, packed with IP and entertainment that will make audiences feel welcome and keep them engaged. Its recent partnership with Apprenti, aimed at diversifying the tech talent pool by offering candidates opportunities to learn and develop careers working with Unreal Engine, is further evidence that the success of equitable and diverse digital experiences is going to be facilitated by a partnership-led approach.
Hybrid world building
As well as bringing cross-cultural entertainment to digital experiences, Epic is showing how these collaborations can come to life IRL, delivering world-building experiences that bring audiences on fully-connected, cross-reality journeys. The brand’s collaboration with Balenciaga existed simultaneously as a capsule collection in-game and as an IRL clothing line, using anamorphic out-of-home (OOH) to launch the collaboration. It also used anamorphics to tease Spider-Man swinging into Fortnite Chapter 3, breaking the format of traditional OOH and embracing a line-blurring approach that merged digital and physical.
Cross-cultural partnerships aren’t just key to Epic Games’ success – they will be key for brands looking to build digital experiences that deliver against modern consumers’ expectations. Whether it’s an appetite for entertainment, joined-up interoperable experiences or diversity and inclusivity, collaborating with other IP, brands and organizations will help deliver the next gen of digital experience.
Simon Richardson is Strategy Director at Amplify.