It had been an interesting development when a few months ago Epic decided to unveil their Unreal Engine 5 running on PlayStation 5 hardware. The Xbox Series X is a more powerful machine, and Epic’s Tech did not necessarily have to be showcased on a home console, as the Engine will also run on PC (and the aforementioned Xbox Series X console).
Thus, I always felt that Sony had paid some money, as the tech showcase was a perfect marketing tool for hyping up the console which had come under some scrutiny at the time for having a lesser GPU to Microsoft’s more powerful one on its next gen console.
It turns out that the truth runs much deeper than that, as this week both companies announced their partnership after Sony invested $250 million dollars in the company responsable for the popular Unreal Engine and the Free to Play Fortnite videogame.
“Epic’s powerful technology in areas such as graphics places them at the forefront of game engine development with Unreal Engine and other innovations. There’s no better example of this than the revolutionary entertainment experience, Fortnite. Through our investment, we will explore opportunities for further collaboration with Epic to delight and bring value to consumers and the industry at large, not only in games, but also across the rapidly evolving digital entertainment landscape.” – Kenichiro Yoshida, Chairman, President and CEO, Sony Corporation.
The partnership from the outset seems like a great situation for Sony. Epic’s Unreal Engine has been the driving force behind many a Tripe A game during the past two console generations, and at one-point (2006) Microsoft benefited greatly from a relationship with the company that produced the Gears of War franchise for the Xbox brand.
The partnership is interesting because Sony’s first party developers have traditionally made their own engines, and in many cases the tech has been superior to what the Unreal Engine has achieved on the same or similar hardware. To name a few examples, Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4 looks better than similar (Unreal Engine 4 powered) AAA games running on similar hardware, and Guerrilla’s Horizon Zero Dawn was a far more impressive looking (and running) game than Days Gone ( a Sony Exclusive developed using the Unreal Engine 4).
However, Fortnite’s success being praised by Sony’s executive hints at other types of gaming experiences that Sony seems to be interested in pursuing during the upcoming generation. Epic’s own statement confirms our suspicions,
“Sony and Epic have both built businesses at the intersection of creativity and technology, and we share a vision of real-time 3D social experiences leading to a convergence of gaming, film, and music. Together we strive to build an even more open and accessible digital ecosystem for all consumers and content creators alike,” – Tim Sweeney, Founder and CEO of Epic.
It seems that those of us waiting for another AAA Gears of War experience surging from this partnership will be left sorely disappointed, as both companies are intent on expanding online social gaming in new and interesting ways which is great news for Fortnite fans.
Sony’s approach on this upcoming generation is interesting as it seems – to now – carry a focus on experiences beyond that of conventional gaming. The approach brings back memories of Microsoft’s “TV, and Streaming services” focus, as a big selling point on its Xbox One unveil back in 2013. Microsoft’s vision failed then, and Sony’s plans, by contrast, look like a sure-fire victory as no one can dispute the commercial success of Fortnite (regardless of how they feel about the actual game). But, in a way, it seems like the roles have been reversed this time around, with Microsoft building the more powerful gaming machine and its renewed focus on conventional videogames.
Time will tell how this partnership unfolds in regards to the potential of Epic exclusive games, and the creation of games that utilize both Epic’s knowledge in creating a social media magnum opus of a game, and Sony’s experience (and platform) on games, film and music distribution.