Sony Corporation announced today that it will invest $250 million in Epic Games, the company well known for its hit game Fortnite and the Unreal Engine game engine that powers it. Unreal Engine is the second most popular game engine for building VR content, and has powered PSVR games like FarpointMoss,and Firewall: Zero Hour.

Interestingly, the investment in Unreal Engine is being made on behalf of a wholly-owned subsidiary of parent company Sony Corporation rather than by Sony Interactive Entertainment (AKA PlayStation). Whether that’s for legal structure reasons, or because the company plans to leverage its new stake in Epic Games beyond just gaming isn’t clear.

Going Beyond Gaming

While Epic’s Unreal Engine is certainly most relevant to PlayStation and gaming, the engine is increasingly seeing use in non-gaming contexts like visualization and virtual film production, both of which have clear relevance to Sony Pictures (the company’s film division) and Sony Corporation (which focuses on the company’s consumer electronics business).

But it’s clear that the nearer implications of the investment will be on the interactive side of things, of which the company’s PlayStation 4 console is a major platform for Epic’s massively popular game, Fortnite. In recent years the game has broken new ground as a sort of proto-metaverse by hosting interactive events like virtual concerts, film debuts, and more to the game’s tens of millions of active players.

A virtual concert hosted in ‘Fortnite’ drew tens of millions of users last year | Image courtesy PCGamesN

“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,” said Sony Corporation’s CEO, Kenichiro Yoshida.

Notice that Yoshida calls Fortnite a “revolutionary entertainment experience,” rather than a “revolutionary game.” This is a key hint about the company’s future ambitions.

“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,” said Epic Game’s CEO Tim Sweeney.

'Fortnite's' Massively Attended Virtual Concert is a Potent Glimpse of VR's Future

It’s the “convergence of gaming, film, and music” part which speaks to where the long-term synergies between Sony and Epic lie. Sony is a global player in all three of those spaces presently, and clearly has the vision of a future where these three sectors meld far closer together than ever before. The foundation of that future, from Sony and Epic’s standpoint, appears to be interactivity and real-time rendering.

Unifying One of PlayStation’s Greatest Assets

Image courtesy PlayStation

Another, less lofty synergy between the companies could be that Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE) wants to move its first-party game studios away from proprietary in-house game engines and toward Unreal Engine to increase cohesion and leverage game-engine R&D across studios.

SIE’s first-party studios have been increasingly important for PlayStation over the last console generation, having given the company’s console a significant edge thanks to exclusive hit titles like Uncharted 4Horizon: Zero DawnMarvel’s Spider-ManGod of War, and The Last of Us Part 2.

The growing importance of company’s first-party game studios to Sony’s console business was made even more apparent when it was recently announced that the company will rebrand the studio group from Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios to, simply, PlayStation Studios.

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While Sony may well want to leave the studios’ present level of autonomy untouched (including their choice of using different in-house engines), it’s clear how moving the group toward a singular game engine would capitalize on existing investments by allowing studios to much more easily share both engine technology and developer talent. Unifying under a single game engine would mean less replication of game engine R&D as much as developer training and experience.

EA’s Game Engine Case Study

‘Star Wars: Squadrons’, powered by EA’s Frostbite engine, will support VR headsets | Image courtesy Motive

Mega-game publisher Electronic Arts pulled a similar move when it acquired DICE, the studio behind Battlefield, back in 2006. The acquisition not only brought the popular game franchise under EA’s umbrella, but also the studio’s Frostbite game engine. Since then EA has leveraged that acquisition by investing deeply in Frostbite and making it widely used across the company’s studios.

Frostbite now powers many EA-published game franchises like Mass Effect, Madden NFL, FIFA, Need for Speed, and, of course, Battlefield. The engine has even been adapted for use with VR; it will power the upcoming VR-supported Star Wars: Squadrons, and was already used in Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: VR Mission (2016) which was released for PSVR.

Streamlining EA studios with Frostbite as a technological foundation has been a clear success as the company and the engine has been behind some of the most visually ambitious games ever made—Battlefield 5 (2018) being a stunning example.

What It Could Mean for VR

Image courtesy PlayStation

If Sony moves toward making Unreal Engine the engine of choice for PlayStation Studios, it could also impact the company’s VR strategy. Unreal Engine already supports VR development across all major headsets, including PSVR. It has powered PSVR games like of Farpoint (2017)Moss (2018), and Firewall: Zero Point (2018).

While some PlayStation Studios teams have released VR games—like JAPAN Studios’ ASTRO BOT: Rescue Mission (2018) and London Studios’ Blood & Truth (2019)still many of the company’s studios have not.

PlayStation 5 Will Support PSVR, Sony Affirms

While adapting a studio’s in-house game engine for VR rendering isn’t necessarily the hardest part of developing a VR game, building into that engine a full suite of developer tools to meet the specific needs of VR development is a much larger task. Fortunately, it’s something that Epic Games has been doing with Unreal Engine for years. In fact, the company released its own VR game, Robo Recall (2017), which still stands as an impressive example of the engine’s VR prowess.

Streamlining PlayStation Studios with Unreal Engine would mean that all of Sony’s game studios would already be working with a game engine that has fully-featured VR capabilities; that would reduce the friction for the company’s other studios to commit to building VR games.

Unreal Engine on PlayStation 5

‘Lumen in the Land of Nanite’ an Unreal Engine 5 tech-demo that debuted on PS5 hardware | Image courtesy Epic Games

Unreal Engine isn’t just relevant to PlayStation Studios, it’s also relevant to Sony’s upcoming PS5 and its community of third-party developers. Even prior to today’s investment announcement, Sony had already been apparently working in close collaboration with Epic to optimize Unreal Engine for PS5’s new hardware architecture.

The fruit of that work was revealed back in May in an Unreal Engine 5 tech demo specially built to take advantage of PS5’s hardware.

Back-compat PSVR Games on PS5 Could See Improved Frame Rates, Resolution, & Loading

The demo showed off key new features of the upcoming Unreal Engine 5: advanced lighting thanks to dynamic global illumination and incredible geometric detail with ‘virtualized micropolygon geometry’, which Epic says will allow “film-quality source art comprising hundreds of millions or billions of polygons” to be imported into Unreal Engine 5 and run in real-time.

Epic says that theses features will be supported in VR content, though it isn’t clear how much they will be limited by VR’s high-performance requirements.

– – — – –

And we haven’t even really touched on the Epic Game Store, the company’s new digital distribution platform which has brought much needed competition to Steam’s dominance.

Overall, Sony’s investment in Epic is an ambitious move and one which will have nearer-term and decades-long implications for Sony and Epic Games, both of which are deeply intertwined with the VR industry. While Microsoft is only just catching up to the powerhouse of development talent that’s accumulated in PlayStation Studios, this forward-looking move may well keep PlayStation one step ahead of its competition in the next generation.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • Fenrir200

    I differ completely in the claim that EA’s use streamlining Frostbite on all their studios was a success; quite the contrary. Frostbite was made as an FPS engine, and trying to adapt it to different genres has proved to be a nightmare to work with. Nearly all experts on Forstbite have been moved to the FIFA team, since it’s the game that generates the most revenue, leaving other teams scrambling for help when the need arises. Anthem had a tumultuous development, to say the least, and it’s being almost re-launched as a result. Mass Effect Andromeda was a failure, resulting in EA putting the franchise on hold. Dragon Age 4 has been in development god knows how many years, much of it attributed to having to work with Frostbite, and internal dev issues inside Bioware. The star studio inside EA right now is Respawn, which are the only ones who were not forced to use Frostbite, using Unreal instead for Apex Legends and Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order

    • benz145

      While I’m sure that transitioning to Frostbite certainly had its challenges, I don’t think the engine can be primarily blamed for EA’s recent high-profile blunders. AFAIU, that was more on the game design end of things.

      Minor correction for posterity (not that it invalidates your point), but I’m fairly certain Apex uses Respawn’s own engine.

  • SpaceRoach

    Typo on “Firewall: Zero Hour”

    Other than that, I’m excited to see where this could go for VR.

  • namekuseijin

    > revolutionary entertainment experience

    same kind of revolutionary entertainment experience as VR Chat once it goes VR

    not my kind of thing, but doubtless very big

    I’m more interested in UE itself. So this was the reason why it was showcased on PS5.

  • Lhorkan

    As much as I love Unreal, unfortunately they haven’t really done much for VR since Robo Recall – and that was three years ago. As an example, their new particle system Niagara does not support instanced stereo rendering, a very important performance boost for many VR games (and only for VR). All in all, I don’t get the impression that VR is high on Epic’s agenda. After all, it’s the only platform which has no Fortnite support.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      Well, you can always try to fix it yourself (as the source is provided) and get them to pull it into the main branch.

      • 25211

        There is no need to be cynical.

        • Andrew Jakobs

          I’m not cynical, I’m dead serious..

          • 25211

            Then there is no need to talk in a nonsensical way. No offense.

  • Till Eulenspiegel

    Everything comes with a price, presenting Unreal Engine 5 only on PS5 cost Sony $250 million – the price of exclusivity.

    • Tunk

      This statement is like your avatar.
      UE5 comes never PS5 exclusive. Oo

      • Tom Rink

        Please learn english in a proper way and do not use the Google Translator anymore.

        • Tunk

          Halts Maul Darkbreeze und höre auf mich zu stalken.

          Sag ja du hast einen ordentlichen Schuss weg bekommen bei unseren Diskussionen dass du es immer noch nicht gut sein lassen kannst.

          Ganz kleiner Stengel. ;p

          • Tom Rink

            Ich weis zwar nicht, wer oder was das sein soll. Aber ich werde das mal melden.

          • Tunk

            Jaja Blabla.
            Komisch das sich ALLE deine Beiträge mit deinem Tom Rink Twink auf mich beziehen, und du schon auf CB auf R2VR Post von mir verwiesen hast, ebenso wie du auf CB schon zig Male den Google Translator ins Spiel gebracht hast… Ganz unauffällig. ;)

            Selbst zum Twinken noch zu blöd …

          • Tom Rink

            Mittlerweile ausgenüchtert? Wohl gestern zu tief ins Glas geschaut ^^ Was ist CB und R2VR? Und nochmals, ich bin nicht Darkbreze oder wer auch immer. Fürs nächste mal Finger weg vom Internet wen Alkohol im SPiel ist.

          • Tunk

            Scheinst wohl von dir auf Andere zu schließen: “Fürs nächste mal Finger weg vom Internet wen Alkohol im SPiel ist.” XD

          • Tom Rink

            Ich weis zwar nicht welches Problem du hast, aber du landest nun auf meiner Ignorier-Liste. Übrigens ich habe per Smartphone getippt, da passieren einen mal schneller Rechtschreibfehler. Und bevor du über die Rechtschreibung anderer herziehst, würde ich an deiner Stelle erstmal meine eigene Begutachten. Denn da schreibt ein “5 jähriges, kleines Schulmädchen mit nassem Schlüppa” besser als du.

            Also lasse mich mit deinen wirren Gedankengängen in Ruhe und trolle wen anders.

          • Tunk

            Du bist echt ne Ulknummer.
            Genauso Fähnchen im Wind wie auf CB.

            DU votest doch grundlos meine Beiträge nach unten und DEIN ganzer Account bezieht sich doch nur auf mich… Nicht andersrum. :)

            Aber gerne.
            Packen wir uns einfach auf Ignore.
            Dann liest du auch nichts von mir was du downvoten kannst. ;)

          • Tom Rink

            Junge, ich kenne dich nicht und weis nicht was du da faselst. Alter lasse mich mit deiner scheinbaren Paranoia in Ruhe und mach ein Abflug. Spinner.

          • Tunk

            Erzähl das Mal deinen 22 Kommentaren aus deinem Profil die sich komplett auf mich beziehen. ;P

          • Tom Rink

            Jo verschwende meine Lebenszeit nicht weiter und spinne dir nicht weiter irgendwas zurecht. Ich habe jetzt mal gegoogelt, was CB sein soll. Die Seite Computer Base. Allerdings muss ich dich enttäuschen, ich kenne die Seite nicht. Also was auch immer du dir hier zurechtbiegen versuchst, belasse es dabei. Habe deinen Account schon gemeldet wegen Spam.

          • Tunk

            Klar, weil Computerbase auch direkt als erstes kommt wenn man CB googelt.

            Mal wieder beim Lügen erwischt. Auch nichts neues. Oo

            Und auf Ignorieren hast du immer noch nicht geklickt. Egal, dann mach ich das eben…

          • Tom Rink

            Ich habe „cb darkbreeze tunk“ bei Google eingegeben. Werde nun denjenigen dort kontaktieren und ihm mitteilen, was du hier verbreitest.

          • Tunk

            Mach doch wenn es dir Spaß macht Selbstgespräche zu führen. XD

            Wie gesagt, dein gesamter Trollaccount bezieht sich nur auf mich:

            Deine posts in Bezug auf Rechtschreibung, oder Google Translator kennt man auch schon von CB.

            Und nachdem ich dich dort ignoriere und nicht mehr auf dein getrolle eingehe hast du dir dann hier einen Twinkaccount gemacht.
            Wieviel du seit dem noch im VR Teil postest sieht man ja. Ab und an mal eine Klugscheißerei und das wars.

            Sag ja. Trauriger Bengel…

            Aber muss dir fast schon erneut danken.
            Nachdem du mich schon von solch sinnlosen Ping-Pong Diskussionen im CB kuriert hast, bringst du mich gerade auch von Disqus weg.

            Eh nur Zeitverschwendung das Ganze hin und herkommentieren.

            Also erneut. Danke dafür.
            Bringt die ganze Trollerei ja doch noch was. :)

          • Tom Rink

            Alter du hast wohl echt ne Meise.. jetzt ist wohl jeder, der dich auf dein Englisch aufmerksam macht ein Trollaccount? Schon einmal daran gedacht, dass das Problem vor dem Bildschirm sitzt? Habe mir gestern noch dein Profil angeschaut, erst kürzlich hat dich jemand anderes hier auf dein Englisch hingewiesen. Wahrscheinlich auch ein Trollaccount? Die Jugend degeneriert, gehe weiter world of warcraft spielen, kommst wohl aus der Ecke. Musste nämlich nach dem Wort Twinkaccount auch erst einmal googeln.

            Und nur mal so als Tipp, verdrehe hier keine Tatsachen, wer ist denn hier auf die fehlerhafte Rechtschreibung eingegangen? Du wohl, oder? Ich habe doch gesagt es lag am Schreiben via Smartphone. Trottel aber echt ey.

          • Tunk

            Alter… Junge… Echt ey!!!

            Und dann von Degeneration der Jugend sprechen…

            Zu geil. XD

          • Tom Rink

            Lul lösch dich einfach.

          • Tunk

            Pack mich einfach auf Ignore, wie du es gesagt hast und jut ist.
            Du schreibst selber ja nicht mal was. Trollst ja nur unter meinen Kommentaren.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      There is no exclusivity of UE5 on PS5, the engine will be available on all platforms. If Sony would have wanted UE5 exclusively for the PS5 they would have needed to add at least one zero to that pricetag.

    • JakeDunnegan

      You’re taking exactly the wrong message here. Not only is it not exclusive, compatibility allows Sony to potentially open up indie (or any other) devs who use the Unreal Engine and then sell games on the Playstation Store.

      • Till Eulenspiegel

        You guys are so sensitive, when I said exclusivity – I meant in the presentation and introduction of UE5. Epic chose PS5 exclusively to demonstrate UE5, there’s favouritism involved and now we know money is involved.

        “Unreal Engine 5 is compatible with all platforms but runs best on PS5” That’s what Epic’s dev were alluding, during the presentation. Noticed how many times they praise PS5 fast loading system? How well UE5 will run on PS5 because it has no loading?

    • wheeler

      Yeah Sweeney shilled *hard* for this $250m

  • This is for sure one of the biggest news of the week. I’m very intrigued about what it could mean not only for VR, but for gaming in general. In the meanwhile, Microsoft allying with Facebook for streaming is another interesting topic

  • guest

    This move implies that Unity will soon be taken over. They are probably getting spread too thin and are looking for the exit!

  • Greyl

    It means nothing for PlayStation in general. Maybe some exclusive skins or content for Fortnite, that’s about it. UE5 is exciting for PCVR, though. Looking forward to seeing all the Steam workshop maps, mods, indie projects, etc, all made using UE5 on PC. The type of content that could feasibly never come to a closed garden console.

  • DanDei

    Can’t say Unreal Engine really impressed me in VR for the past 4 years. There were quite a few VR ports on UE4 with pretty poor image quality. That engine is heavy on post processing effects that don’t translate well into VR, resulting into either muddy oder noisy images (Redout comes to mind for suffering from both). Especially its TAA was implemented terribly in many cases. I remember how blurry Obduction was. Felt like I was travelling those strange worlds to find my lost glasses.
    Hopefully UE5 will improve a lot on those issues and deliver more crisp visuals without that overuse of flat post processing effects.