How Epic Games is revamping the ecosystem of Fortnite Creative to sweeten the deal for in-game creators

Epic Games is transforming Fortnite Creative into a robust ecosystem of players, creators and tools — to create what execs hope will be a virtual creation platform that could grow to rival full-blown game engines. It’s setting itself up to try and become the YouTube of user-generated content.

User-generated content, or UGC, is widely viewed as a major factor in the future of the games industry. Dozens of platforms — from Fortnite to the browser-based dot big bang — are trying to build platforms that recreate the infrastructure of YouTube for this new type of creator. 

“The Fortnite ecosystem is stronger because of what people make,” said Epic Games senior vice president Sax Perrson. “You could argue that the tools in Fortnite Creative are pretty simple. For people to make this amount of engaging content is stunning. It makes it obvious for us to take that and give the smallest amount of agency for people to make what they want for other players.”

Epic Games wants to give Fortnite creators more control, including advanced tools to build out deeper mechanics, like the tools used to create the in-game “Attack on Titan” or “Spider-Man” brand activations. So far, though, Epic has declined to share details about the specific timeline for these changes.

Epic also sees in-game skins as an asset that could eventually be designed by independent creators, rather than the game developer itself, according to Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney.

In effect, Epic Games is chasing several aspects of YouTube to replicate. YouTube is one of the largest pieces of online real estate — with mass viewership (YouTube touts billions of monthly active users), a near-even advertising revenue split with creators, and a recommendation algorithm for discoverability. This all makes the platform attractive to creators as a way to share, promote, and monetize their work. Epic Games is in the process of building out the same tools and infrastructure for in-game creators inside Fortnite, although they have to overcome the steeper challenge of making game development and three-dimensional creation as approachable as video production.

The introduction of the Unreal Editor for Fortnite — a new application for designing, developing, and publishing games and experiences directly into the game — will make it possible for independent creators to build those immersive mechanics directly within Creative.

One of the biggest requests made by both brands and creators is the ability to design custom avatars. They are one of the first topics that come up whenever a major athlete like Stephen Curry or LeBron James considers a collaboration with Fortnite. Independent creators are prohibited from creating and selling cosmetics, but that might change in the future.

“Some of those brands provide incredible wish fulfillment and it just so happens that Fortnite is a great sandbox for that,” Persson said, listing as an example the recent Fortnite x Iron Man collaboration, which included custom skins and weapons based on the popular Marvel Comics character.

Creating these types of branded gadgets and gizmos also lets Epic Games skirt around advertising in Fortnite, which it has conceded it doesn’t see a place for.

Branded experiences like this already play a huge role in the UGC ecosystem, and their influence will only grow going forward. Epic Games executives told Digiday that the future for brands’ involvement within Fortnite — like Toei Animation’s immersive digital Dragon Ball stunt — will scale alongside independent creators and Fortnite Creative. 

Fortnite users spend roughly 40% of their total playtime exploring experiences inside the game’s Creative mode, including custom user-created games, training modes and branded experiences, according to Epic Games during its “State of Unreal” presentation at Game Developers Conference 2023. That time investment from the player base was a major motivator for Epic Games to shift its revenue model to what it calls “Creator Economy 2.0” in which creators now get 40% of all Fortnite revenue, including the game’s popular battle royale mode.

How much farther Fortnite can grow remains to be seen. It all depends on whether it can continue building out its support infrastructure for creators while retaining the casual 70 million players that jump in every month.

It will be difficult to chase after YouTube’s billions-strong gaming audience, said ControlZee CEO Robert Anderberg, who created dot big bang. “But if you are allowing those creators to be successful, then the first platform that goes out there and allows creators to make the majority of the revenue to do those types of things, that’ll be something that can really take off,” Anderberg said.

Epic Games is far from the only company looking to build a YouTube-like business with UGC, but its recent revenue model shift does signal to players and brands that they are serious about growing the ecosystem. YouTube currently has a similar revenue share model, but it does an incredible amount for the people publishing content on the platform. Epic Games, and other platforms like Roblox, know the key to growth is doing the most for the creator. 

“We are nowhere near the maximum size of this ecosystem,” Persson said. “We believe that the next level of content is going to drive the next wave of people to the ecosystem. Hopefully for the right reasons, too. It’s not a high pressure ecosystem.”

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