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Why Disney is going digital

Metaverse Concept
By Ian Silvera
08 February 2024
Technology, Media & Telecomms

When is the metaverse not the metaverse? When it’s a ‘persistent universe’ of course. That’s what The Walt Disney Company is branding its new tie-up with Fortnite maker Epic Games. The companies have kept the details of the deal high-level. 

We know that the universe will be interoperable with Fortnite, we know it will have more Disney and Marvel content, we know Disney now has a $1.5bn equity stake in Epic, which was valued at $31bn in 2022, and we know the new project will run on Epic’s Unreal Engine - the popular creation tool. 

What we don’t know is when the ‘persistent universe’ will launch and what hardware it will be accessible from. 

Why the deal makes sense: Disney has a long history of collaborating with the video games industry and its consumer base (and future consumer base) are also typically gamers (Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft and so on). Disney also uses the Unreal Engine across its portfolio. 

But the investment shows a shift in strategy from Bob Iger, who in 2016 closed Disney’s video games studios. 

“That business is a changing business, and we did not have enough confidence in the business in terms of it being stable enough to stay in it from a self-publishing perspective," he told investors at the time of the decision. “We knew going in that there would be a lot of risk with this product, and the fact that we did so well initially, gave us the confidence to continue with it. The truth of the matter is that the risk that we cited at the beginning when we went into this caught up with us."

The company became a licensor rather than a publisher. There was some success — Marvel’s Spider-Man II broke the record for the fastest selling PlayStation Studios game last year, as just one example. But now, with increasing levels of digitisation in mind and VR/XR hardware going mainstream, Disney has one foot back in the door of the developers.