Epic Games is one of the biggest developers and publishers of video games in the industry, with development studios of the same name in Seattle, England, Berlin, Yokohama and Seoul. They also own companies like Chair Entertainment, Psyonix and Mediatonic, as well as Cloudgine.
While most well known these days for Fortnite, most of Epic Games’ success has come from the Unreal franchise and, even more importantly, the Unreal Engine, a game engine tool kit that people can license to make their own software development process easier and more efficient.
But who is Epic Games, and how did they get to this point? If you want to know that, then you’ll want to read our abridged history of Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite.
From Potomac to Epic 3.0
Originally founded by Tim Sweeney as Potomac Computer Systems in 1991, the one-man company realised that no one was taking his name seriously enough. He rebranded as Epic MegaGames, Inc in 1992 in an attempt to look similar in scale to popular companies like Apogee Entertainment and id Software.
Seeing some success in the games industry and watching his company grow, Sweeney eventually moved his company to Cary, North Carolina in 1999 and brought his 30 staff together under one roof. It was at that time they stopped pretending to be big, and simplified their name to Epic Games. Around this time, they released the massively successful first iteration of online multiplayer shooter Unreal Tournament.
In 2006, Epic believed that software piracy on Windows computers would be such a threat to their business that they transitioned to be a console-first studio, going on to develop the Gears of War franchise and Shadow Complex for Microsoft Xbox systems. Around this time they also experimented with mobile development, working on the Infinity Blade series.
After the completion of the Damon Baird led prequel game Gears of War Judgment, a deal was struck with Microsoft where the Seattle-based console platform holder bought the rights to the Gears of War IP, giving it to their studio The Coalition. This event marked the end of an era for the company, as they moved on to start working on a multiplayer game where you defended locations from zombies, called Fortnite: Save the World.
Epic Games (as a Service)
Chinese company Tencent took ownership of roughly 40% of the company for $330 million in 2012. The company simultaneously announced a larger move towards prioritising the Games as a Service (GaaS) business model. This stock buyout has led to some fears that Epic Games have been selling user data to the Chinese Communist Party government, but Epic has said that those claims aren’t true, and USGamer did an investigation that showed the toxic claims are instead probably grounded in American anti-Chinese xenophobia.
Fortnite Battle Royale launched on September 26, 2017. It was largely a PUBG clone with the unique spin of including the weapons and the building mechanics, from Fortnite: Save The World. The game has been a massive success and became the focus of the Fortnite project, mostly due to its success with online content creators, the eSports scene and younger gamers. Meanwhile, Fortnite: Save the World has been mostly forgotten about and abandoned, to the ire of the game’s original fans.
Battle Royale mode makes an incredible amount of money and is the biggest earner in the history of Epic Games as a company, largely thanks to brand crossovers, live in-game music events as well as merchandise like comics, action figure lines, clothing and even a tie-in soccer ball.
During this period of time Tim Sweeney’s company has not only seen success with Fortnite, but replicated it’s business model with Rocket League, increasing it’s player base and revitalising the game in general. After the recent purchase of Fall Guys developer Mediatonic, many are expecting that the multiplayer obstacle course royale game will similarly become both free to play and follow a similar business model before too long.
This new incarnation of Epic Games has made several controversial moves in an attempt to carve out more consumer choice in the industry, with projects like the Epic Games Store and the Epic Online Services SDK that are designed to give players more options as to where and how they play video games.
What is the Epic Games Store?
Tired of having to give a cut to another development studio for releasing their games on the PC, Epic announced their own digital store at The Game Awards in 2018. The Epic Games Store has several incentives for developers to release their games there instead, including a lower revenue split (12%, compared to rival store Steam’s 30%) and no longer having to pay the 5% fee for using the Unreal Engine.
Epic has been giving out free games on a weekly basis to attract gamers to the platform, as well as paying for several pro-developer timed exclusivity agreements, the latter of which has drawn online criticism from consumers that prefer stores like Steam, Humble and GOG, despite the fact that the games do come out on those other PC digital release platforms eventually.
What is the Epic Online Services SDK?
Epic Online Services is a free software development kit that lets developers use Fortnite code to add crossplay and cross-progression to their games with greater ease. It includes tools for matchmaking, friends lists and voice chat, as well as other features like anti-cheat protection. It can be used on development projects for Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch and even Android phones.
Epic Games vs Apple: #FreeFortnite
In 2021, Epic games broke their contractual agreement with Apple and added an external payment option to Fortnite for their currency V-Bucks, stating that the platform had a digital monopoly and was anti-competitive. This led to an Epic vs Apple lawsuit and countersuit and an overall ban for the Epic Games company and its developers from the App Store.
Ultimately the court system and Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers sided with Apple on nine out of the ten points of the court case, requiring Epic Games to pay $6,000,000 in damages to the Cupertino, California based hardware company.
Despite not achieving most of their goals in court, Tim Sweeney has now said that Epic Games would like to bring Fortnite back to iOS and MacOS. Apple has made an example of the North Carolina based company and refused them this, saying that they must wait for any court appeals to come to an end, which could take up to 5 years.
The Future of Epic Games: the company behind Fortnite
Fortnite remains one of the biggest names in video games and continues to expand, with it’s barrage of cross-promo collaborations and continued merchandising. Likewise, smaller Epic-owned brands like Rocket League and Fall Guys continue to be popular.
Games As A Service titles like those have provided a steady windfall for Epic, who have recently purchased the 980,000-square-foot and 87-acre Cary Towne Center shopping mall in North Carolina to turn into a ‘new campus’ of ‘office buildings and recreational spaces’. The new Epic Games Global Headquarters building should be completed and in operation by 2024.
The North Carolina based company behind Fortnite, Unreal Tournament, Gears of War and Jazz Jackrabbit is also now making moves into the TV and Film industry. As their game engine has become increasingly advanced, it has become able to render graphics realistic enough to be used for special effects.
It has even been used to create entire digital worlds that can be used as virtual sets for real actors with the help of LED Video Wall technology. It has most notably been used in Disney’s Star Wars television show spin-off The Mandalorian, but should see further use going forward as the technology is one of the massive focuses of the next-generation Unreal Engine 5.
It can be assumed that Unreal Engine 5 will continue to dominate the market in the same way as Unreal Engine 3 and Unreal Engine 4. As this happens, Epic Games is only likely to continue to grow, as their goals spread further and wider than just being a video game development powerhouse.
What other games has Epic Games made?
In alphabetical order, here are the video games Epic Games has worked on:
- Age of Wonders
- 7th Legion
- Epic Pinball
- Fortnite Save the World
- Fortnite Battle Royale
- Gears of War
- Gears of War 2
- Gears of War 3
- Gears of War: Judgment
- Infinity Blade
- Infinity Blade
- Infinity Blade II
- Infinity Blade III
- Jazz Jackrabbit
- Jazz Jackrabbit 2
- Jill of the Jungle
- Robo Recall
- Shadow Complex
- Unreal Tournament 1999
- Unreal Tournament 2003
- Unreal Championship
- Unreal Tournament 2004
- Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict
- Unreal Tournament 3
- Xargon Extreme
If you enjoyed this article, you may want to read more on our coverage of Epic Games and Fortnite. Why not check out our article on all the changes in Fortnite Chapter 2 Season 8?