Epic Games has been almost excessive in its praise for the PS5, repeatedly claiming that the machine will be able to revolutionize gaming in ways that not even powerful PCs could accomplish. Well, the Fortnite publisher has finally put its money where its mouth is — or, rather, Sony has. In a $250 million dollar deal, Sony has purchased a minority stake in Epic Games, binding the two companies more closely together than ever before.
Information comes from an Epic Games press release, which states that the deal “cements an already close relationship between the two companies and reinforces the shared mission to advance the state of the art in technology, entertainment and socially-connected online services.” The statement doesn’t say specifically why Sony wants partial ownership of Epic — particularly since Sony already owns a number of game studios outright — but common sense suggests that Sony believes an Epic partnership could earn money in a way that a first-party studio couldn’t.
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However, there is one interesting bit of wording in the press release, and it doesn’t have much to do with games at all:
“This investment allows Sony and Epic to aim to broaden their collaboration across Sony’s leading portfolio of entertainment assets and technology, and Epic’s social entertainment platform and digital ecosystem to create unique experiences for consumers and creators,” the statement reads.
“Social entertainment platform” could very easily be referring to Fortnite’s increasing presence as a nonviolent social platform rather than a shooter game. Between major concerts and a combat-free, digital hangout mode, Fortnite has overtaken Facebook and Instagram as the place where teens and tweens most want to congregate online.
This might be a good time to point out that Sony actually tried a very similar experiment back on the PS3, with PlayStation Home. This PS3 program let users customize their own avatars, then set forth into a customizable digital space where there were no objectives, just a chatroom with prettier graphics. The service never really took off, but Sony put quite a bit of time and effort into it, suggesting that the company predicted the rise of digital hangout spaces at least 10 years before the phenomenon took off. It’s not so surprising that Sony would want to try again.
As far as what this means for the PS5, it’s unclear. Fortnite is a confirmed PS5 title, but it will also be out for the Xbox Series X, and it’s not going anywhere on PC or current-gen consoles. But some kind of exclusive game or service would hardly be unprecedented. The language in the press release makes it sound like the latter is more likely.
“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 Kenichiro Yoshida, who is the president and CEO of Sony.
Likewise, Epic’s CEO, Tim Sweeney, suggested that the collaboration would encompass “gaming, film and music.”
Epic Games has already produced a PS5 exclusive, of sorts, with its tech demo Lumen in the Land of Nanite. It’s not a real game, but it does represent the first time that the general public ever saw gameplay running on a PS5. Whether the next Sony-Epic collaboration is a traditional game or a more experimental social platform, we’ll have to wait and see. But we’ll probably have some more information before holiday 2020, when the PS5 is slated to launch.
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Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.