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Disney takes a $1.5 billion stake in Epic Games to build an 'entertainment universe' with Fortnite

Lego Fortnite is only two months old, but Epic Games is already out with an even bigger collaboration.

Epic and Disney announced today that the companies will partner on an "all-new games and entertainment universe" that will bring characters from Disney's deep catalogue to life through a tie-in with Fortnite. Disney will take a $1.5 billion equity stake in Epic Games as part of the deal.

The scope of the project sounds massive, to say the least. In a press release, the companies described the forthcoming project as "an all-new games and entertainment universe" offering players a way to "play, watch, shop and engage with" characters and storylines from Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and others. The collaboration will use Epic's Unreal Engine and plans to be "interoperable" with Fortnite, tying into Epic's existing online social gaming infrastructure.

"This marks Disney’s biggest entry ever into the world of games and offers significant opportunities for growth and expansion," Disney CEO Bob Iger said of the partnership, which apparently grew out of Epic's time in a Disney Accelerator program back in 2017.

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The Disney collaboration comes as a surprise, but fits right into Epic's current roadmap. The company dramatically widened Fortnite's scope in recent years, and what began as a popular battle royale game (technically a player-versus-environment game before that) has exploded into a hub of user-generated game modes and brand collaborations.

"Disney was one of the first companies to believe in the potential of bringing their worlds together with ours in Fortnite, and they use Unreal Engine across their portfolio," Epic CEO Tim Sweeney said in the announcement. "Now we’re collaborating on something entirely new to build a persistent, open and interoperable ecosystem that will bring together the Disney and Fortnite communities."

In December, Epic further signaled its commitment to expand Fortnite beyond its roots as a multiplayer shooter with the addition of Lego Fortnite, Rocket Racing and Fortnite Festival — three full standalone games in completely different genres than the original Fortnite. On the Disney side of things, a deep partnership and large investment will open up Epic's refined toolkit for creating online social worlds where many people can build and play together at once.

Epic's lucrative Fortnite store, where players can buy in-game outfits known as skins along with dance moves and emotes, also offers valuable infrastructure for what could be a limitless digital shopping mall stocked with goods inspired by Disney's beloved characters. Disney and Epic also already work closely on brand collaborations within Fortnite and many popular characters from Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe are available as collectible skins in the game. The companies also previously co-produced a live in-game event known as Fortnite Nexus War in 2020.

The result of Disney's surprise investment doesn't yet have a release date beyond "soon(ish)," but that at least implies players won't be in for a multiyear wait on the ambitious collaboration.