USG Notebook: Amid Unreal Engine Hype, Epic Pushes For Next-Gen Crossplay

USG Notebook: Amid Unreal Engine Hype, Epic Pushes For Next-Gen Crossplay

Epic is breaking down the "walled garden."

USG Notebook is a weekly column dedicated to rounding up rumors, tidbits, and commentary that didn't get full coverage on the site.

Today's big news was the unveiling of Unreal Engine 5, the game engine that will be powering some of the games headed to next-gen consoles over the coming years. But another Epic service also received an update today, one that's breaking down walls and opening things up, hopefully for the long term.

Epic Online Services have been made freely available to any and all developers across PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Mac starting today, with support for iOS and Android coming soon. These services allow developers to make use of the lobbies, matchmaking, and other features of the Epic system, as well as Epic's Account Services.

In essence, developers who want to make their multiplayer game cross-platform compatible can use the Online Services to do so. Epic's platform supports a unified friends list across console and PC platforms, as well as cross-platform lobbies and peer-to-peer networking.

"The goal here is to help all developers work together to accomplish what we've accomplished with Fortnite, and to build a cross-platform social ecosystem together with all the other developers in the industry," said Epic CEO Tim Sweeney in an interview with Geoff Keighley today. "Instead of players being siloed into the one platform they're playing on, we want them to be able to reach all their friends everywhere, but also build up friends across multiple games.

Referring to previous multiplayer ecosystems as walled gardens, Sweeney tells GamesIndustry.biz that Epic's strategy is to connect ecosystems rather than build bigger walls around them.

On Epic's side, this means their own base of players will grow. "What we get out of Epic Online Services is building up a persistent user base that transcends platform boundaries," Sweeney told GI.biz. "The bargain is we give every developer access to the full Fortnite player base and social connections."

It does centralize Epic as the hub for multiplayer across a variety of services, but it also unites disparate user accounts in one manageable list. Sweeney says that all three console manufacturers have given their approval for the system, but that puts Epic in the driver's seat for these accounts moving forward.

The Unreal Engine 5 demo was an impressive display of tech, even if it will be a while before wee see it reflected in the games themselves. | Epic

"It's going to mean that everybody can talk to everybody else, and there's no one company controlling the whole thing," Sweeney told Keighley. "Rather, it rises as the result of the cooperation between all the different companies in the ecosystem who finally realized that they can grow better and build better business if, instead of trying to lock players into their platforms, they enable their players to connect with all of their friends across all platforms."

It could also feasibly carry over into the next generation of consoles; an Epic spokesperson confirmed to USgamer that Epic Online Services would carry forward onto the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Games that make use of the service could enter a new console generation with crossplay already set. Instead of crossplay cropping up near the end of the generation, we could enter the next one with cross-platform multiplayer already enabled—Fortnite is already set to do it.

"To really enable the next generation of industry growth, we've got to be able to connect all of these users with all of these friends, and set aside kind of the old feuds that defined previous generations of console business," said Sweeney.

Here's the rest of what's been happening this week in gaming news.

From the Rumor Mill

  • Summer Game Fest curator Geoff Keighley said last week that more May events would be announced soon. While this could include today's Unreal reveal, there's still a noticeable gap between now and June, when EA, CD Projekt Red, and others are due to start rolling out news.
  • If you were hoping for Elder Scrolls 6 news, well, wait a while longer. A few years in fact, according to Bethesda's Pete Hines. Starfield is closer on the horizon.
It's been a tough week for Sage mains and cheaters in Valorant. | Riot Games

News and Tidbits

Almost 9,000 cheaters were banned in Valorant this week, a frankly massive number for a closed beta. It's a sign of the hype that's built up around the game, and will hopefully be the start of more to come in the future. Fighting the occasional aimbot or maphack might be a time-honored online FPS tradition, but an abundance is never good.

Xbox's Aaron Greenberg responded to criticisms of last week's Inside Xbox next-gen showcase. "Had we not said anything and just shown May Inside Xbox show like we did last month, I suspect reactions might have been different," Greenberg wrote on Twitter. "Clearly we set some wrong expectations and that's on us. We appreciate all the feedback and can assure you we will take it all in and learn as a team." Xbox is set to host monthly streams leading up to the Series X launch in holiday 2020, including a first-party showcase in July.

Just a little longer, Chief. | 343 Industries/Microsoft

Industry Chatter

Bloomberg's Jason Schreier commented on the four months of E3-style news this year, rather than the concentrated one-week cluster in Los Angeles. Could it lead to more publishers thinking about going their own way for E3 2021? It's an interesting thought, though I'm already feeling the E3 wear-and-tear and we're mere days into this marathon.

In the most bizarre quote of the week, a Democratic strategist suggested that former Vice President Joe Biden could be projected into Fortnite in a manner similar to Travis Scott's Fortnite takeover. ...Right. That's what the youth of America wants: a massive, pixelated Joe Biden interrupting their battle royale.

On the other side of the "good idea, bad idea" coin, U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visited several Animal Crossing: New Horizons players' islands over the weekend, spreading cheer and even giving a commencement address at a virtual graduation.

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Eric Van Allen

News Editor

Eric is a writer and Texan. He's a former contributor to sites including Compete, Polygon, Waypoint, and the Washington Post. He loves competitive games, live music, and travel.

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