How Epic Wants to Control the Creator Economy
The company responsible for the massive juggernaut ‘Fortnite’ has been shifting heavily towards the consolidation game, joining their corporate peers in the industry. In addition to buying the studios behind competing popular multiplayer games ‘Rocket League’ and ‘Fall Guys’, Epic Games has also absorbed technology and creative platforms. As of 2022, Epic Games bought RAD Game Tools, Capturing Reality, ArtStation, Sketchfab, Harmonix, and most recently Bandcamp. With the exception of Harmonix, all of these companies aren’t game creators, rather they are providers of technologies and platforms designed to empower the market of creativity. While many could chalk this up as Epic Games prepping for the ‘metaverse’, I think this reflects Epic’s ambitions to play a larger role in the creator economy.
The creator economy is a recent nomenclature describing major online platforms that allow users to create, distribute, or sell their content in exchange for a monetary return. Platforms like Bandcamp, ArtStation, and Sketchfab all cater to independent artists who want to share and distribute their work without needing a financial backing to do so. Bandcamp is a marketplace for independent musicians, ArtStation and Sketchfab are marketplaces for 3D modelling and concept artists, and Epic’s own Unreal Engine also serves as an easy gateway for independent game creators. Epic’s ownership of these platforms facilitates their ambitions to become a major entity in the creator economy, despite not being a social media platform like YouTube or TikTok.
While Epic’s target demographic in this sector is comparatively niche to YouTube or TikTok, it is an untapped market and thus has a lot of room for growth. The low barrier of accessibility for platforms like YouTube and Tiktok make it easy for most users to create content regardless of their inherent talent or expertise with video production. As long as you have a camera, something billions of people have thanks to smartphones, you could upload content on YouTube or TikTok. Due to the platforms Epic acquired requiring a higher level of knowledge to utilize, Epic wants to position themselves as the “professional” creator economy. Artists who want to get their start in the gaming or film or music industry would likely use platforms that Epic operates. Platforms like ArtStation, Sketchfab, and Bandcamp are desirable portfolio builders for independent artists, which poses a natural concern over how Epic will govern this territory.
While Epic claims that they will keep Bandcamp an independent entity, it is difficult to ascertain how willing they are to allow creators to share and distribute their work outside of the Epic ecosystem. Additionally, with Bandcamp being considered a haven for small indie musicians that wouldn’t have any footing in another larger platform like Spotify, Epic’s ownership may compromise that vision. Consequently, this could create a vicious cycle where Epic wants to focus to popularity rather than creativity in order to draw in a larger userbase. What if Epic transforms Bandcamp into a Spotify competitor? What if Epic integrates Bandcamp with Fortnite as a means to strengthen their ‘metaverse’ ambitions? These potential moves limit the versatility of creators as they are no longer creating for themselves, but they are creating for a larger system. How can creators make themselves known in a major interactive platform like Fortnite?
These questions fundamentally present an existential threat to platforms that encourage creative expression. Creative platforms owned by Epic may encourage artists to prioritize navigating through an algorithm that prioritizes high user retention rather than their own artistic vision. This has happened before on established platforms like YouTube where creators wishing to make a living on the website have to constantly adjust their content to appease both the advertisers and the algorithm. While Epic has made some positive changes that benefit creators, such as increasing Sketchfab’s revenue share and making membership free, it is difficult to determine whether this pro-creator mentality will last forever. Will Epic truly support the philosophy of the open platform or will they chase the trends of the metaverse?
Outside of the inherent limitations of the metaverse, a topic that I will cover for later, what remains clear is that Epic’s motivations for this consolidation is not necessarily in favor of the creator’s interests. To stave off backlash and outrage from creators, Epic will likely avoid dramatically changing the conditions for independent creators and focus on maintaining trust with the community of artists that rely on these services. That being said, consolidation will eventually become detrimental to creators in some shape or form. As companies like Epic will continue to expand, they will eventually want to internally consolidate or reorganize to make managing these divisions easier and to maximize profits. It’s possible that Epic could renege the 12% revenue split that creators enjoy if they begin to lose quarterly growth. There are many reasons to be concerned about Epic’s ownership of platforms like Bandcamp, that were almost wholly built by smaller artists.
As it stands right now, there are no signs that Epic plans to decelerate their consolidation, which is reason enough for creators to be skeptical of the future, regardless of the short-term benefits. While the consolidation corporations will present these purchases as benevolent in nature, the nature of business dictates otherwise. Only time, not PR, will tell whether these acquisitions will be truly beneficial to creators.