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Lego, dog-fooding, and physics: Epic's plans for UEFN | GDC 2024

It’s been almost a year since Epic Games launched Unreal Editor for Fortnite (UEFN), and the company seems quite pleased with how it’s gone.

Speaking with in a briefing ahead of Epic’s State of Unreal event at the Game Developers Conference this week, Fortnite ecosystem executive VP Saxs Persson shares some of the numbers.

UEFN has seen a base of around 15,000 creators publish some 80,000 “islands” so far.

130 million players have tried out those islands, resulting in engagement-based payouts of $320 million to creators to date.

“In many ways, this was the thesis,” Persson says. “If we give great tools to creators and make the economy really simple – make a game, players play the game, creators get paid – we can really inject a whole lot of energy into the system, which is really what we’re seeing with those 80,000 islands.”

When UEFN launched, Epic was seeing perhaps 50 new islands published each day. These days, Persson says that number is closer to 600 a day.

“Every day you show up and you never quite know what you’ll get because as we extend more functionality, people are making deeper and deeper experiences,” Persson says.

One of the biggest additions Epic announced today was the integration of its MetaHuman Creator and Animator offering to assist in making NPCs in UEFN. It’s also adding support for cloth creation tools Marvelous Designer and CLO into UEFN, and laid out a roadmap of upcoming features it is looking to have in place by the end of 2024.

A few new pieces of functionality on the way include a first-person camera view and the addition of Fall Guys assets to UEFN so creators can effectively make their own Fall Guys levels with Fortnite. Epic will also release Rocket Racing track design tools and logic to creators so they can make their own racing games remixed with all the existing functionality of UEFN.

And Persson is particularly excited about incorporating the the extension of UEFN to Lego Fortnite, where players will be allowed to publish their own games within Lego Fortnite using the Lego brand under a one-click agreement. (Creators will keep 85% of the engagement-based payout on such experiences, while Lego will receive the remaining 15%.)

In addition to wanting to see what creators do with the Lego part of the equation, Persson is particularly excited about seeing them work with Lego Fortnite’s fully networked physics.

“Battle Royale to me doesn’t have a very advanced physics model,” he says. “It’s a shooter and it prefers predictability. But Lego Fortnite is much more of a proper physics sandbox and that what we’re extending to creators with essentially all the functionality we’ve worked to get super-fast and super-stable for Lego Fortnite.”

User-generated content in a Lego game is both a natural idea and a problematic one that Lego has struggled to control in the past.

Persson says a prerequisite for UEFN in Lego Fortnite was getting every Fortnite island its own separate rating, a process the company rolled out last October. That allows a brand like Lego to set a rating ceiling for any island its properties might appear in. And while the IARC system at the heart of the rating system can be exploited because it doles out ratings based on a developer-submitted form, Epic isn’t just taking the creators’ word for it when it comes to objectionable content.

“We do pre-moderation of all islands,” Persson says. “There’s no island in Forntite that hasn’t gone through the moderation step. We don’t rely on what most UGC platforms do, which is post-publish moderation. We do pre-publish moderation, which allows us to get a higher standard out of the gate and work with our creators very directly on how to make content that represents our content guidelines, and now Lego’s particular brand restrictions.”

Even with 600 new islands published a day, Persson says the average turnaround time for appropriate new islands to receive Epic’s approval is about two hours.

That’s still a far cry from the amount of new content that becomes available on other user-generated content platforms, but Persson says there are criteria Epic has in place for people to become a registered creator, and there are no plans to change that in the name of explosive growth in the number of creators.

As much as Epic is looking to lower the barrier to entry for creators with UEFN, it’s not looking to water down the tool’s potential and power to make that happen. Epic so wants to establish UEFN as a capable game development tool that it is also committing to using it exclusively to make each new season of Fortnite Battle Royale content starting in late 2025.

“That’s a big deal for us because it really signifies that you can make a polished, AAA game on the scale of Battle Royale on this platform,” Persson says. “It’s a final proof point for ourselves, of really dog-fooding our own tools and processes to the point where we’re taking the most prized possession inside Epic and saying it will be built on this new platform.

“And the pieces of the platform that are missing or sub-optimal today, they’re going to be lifted up to be at least as good as what they are today in the very bespoke limitations of the UE environment.”

He adds, “That’s our philosophy: pioneer a new technology with first-party experiences. Really battle test and harden it and get it to a point where we feel like it’s ready for everybody else to use, and give that functionality to creators. Then one feature at a time, add it to the tool box so creators can make whatever they want to.”

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