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Since its release two months ago, Epic Games’ The Matrix Awakens demo has been downloaded more than six million times across PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S. Epic also said its game accounts have also crossed 500 million.

The Game Awards 2021 in December first highlighted the demo, and Epic released it for the next-generation consoles to show off what its next-generation Unreal Engine 5 will be able to do when it launches as a platform for game makers in 2022.

Since the demo, Epic Games said that total downloads for Unreal Engine increased nearly 40% since the end of 2020. And Epic also said that since MetaHuman Creator’s launch in February, over one million MetaHumans have been created.

Unity has typically said that it is winning the hearts and minds of game developers to its game engine, and Unity has strong roots in mobile gaming. But Epic has approached the market from the high-end, and it said that 48% of announced next-generation games are being built on Unreal Engine.

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Epig Games has 500 million game accounts.

It noted that The Game Awards 2021 had 19 Unreal Engine-powered games nominated across 21 categories, and Unreal Engine titles took home nine wins–including Game of the Year. And Epic said its Unreal Marketplace customers grew by more than 50% in 2021. And people downloaded more than 32 million Quixel assets last year.

Epic’s ambition is to help create the metaverse, the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One. It sees all of these creative tools and its ecosystem as essential to that effort, and it wants to ensure the metaverse will be open and accessible.

Epic has a strong foundation to build the metaverse, as it noted players have registered over 500 million Epic Games accounts with 2.7 billion friend connections across Fortnite, Rocket League, and the Epic Games Store.

“It’s too early to say exactly how the metaverse will take shape, but we see it as a shared social 3D world with persistence, discovery, moderation, and commerce,” Epic Games said. “It will be an evolution of the internet as we know it, and its foundations will be built on real-time 3D technology.”

How Epic is stitching it all together

Epic said its engine is growing.

Epic said a poll conducted for it by Forrester found 85% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that real-time technology is very important to the future of their company, while 82% share the same level of conviction that the metaverse will expand how they interact with customers.

While Unreal Engine is the gateway for many creators, the technology sits at the heart of an entire ecosystem of engine-agnostic creative tools and services that are open and accessible for anyone to use. The company said its vision is that this interconnected hub of applications, platforms, and marketplaces will provide everything creators need to build the virtual worlds of the future.

Epic’s free cloud-based MetaHuman Creator app is a good example of what it’s trying to do. It helps anyone create photorealistic digital humans, complete with hair and clothing, in minutes.

In July 2021, Epic acquired Sketchfab, a platform designed to publish, share, discover, buy and sell 3D, VR and AR content. Its viewer enables users to display 3D models on the web, to be viewed on any mobile browser, desktop browser, or virtual reality headset. Sketchfab’s content creator members recently passed the seven million mark.

The top five most-downloaded Unreal Marketplace assets, in order, were the Modular Lost Ruins Kit, Defect Ultimate Props Bundle Vol.1, Stylized Forest, Underground Subway, and the Action RPG Multiplayer Starter Template.

Twinmotion, ArtStation, RealityCapture, the Epic Games Store, and Epic Online Services are some of the other key components that make up the Epic ecosystem. Along with Unreal Engine 5, these creative tools and services will bring people together in collaborative, shared spaces in 2022, the company said.

Unreal Engine 5 next-generation games

Hellblade II's troll.
Hellblade II’s troll.

If you want a taste of the latest and greatest virtual worlds, video games are a good place to start, Epic said. The company highlighted early access UE5 next-gen games including Black Myth: Wukong, Stalker 2: Heart of Chernobyl, Dragon Quest 12: The Flames of Fate, and Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II.

The Matrix Awakens: An Unreal Engine 5 Experience was aimed at showing audiences how it could push the boundaries for technology in a demo set within the world of Warner Bros.’ The Matrix.

It starts out with a cinematic that features exceptionally realistic digital humans before morphing into a fast-paced interactive experience of car chases and third-person shooter action. The whole thing takes place in a huge, bustling, and explorable open-world city that — like the simulated world of The Matrix — is incredibly rich and complex. Epic is planning to give away that city with the engine to help developers jumpstart their efforts.

“It illustrates that the blurring of boundaries between film and games is now a real possibility,” Epic said. “True convergence between these two art forms has been speculated upon over the past decades, and technology has finally advanced enough to enable it.”

Virtual production and in-camera VFX

In 2020, fewer than a dozen in-camera visual effects (ICVFX) stages were up and running. Today, Epic is aware of more than 250 ICVFX stages across the globe.

The technologies and workflows that were once the preserve of big studios with multi-million dollar budgets have become democratized, giving rise to a new wave of content creators. Often releasing material on streaming platforms like YouTube, these creators are breaking records and garnering plaudits for their imagination and innovation, Epic said.

At one time, using real-time technology in film and television production was considered experimental. Now, it’s being adopted across the entire workflow and used for a multitude of content. Real-time workflows are impacting projects at every stage of the creative lifecycle, from conceptual writing and location scouting to production design and final-frame visual effects, Epic said.

In 2021, nearly 1.5 times the number of new film and TV projects used Unreal Engine as compared to 2020.

Some of the recent and upcoming blockbuster films that have used Unreal Engine — either for previsualization, stunt visualization, virtual location scouting, and art department and/or in-camera visual effects — include Jungle Cruise, The Suicide Squad, Free Guy, Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Dune, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and The Matrix Resurrections, with many more ahead in the 2022 release slate.

Animation studios around the world have seen the benefits real-time workflows bring to live-action film production for tasks like previs, and capitalized on those advantages in their own pipelines, Epic said. Part of the reason is being able to change your mind without taking days to re-render scenes — and to make creative decisions on the fly and iterate to find the best version of a story.

Recent animation projects using Unreal include Super Giant Robot Brothers, We Will Be Monsters, Yuki 7, and The Eye: Calanthek.

Architecture and automotive real-time innovation

Automotive designers are using Unreal Engine.

Beyond film and TV, real-time technology is changing industries like automotive and architecture. We have seen a huge shift in architecture professionals experimenting with Unreal Engine as a rendering platform over the past two years, the company said.

About 50% of survey respondents are now using Unreal, an increase of 60%. Toward the end of last year, Twinmotion downloads reached the one million mark.

Epic said it has seen a progressive rise in the number of digital twins of cities being created using Unreal Engine. The digital twin plugin and sample project created by WSP and Microsoft that links Microsoft’s Azure digital twin hub with Unreal Engine had over 38,000 downloads combined last year.

In the automotive industry, interest in real-time workflows continues to rise unabated. In a recent poll conducted by Forrester, 78% of auto respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they’d like to use real-time technology for concepting, design, and marketing.

The top five auto brands are working on deep Unreal Engine platform integrations, the company said. And the Rivian
R1T is now rolling off assembly lines with an Unreal Engine-powered Human-Machine Interface (HMI) driver display, and in 2022, the GMC Hummer EV will hit the streets with Unreal Engine in its digital cockpit.

Live event and entertainment producers are also using Unreal Engine to deliver fully virtual events instead, such as the Madison Beer concert and the Tomorrowland festival. Many events that did take place in-person were produced using real-time graphics for on-stage performances, such as the Guns N’ Roses ‘Not In This Lifetime’ tour.

In fashion, Balenciaga and Gary James McQueen pioneering new ways to bring haute couture to their fans, along with the rise of new digital-first apparel brands like RTFKT.

Last year, more luxury fashion brands started using virtual production techniques to launch their collections, Epic said. In the coming year, the industry is set to have something of a virtual production revolution with a number of exciting shows planned that will be powered by game engine technology.

More for 2022?

Echo goes up against the Ancient in an Unreal Engine 5 demo.
Echo goes up against the Ancient in an Unreal Engine 5 demo.

Looking at 2022, Epic Games said transmedia campaigns — in which brands reuse the same digital assets for multiple marketing activations — and even bring them into the physical world, will increase. Examples of that in 2021 were Balenciaga’s Fortnite crossover campaign and Ferrari’s test-drive on the Fortnite island.

Cloud solutions will become a driving force of the real-time 3D revolution. The pandemic of the last few years has precipitated rapid growth in demand for cross-team and cross-border remote collaboration. With Unreal Engine now running on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure, and soon to run on Google Cloud, working on real-time projects from anywhere will become a viable alternative to on-premises content creation, Epic said.

With people starting to come back together for events in person, Epic also believes we will likely see more augmented or mixed-reality graphics used to enhance live event content. This type of augmentation is growing in popularity and is increasingly being adopted in sports stadiums to deliver a unique fan engagement experience — as seen with the Carolina Panthers’ impressive spectacle late last year.

Epic also saw uptake in the use of LED volumes utilizing nDisplay in broadcast studios in 2021, enabling broadcasters to produce content with visual quality normally only seen in Hollywood movies.

“Last but not least, the metaverse. Anyone paying attention over the past few months will have seen the headlines. Far more than a buzzword, the metaverse is a tangible prospect, parts of which already exist,” Epic said. “In 2022, we’ll see the concept of the metaverse continue to develop. At Epic, we’re bringing together the technology, tools and services for creators to make amazing experiences. Empowered by this creative arsenal, we believe everyone can play a part in building beautiful, dynamic, socially connected worlds.”

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