Music Business

Epic Games ventures beyond gaming to acquire Bandcamp and ‘build out a creator marketplace’

Epic Games, a video game software developer, recently made the move to stick their foot in the music industry by acquiring the notorious Bandcamp.

by Timothy Geigner of Tech Dirt.

We’ve been talking quite a bit lately about consolidation within the video game industry. As is often the case in times of economic strife, the pandemic has led to large entities in the gaming industry gobbling up smaller entities. Microsoft acquired Zenimax. Then Microsoft acquired Activision Blizzard King for a wild amount of money. Soon after, Sony acquired Bungie. Nintendo, being Nintendo, has mostly stayed on the sidelines other than acquiring a company that is geared specifically towards making Nintendo games.

And then Epic Games acquired… Bandcamp?

Today the game maker moved to acquire Bandcamp, an online music-streaming service that revolves around DRM-free purchases of MP3s, FLACs, and other audio files. The news emerged via press releases from both Bandcamp and Epic on Wednesday. As of press time, neither side of the deal has clarified its financial terms.Enter your email to get the Ars Technica newsletter

Thus far, Epic’s growth trajectory has involved acquisitions of gaming studios, software developers, and tool creators, all of which make sense with Epic’s Unreal Engine product. The companies in question have brought Epic tools like superior compression or more realistic virtual humans, which all slot into open-ended 3D-creation systems like Unreal Engine 4 and 5.

But what exactly does Bandcamp bring to the Unreal Engine table? As of press time, Epic isn’t saying. The best hint comes in Epic’s Wednesday press release on the matter, which emphasizes Epic’s “vision to build out a creator marketplace ecosystem for content, technology, games, art, music and more.”

Now, there are a ton of potential strategies behind this acquisition. The most obvious of them would be to fold Bandcamp into Epic’s offerings with the Unreal Engine to make music available via license to those that use the engine to make games. It’d be something like stock footage, but for video game music. Given the wide adoption of the engine within the industry, this makes a fair amount of sense.

But such pedestrian plans are far less tantalizing than the idea of Epic looking to get out of the video game silo and into several other content markets.

Additionally, Epic is doing a bad job of hiding a story that has been brewing in its home state of North Carolina ever since the company acquired and began developing a new 980,000-square-foot headquarters in early 2021. Sources familiar with Epic Games’ dealings have pointed to job listings (not necessarily under the “Epic Games” banner) that blur the line between video game production duties and live-action filming needs. At least some of these positions involve this new, massive physical location, which was previously a mall down the road from Epic’s existing offices in Cary, North Carolina. 

That news follows Unreal Engine’s increasingly popular utility in TV and film production throughout Hollywood. Ars Technica has previously covered how beloved film director/producer Jon Favreau favored Unreal Engine as a real-time digital effects system and how UE allowed camera crews and actors alike to frame and preview CGI aspects in the middle of a live-action shoot.

Now that is interesting. While the execs at Bandcamp are saying that the platform will continue operating as is for now, it isn’t hard to imagine what Epic could do with the platform if it truly does want to morph into a multi-type content company. I wasn’t aware, for instance, that some movie director’s use the Unreal Engine for mockups of movie scenes and for special effects. Building a music platform into the engine suddenly makes it far more likely that the engine could be used for something closer to full productions: movies created within the engine and the soundtrack from the Bandcamp side, as well.

And Epic’s own press release on the manner suggests that the company is looking to “build out a creator marketplace ecosystem for content, technology, games, art, music and more.” We’ll forgive that press release its Oxford comma for now, because, while this acquisition gives us some hints at what Epic is trying to build, it will likely be the next one that confirms it.

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