While consumers have been slow to adopt the often clunky and expensive virtual reality hardware, enterprise applications in the corporate world are on the rise. This augmented and virtual reality space is a key area to watch for Epic and its main game engine competitor Unity Technologies.
“They’re the ones powering that technology – it’s clearly a good opportunity,” said Carter Rogers, principal analyst at SuperData.
Sweeney said a particularly “interesting and surprising” new area for Epic is medical research. UK-based Pharmaceutical research firm C4X Discovery recently starting using Unreal Engine technology to visualize and manipulate 3-D molecules in virtual reality, with the potential to let scientists collaborate remotely in the virtual environment.
Epic does make money from its enterprise effort when customers opt for paid support service that includes onsite visits and access to a community of developers within Epic who designed the Unreal Engine and third-party developers who use the engine and are experts. But most enterprise users of the Unreal Engine are using the free version, and that makes sense at a time when industry-wide monetization of augmented reality and virtual reality solutions remains elusive. Blippar, an early darling in the augmented reality start-up field that raised over $130 million in venture capital and was once valued over $1 billion, announced it was folding this week.
Epic’s position is that visual content will continue to move in the VR direction, but it is still the early days for the enterprise market and Epic needs to focus on building out features and proving that a pipeline of technology within the Unreal Engine will add value for corporate customers. The company needs to provide foundational learning for companies interested in placing their clients in a VR environment.
Epic’s relationship with the large developer community that uses the Unreal Engine stood out to Brad Twohig, who led Lightspeed Venture Partners’ participation in Epic’s latest funding round.
“Even on the industrial side, having such a robust developer community enables much faster software development and progression of the platform,” said Twohig, adding that there are not many enterprise AR and VR platforms that have scaled to what Epic says is millions of Unreal Engine users. “I think it’s a pretty uniquely positioned product,” he said.
Several car manufacturers including Audi, BMW and McLaren recently attended an Unreal Engine enterprise technology event Epic held in Germany.
Sweeney predicts that enterprise users of Unreal Engine will overtake game users by the end of 2019, and ultimately, he thinks industry-specific and entertainment uses will converge as part of a bigger digital industry. “The thing that really interests me is seeing visual assets crossover between different media,” he said, giving as an example a model created in an architectural firm that could be dropped into an entertainment experience.
Fortnite continues to add interactive in-game features like a green screen and the new Creative mode that in some ways parallel how developers can experiment with its foundational engine.
“You start seeing how that [enterprise side] can also inform their consumer business,” Twohig said. “If you’re able to collaborate and model in real-time on creating a jet engine in their software, imagine what consumers can do with it.”
—By Erica Yee, special to CNBC.com