New article out in Social Media + Society: In The Extended Reach of Game Engine Companies Damien Schlarb and I discuss the growing importance of companies developing game engines like Epic Games and Unity Technologies.
Game engines feature in areas well beyond gaming and are set to become influential actors in all social and economic arenas that start to rely on game engines for the provision of software or services. In the article, we illustrate this through three arguments:
Game engine companies have successfully positioned their engines outside of gaming. They have become platforms in various fields by providing the basis for augmented and virtual reality applications and drive the large-scale digitization of work, entertainment, and services.
Games run by game engine companies offer examples for cross-platform and cross-IP storyworlds. Those provide templates for future non-game services and future cross-platform, cross-media story- and brand worlds beyond gaming.
Game engine companies are set to become identity hubs, verifying users’ identities in interactions with others and managing payments. They can grow into contenders in the competition over which companies will be able to manage users’ identity, payments, and their social graph.
The emergence of game engines as platforms for the increasing digitization of economic, social, and political life and the growing prominence of extended reality applications represent a shift in digital infrastructures and needs to be accounted for in platform studies.
The various uses of Epic Games and Unity Technologies offer rich opportunities for interdisciplinary research to broaden our understanding of the diverse roles of platforms in society.
Abstract: Game engines have come to feature in areas well beyond gaming—such as architecture, artificial intelligence, manufacturing, public planning, and film and television production. Accordingly, companies developing, providing, and maintaining game engines—such as Epic Games or Unity Technologies—are set to become influential actors in all social and economic arenas that start to rely on game engines for the provision of software or services. This makes them an important subject to the study of platforms as they provide increasingly crucial building blocks in the digitization of economic, political, and social life. In this article, we present three dimensions demonstrating platform functions of game engines beyond gaming. We rely on the example of two important game engine developers: Epic Games and Unity Technologies. The dimensions are (1) the growing area of extended reality applications, (2) cross-platform and cross-media story- and brand worlds, and (3) the management of user payments, identities, and social graphs. The article shows how companies providing game engines challenge the current balance of power between established platform companies, demonstrating that game engines have emerged as an important new type of platform that demands academic and public attention.