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IPA teams up with Epic Games to fuel metaverse creation


By Chris Sutcliffe, Senior reporter

February 23, 2022 | 6 min read

The IPA has teamed up with Epic Games and digital agency Collective to teach agencies and clients how to integrate digital assets (via Unreal Engine) into their businesses and marketing plans.

Unreal creator

The workshop, in collaboration with Collective, aims to demystify 3D asset creation for marketers

Digital asset creation is a frequent pain point for marketers. The need to create and render assets for use in creative executions is time-intensive, but is increasingly a necessary marketing tool.

Unreal Engine, the open-source real-time 3D creation tool and game engine, is best known for underpinning Fortnite and is widely used across film and TV for visual asset creation.

Crucially for marketers, the content and assets can be created on-demand and in high quality, with significantly reduced production times. The scheme from the IPA, Epic and Collective, then, is a play both to embed Unreal Engine into the marketing ecosystem – great for Epic Games – and to educate the marketing industry about the next iteration of digital creation tools and their role in metaverse marketing.

Julian Douglas, IPA president, says: “Unreal has revolutionized the architecture and automotive industries, it’s time advertising joined them. We understand that while there is a lot of interest, there is also a lot of trepidation. This partnership will help us alleviate concerns and show marketers and agencies through practical advice how we can make it work for them.”

Stephen Barnes, founding partner at Collective, tells The Drum that the key benefit to the marketing industry is the ability to scale and share asset creation. Traditionally that has been a bottleneck in the creative process – particularly when teams are remote. “You’ve got different markets, you’ve got localization, it’s that kind of thing. And that’s when you start to go, ‘oh, right. You know, this is really powerful.’

“If 3D is part of your pipeline, on any level ... and I feel like most marketers are in some shape or form using 3D, but just doing it in this slightly siloed linear way. It’s completely universal and relevant to anyone.”

As digital marketing becomes less about one moment in time and more about persistent experiences, such as those we’ve seen in metaverse marketing to date, marketers are required to adjust how they think about asset creation.

Rachel Stones, business development manager for brands/advertising at Epic Games, tells The Drum that the open-source nature of Unreal Engine caters to the next generation of creators, in addition to the current crop. “The fact that we’ve moved outside of game development into lots of other areas of industry is down to what the engine can do.

“[They are] relevant to automotive, to architecture ... using an engine to develop and pre-visualize buildings and cities. It isn’t just Unreal Engine now, there’s a kind of creators’ ecosystem, if you like. The plan is to democratize 3D ... that [which] has traditionally been reserved for the highly skilled is now available to the masses.”

As such, part of the aim of the course is to demystify the creative process for 3D assets. It will include working examples of how Unreal has been successfully implemented by other industries and one-to-one consultations on how it could be integrated into marketers’ specific needs. The workshop will be rolled out across the year.

Creating the metaverse

The metaverse as a concept relies on the use of a game engine to power the virtual spaces in which users interact and transact; it makes sense then that Epic, Collective and the IPA would want to be in on the ground floor. At the same time, Barnes believes that hesitancy to experiment with the metaverse is holding some brands and agencies back. “There’s a hesitancy around it, because of the unknown. In terms of actually really utilizing it we haven’t even scratched the surface yet. The potential is so vast that if you go down this path, it can revolutionize your entire marketing department.

“Think about the way you budget, your shoot planning, all that sort of stuff that can all be impacted, that can all be changed. Once you start seeing brands adopt that kind of behavior, that’s when it’s going to really start to get interesting.”

Stones, too, argues that brands need a greater understanding of how the metaverse operates in order to really take advantage of any marketing opportunities there. “Brands who emerge quickly without really understanding the environment can lose out. You have to be additive as a brand, you have to amplify what’s already going on, and it’s about community building. It’s not about push marketing.

“I actually consider Fortnight as gateway. It runs on UE5 and there’s a pretty palpable ambition this year to move Fortnite Creative much closer to Unreal Engine ... then what you’re doing in other areas of advertising, where your assets live, that whole economy ... that blows up again.”

As marketers take their first hesitant steps into the metaverse, collaborative efforts to bring the cost down and demystify the tech can potentially lead to better relationships with consumers. Outside of automotive and architecture, there are few sectors making the most of this new opportunity – but with schemes like the IPA’s startup, that could soon change.

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