Real-time round-up: the state of interactive 3D

From Lil' Miquela partnering with teen retailer Pacsun to the blossoming of transmedia storytelling, last year saw the digital and physical universes collide in new and exciting ways. One constant, however, has been the inexorable rise of virtual worlds and interactive 3D content.

You only have to look at the proliferation of interactive 3D-focused technology at CES to see that the foundations are being laid for a future of captivating real-time experiences.

As 2022 disappears in the rearview mirror and we plunge headlong into the new year, it’s time for our annual look back at the biggest real-time developments of the previous 12 months.

Unreal Engine users continue to thrive

A simple question can help uncover the state of real-time technology: how has the use of real-time tools grown? One signal for the industry's real-time growth is the momentum we continue to see with Unreal Engine usage.

Last year, we saw an average 23% growth in Monthly Active Users (MAU) of Unreal Engine compared to the previous year across all geographical regions. The biggest region for growth was North America, with a nearly 40% increase—but Asia was a close second with around a 30% rise in MAU.

The proportion of users now on Unreal Engine 5 since its release in April has grown to 73%.

What does this mean?

In a nutshell, more and more creators are picking up real-time tools to create digital content. As we’ll see later on, this trend is mirrored in all the major industries in which real-time technologies have taken root.

Whether it was powering the biggest TV shows, films, and games, or pervading the top architectural and automotive firms, 2022 saw a massive uptick in the use of interactive 3D technology for creating content, applications, and experiences.

With increasing investment in the development of the hardware to run these experiences of the sort showcased at CES, the next few years are likely to bring some exciting innovations in the interactive 3D space.

Let’s take a deeper dive.

Next-gen games using Unreal Engine

The release of Unreal Engine 5 in April gave rise to a flurry of announcements that upcoming high-profile games would be built on the engine. These include the next Tomb Raider; the remake of The Witcher and the next installment in The Witcher franchise; Kingdom Hearts 4; TEKKEN 8; Layers of Fear; Silent Hill 2 Remake, and many more.

Over half of the next-gen games that have been announced are being built with Unreal Engine, including BlueTwelve Studio's Stray, winner of the Debut Indie Game Award at The Game Awards 2022.

Looking forward to 2023, nearly 80 of the most highly anticipated games penciled in for release this year are powered by Unreal Engine.

Last year also saw Epic ship phase one of our integrated crossplay offering, starting with PC support. This has made adding crossplay between PC stores (the Epic Games Store and Steam to start with) more streamlined for developers who want to use Epic Games accounts as the cross-storefront social ecosystem.

Unreal Engine in film and TV

The past decade has seen virtual production evolve from niche to mainstream. As more and more scripted production pipelines incorporate some element of this powerful set of techniques, it’s no surprise that the number of TV shows and movies leveraging Unreal Engine-powered workflows continues on an upward trajectory.

In 2022, the engine was used on 153 projects—a year-on-year increase of 44%—bringing the total number of Unreal Engine film and TV projects to date to more than 500.

These included notable productions leveraging in-camera VFX (ICVFX) workflows such as the Golden Globe winner for Best Picture Drama—HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon—alongside high-production shows 1899 and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (CBS).

Unreal Engine also continues to be a leading choice when it comes to previsualization, with productions including Rings of Power (Amazon), Black Adam (Warner Bros), and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Marvel) leveraging the technology to explore creative options before shooting on set.

Real-time tools are not just transforming on-set filmmaking, however—they are also increasingly being picked up by animation studios and artists looking for a faster and more collaborative way to deliver animation projects.

Illustrating this point, our Animation Field Guide was downloaded over 10,000 times subsequent to its release last year. Animation shorts built in Unreal Engine were featured in over 30 animation festivals around the world, one of which received an Emmy nomination (Little Bird) and one an Annie Award Nomination (Mall Stories).

Big name animation productions that leveraged Unreal Engine included Love Death + Robots: In Vaulted Halls Entombed (Netflix), Super Giant Robot Brothers (Netflix), and Disney’s Big City Greens holiday special Virtually Christmas.

And game engine technology continues to offer a fast and flexible way to deliver traditional VFX, as reflected in the Unreal Engine-powered visual effects seen in For All Mankind (Zoic/Apple), Stargirl (Zoic/WB), and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Luma Pictures/Marvel).

Real-time technology in architecture 

Last year was a big year for real-time technology in the architecture industry, with 40 of the largest architecture firms in the US signing up to adopt fast and easy visualization tool Twinmotion.

Enticed by the promise of slashing months from the design process as well as offering a more engaging and efficient way to communicate with stakeholders, AEC firms across the board are ramping up their real-time capabilities.

A Forrester report we commissioned last year revealed that companies across the architecture industry want to improve their real-time capabilities—61% of respondents from architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms said they plan to onboard 11 or more game engine users within 24 months.*

That confidence in the health of real-time technology in the architecture space was mirrored in strategic moves made by big players such as Autodesk, with a new collaboration announced last year that saw Autodesk Revit subscribers provided with free access to Twinmotion.

Other significant public announcements that paint a picture of the ascendency of game engine tech in the AEC space include the news that UK-based Unreal Engine partner OnePlan has been hired to create digital twins of all the competition venues for the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Real-time technology in automotive 

The automotive industry similarly saw a significant uptick in the use of real-time technology, with the top three automakers in every region now committed to the use of Unreal Engine. In North America, GM, Ford, and Tesla have adopted the engine; BMW, Volkswagen Group, and Ferrari are using it in Europe; and Toyota, Nissan, and Hyundai are notable brands leveraging the technology in APAC.

Last year brought an updated version of our Automotive Field Guide, which included new information around one of the fastest-growing uses of game engine technology in the development of next-generation vehicles—the human-machine interface (HMI).

The number of vehicles using Unreal Engine-powered HMI increased by 250% last year, while flagship cars—including the Rivian R1S, the Lotus Eletre, and the brand new Ford Mustang—launched with HMI and marketing content built using Unreal Engine.

That trend looks set to continue in 2023, with the news that Sony and Honda’s new electric vehicles, to be sold under the brand name Afeela, are to come equipped with a best-in-class HMI entertainment system built on Unreal Engine.

We also witnessed examples of automakers selling in creative new ways in 2022, with Fiat using technology supplied by Touchcast and Microsoft to take orders for vehicles in their own branded metaverse environment. Fiat follows in the footsteps of early automotive metaverse pioneers BMW, who released their Joytopia experience back in 2021. At CES 2022, the German car giant reopened Joytopia to showcase a new “multi-sensory experience that redefines the notion of a concept vehicle,” titled Dimensions of Real.

Interactive 3D in broadcast, live events, and fashion

Real-time technology continues to enhance audience experiences for broadcast and live events, powering the augmented reality visuals, motion graphics, video walls, inserts, and virtual sets that enable producers to blend CG and live action.

In 2022, we saw a host of live events and broadcasts leveraging game engine technology to deliver unique experiences, from interactive VR concerts to fully virtual production-powered studios and graphical overlays that wowed sports fans.

CBS News coverage of the US Midterm Elections harnessed the power of Unreal Engine to create a variety of effects, and more and more fixed installations were using real-time technology to create interactive experiences, including mindblowing new projects like the world’s first hyperreal wingsuit simulator.

Meanwhile, the exploration of digital identity and self expression through fashion design, curation, and virtual social experiences continued apace in 2022.

A case in point was the launch of Human Park, which leverages both Unreal Engine and the MetaHuman framework. Human Park is a next-generation Web3 experience—a decentralized gaming platform where users can customize avatars with fully interoperable NFT wearables and season-specific icons.

Similarly, real-time avatar creation environment and marketplace HUMXN give users access to the HUMXN metaverse: an Unreal Engine-powered creation environment where users can dress, pose, customize, and snap photos of MetaHuman-based avatars.

The Epic ecosystem of creator tools

With creators continuing to astound us with extraordinary real-time experiences, last year saw Epic strive to support them by building out our connected ecosystem of powerful creation tools.

These include Unreal Engine, Twinmotion, Quixel Megascans, MetaHuman, RealityCapture, RealityScan, Sketchfab, ArtStation, Fortnite, and the Unreal Engine Marketplace.

Our long-term vision is that this interconnected hub of applications, platforms, and marketplaces will provide everything creators need to build the virtual worlds of the future.

In 2022, we hit a number of key milestones on the journey towards this ambition. For a start, we saw the digital human population increase significantly, with creators producing 2.6 million MetaHumans to date.

The MetaHuman plugin was installed 68,000 times, and there were 406,000 new MetaHuman users in 2022.

The huge uptake we saw in people using MetaHuman correlates with the wider picture in the industry, with the global digital human avatar market size expected to reach $527.58 billion in 2030 (up $10.03 billion in 2020).

Twinmotion continued to make waves in the architecture industry—but is now also being picked up by a broad range of content creators looking to create real-time experiences, spanning industries from architecture and automotive to product design and fashion.

This saw the Twinmotion core user base grow by 21% last year, with 342,000 first-time Twinmotion installs recorded.

Unreal Engine content creators made good use of the Quixel Megascans library in 2022, with around 40 million assets downloaded (up from 27 million in 2021), while the average MAU for Quixel Megascans grew by 61% in 2022 compared to the previous year.

And the Unreal Engine Marketplace also saw significant expansion in 2022, with a 42% rise in content and the number of new sellers on the site increasing by around a third.

The top five free assets from the Sponsored Content Program were Stone Pine Forest, Animated Rain - Waterdrop Material & FX, Niagara Mega VFX Pack vol. 1, Sunset - Modular Medieval Brick Buildings, and Modular Gothic Temple (medieval/winter/snow).

Real-time tools in the cloud

Our Forrester report found that 77% of companies polled are adopting real-time tools because they’re looking to increase collaboration. Bring the power of the cloud into the equation, and collaborative opportunity is increased by an order of magnitude. 

With this in mind, Epic is working hard to position Unreal Engine as a first-class citizen in a cloud-first ecosystem, developing features like Pixel Streaming and supporting foundational technologies such as containers on Windows and Linux.

As of 2022, Unreal Engine can be deployed on cloud hosting solutions including AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud, making it possible to use hosted virtual machines when working on your projects rather than relying on your local resources.

You can find out more about what it takes to run/deploy cloud solutions with Unreal Engine in the recording of our Unreal Engine in the Cloud panel from Unreal Fest 2022.

Beyond Unreal Engine, Twinmotion has also begun incorporating features that harness the power of the cloud. If the numbers are anything to go by, users are putting this new cloud-based functionality to good use, with more than 100,000 presentations exported via Twinmotion Cloud last year alone.

What’s in store for 2023

There you have it—2022 was another big year for real-time technology. The coming year promises to bring more interactive and immersive experiences than ever before.

Watch out for everything we have in store for 2023, as we make our tools more accessible and give creators more power than ever before!

*A commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Epic Games. Data correct as of January 2022.

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