When people think about North Carolina’s Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill region, Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) college basketball is usually top of mind thanks to universities like Duke, North Carolina State, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Wake Forest. But the Research Triangle Region, which has a booming technology industry, is also home to more than 40 video game companies. And in terms of both size and sales, Epic Games is among the largest of them all.
When Epic Games moved its headquarters to North Carolina in the late ’90s, it turned an area known mainly for college basketball into a gaming epicenter of an entirely different kind.
The 115,000-square-foot studio in Cary, N.C., features a two-story slide, a rock-climbing wall in the common area, and is home to 160 employees. It’s here, inside these sleek, modern walls, that one of the biggest game franchises in the world today — Gears of War — was created. The franchise, which Microsoft publishes for the Xbox 360, has sold more than 18 million copies to date, generating more than $1 billion in revenue. And there’s a new prequel, Gears of War: Judgment, heading into the hands of eager gamers in early 2013.
But Epic’s impact on the game world expands far beyond its own franchises, which also include Unreal Tournament, Bulletstorm, Fortnite and Infinity Blade. Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 game-engine technology has been licensed by 215 game makers and has powered nearly 300 games — including upcoming releases like Irrational Games’ BioShock Infinite, Arkane Studios’ Dishonored and Adhesive Games’ Hawken.
“The fact that Epic Games, a world-class brand in game development, maintains its headquarters in the Triangle is a tremendous asset to the local game-development community,” says Wayne Watkins, project manager at Wake County Economic Development. “It’s the anchor tenant of our game-development ecosystem.”
That ecosystem has grown exponentially since Epic Games moved its first nonvirtual office to the Triangle from Waterloo, Canada, in the late ’90s. Epic, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last month, has attracted? leading game-development talent from around the world. At the same time, it’s been able to tap into the computer- and game-development programs from local community colleges and universities. Those programs have also played a role in attracting new studios from established game companies like Electronic Arts, Insomniac Games, Disney Interactive Media Group and Ubisoft.
“We looked all around the country, including Seattle, Southern California and the epicenter of the game industry, Northern ?California, but we really liked the Raleigh area,” explains Tim Sweeney, the founder and CEO of Epic Games. “One of our guys had gone to college here, and we all fell in love with what the area offers. It’s a technology center that’s also home to great universities, and it offers a reasonable cost of living.”