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Epic Games shuts down Houseparty app to focus on metaverse

(Washington Post illustration; Epic Games)

Houseparty, the social video app that launched in 2016 and soared in popularity during the pandemic, will be shutting down in October, the company announced Thursday. In a release, Houseparty said it will be absorbed into Epic Games to work on “creating new ways to have meaningful and authentic social interactions at metaverse scale across the Epic Games family.” The “Fortnite” developer acquired Houseparty in 2019 for a reported $35 million, according to Business Insider.

“Since joining Epic, the Houseparty team’s social vision and core technology have already contributed to new features used by hundreds of millions of people in ‘Fortnite’ and by developers around the world,” Houseparty stated. “As a result, we can’t give the app or our community the attention that it deserves.”

The app will continue to function until October, when it will be removed from app stores. Users will be notified of the shutdown via in-app notifications.

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Last year, Houseparty was integrated into the gameplay experience of Epic’s flagship battle royale title, “Fortnite,” by allowing users to engage in video chats while playing. Earlier this year, Epic Games raised $1 billion in a round of funding to support its vision of building the metaverse, largely defined as the next iteration of the Internet that would focus on social interaction and interconnecting online properties and the real world.

Houseparty’s shutdown comes as the wider technology industry, particularly Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, begins to loudly state intentions to start building a metaverse-like infrastructure. Facebook’s promotional push has revolved around its acquisition of Oculus, which produces virtual reality headsets. Epic Games, meanwhile, has centered “Fortnite” in its vision for the metaverse.

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Houseparty was co-founded in 2016 by its current CEO Sima Sistani along with Ben Rubin, the then-CEO of Life On Air Inc., which started the live-streaming app Meerkat. Following Meerkat, Houseparty was created as an effort to move social media away from public broadcasts. Sistani led the deal that resulted in the Epic Games acquisition. The app was founded to become a visualized, face-to-face social network to mimic the feeling of dropping by a friend’s home or dormitory room. Sistani will continue to lead social play and feature development across Epic Games, the company said.

As people in the United States began adopting self-isolation measures due to the covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, Houseparty became a popular way to hang out for users stuck inside. Houseparty saw more than 17 million downloads that month, according to Sensor Tower, and won the Webby Award for “Breakout of the Year” later in 2020.

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