As Epic Games looks to generate more revenue from brands and their intellectual properties, the game developer has hired a veritable IP mastermind, Charlie Wen, as its new chief creative officer following the retirement of Donald Mustard.
Epic Games wants to transform popular titles like “Fortnite” and “Rocket League” into a playground for mainstream brands and their intellectual properties. It’s already built a growing ecosystem that includes brands such as Coca-Cola and Ralph Lauren, as well as popular IPs ranging from Marvel to Dragon Ball Z — but last week’s retirement of Mustard, Epic’s former chief creative, threatens to upset this delicate balance. After all, Mustard was one of the primary architects behind Epic Games’ embrace of intellectual property mashups and other in-game brand integrations.
“Donald played a role in the overall story and lore of ‘Fortnite,’” said Kasper Weber, CEO of the “Fortnite Creative” studio Beyond Creative. “So seeing him no longer be part of that journey with Epic — that’s kind of a bummer.”
Epic’s new chief creative has big shoes to fill indeed — but in Charlie Wen, the company appears to have found the right person for the job. Translating intellectual properties into and out of video games and other media has been one of the main objectives of Wen’s career.
At Sony, Wen designed Kratos, the beloved main character of the video game (and now television) series “God of War.” At Marvel Studios, he designed characters and worlds for films including “The Avengers” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” And at Riot Games, he helped prep the “League of Legends” developer’s properties for adaptation following the success of the League-inspired streaming series “Arcane.”
An Epic Games representative confirmed Charlie Wen’s hiring, but declined to put him forward for an interview or otherwise comment on the appointment.
At this point, gamers expect to be greeted by a cavalcade of brand and IP mashups whenever they flip on their favorite Epic Games title, whether it be “Fortnite” or “Rocket League,” making Wen, an executive who cut his teeth by helping mash different characters together into shared fictional worlds, an obvious fit. Marvel characters are among the most prominent — and popular — characters that have been translated into “Fortnite” skins so far.
“There’s a bunch of storytelling, across both ‘Fortnite’s’ own IP, but also the way they integrate other IPs into the narrative,” Weber said. “So, yeah, I think it makes sense.”
Leaders of the “Fortnite” community appear to have welcomed Wen’s debut as Epic’s new chief creative.
“While I was surprised to learn about Donald Mustard’s departure, Charlie Wen’s impressive career in character- and world-building makes him an excellent creative to lead ‘Fortnite’ forward,” said top “Fortnite” creator Ali “SypherPK” Hassan. “As a member of ‘Fortnite’s’ Icon Series, I collaborated directly with Epic’s creative team, and have always been blown away by their creative culture. Those are big shoes to fill, but I can’t wait to see how Charlie helps introduce new experiences to the ‘Fortnite’ metaverse.”
In addition to his past roles at Sony, Riot and Marvel, Wen has worked as an author, public speaker and co-founder of his own studio, TenSky Entertainment — which, notably, describes itself as a metaverse company on LinkedIn. Former colleagues of Wen praised his management style and creative vision, endorsing Epic’s decision to hire him for the chief creative role.
“Epic will be much stronger with the kind of attention, focus and passion he will bring to everything he touches,” said Travis Bourbeau, who worked with Wen at Gnomon and described him as a good friend. “Being good at art gets you the job, being good with people gets you promoted and caring about both makes the best want to work with you in a place that doesn’t have trouble attracting talent. Charlie’s the kind of guy that makes that talent do their best.”
Wen was a key mover and shaker at Marvel Studios during the expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the late aughts and early 2010s. He founded and led the company’s visual development department with Ryan Meinerding, in a role that stretched from visual design into shaping the actual narrative of the MCU via keyframes and concept art. In addition to his skill as an illustrator and designer, however, former colleagues stressed Wen’s ability to deftly manage other creatives.
“He’s very quick to respond, and articulate in how he comments on your work,” said Shizuka Kusayanagi, a graphic designer and family friend of Wen’s who helped design the logo for TenSky Entertainment.
TenSky seems to have specialized in white label work since its founding in 2016, and none of the company’s projects are listed publicly online. Now, Wen’s studio appears to be closing its doors; his LinkedIn page lists the end of his employment at TenSky as September 2023. If TenSky was doing any creative work for Epic before Wen’s decision to officially join the company, it’s likely that that work will now be brought into the fold in an official capacity as well.
As Epic looks to build out its corner of the metaverse, its hiring of Wen fits the company’s mission to transform its products from video games into full-fledged social platforms in which creators, users and brands can intermingle just as they do in the physical world.
“What he is trying to create is something that is really going to be a betterment for society,” Kusayanagi said. “It’s not about gaming, or stories, or just fantasy — it’s really about the actual experiences that people are going to have, that are going to change how they see the world for the better.”