CARY, N.C. — Epic Games, the maker of the Fortnite video game, has removed police cars from its popular battle-royale-style game.
The move comes as national dialogue around policing has intensified in the weeks following the death of George Floyd while being detained by police officers in Minneapolis.
Epic Games has so far remained quiet about why it decided to remove the police cars, which used to be seen in the game often, and it’s unclear if it is a permanent decision.
The video game maker did not respond to a request for comment from The News & Observer, and it hasn’t responded officially to other organizations reporting on the topic.
The removal was first noticed by gamers after Epic released its most recent update of the video game, which has seen a surge in user activity since the coronavirus pandemic spread to the United States. On Reddit, a popular social media site, players reacted to the decision with a mix of approval and frustration.
Since then outlets like The Wall Street Journal and video game publication Kotaku have also noticed the removal.
The Journal quoted one anonymous person familiar with the game’s development as saying, “I wouldn’t say it’s a political statement. I think it’s just us being sensitive about the issues many people in our audience are dealing with.”
Founded in 1991 by Tim Sweeney, the company hasn’t been afraid to take public stances on sensitive issues. Last October, after a rival video game maker banned one of its players for expressing support for protesters in Hong Kong, Sweeney, the CEO of Epic Games, vowed publicly that his company would protect its players’ political speech.
Sweeney said at the time that despite a Chinese company owning a large stake in Epic, his company wouldn’t take any action against players who said “Free Hong Kong” on its platforms.
Epic has grown rapidly since the release of Fortnite in 2017. The North Carolina-based company is one of the most valuable startups in the country, and it is expanding its headquarters in Cary to make room for up to an additional 2,000 employees.
The company appears to be nearing a new round of funding from investors that could bring its value to $17 billion.
Beyond Fortnite, Epic has also found success with its graphics tool Unreal Engine, which it licenses to other companies, film creators and designers. Houseparty, the video chat app it bought last year, has also seen a sudden increase in usage thanks to the pandemic. In March, the app saw a surge of 50 million downloads, Techcrunch reported.