Fortnite Could Be the Start of the Metaverse

Fortnite has the opportunity to go beyond gaming and create the first digital economy if Tim Sweeney’s dreams come to fruition

As theorized in an excellent article over at Redef, writer Matthew Ball believes that Fortnite’s unique position in not just gaming but popular culture overall could lead it to be the start of the Metaverse.

Metaverse explained

If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s a collective shared space similar to video games that would allow humans to exist within. Rather than simply playing a game, the Metaverse requires a real in-world economy to exist. One where players could even make an actual living by working jobs within a shared digital space and have a degree of freedom that allows them to experience what they want from the virtual realm.

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The idea of a Metaverse has been bandied about in science fiction for several decades, with Neal Stephenson coining the term in his 1992 work of fiction, Snow Crash. Since then, it’s appeared in various forms of media and was most recently seen in Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of Ready Player One last year. Considering how closely gaming has followed other fields of entertainment, it should come as no surprise that Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney has talked openly about the idea in the past

At the 2017 GamesBeat Summit, Sweeney said that the technology needed to create the metaverse was ‘’as little as three years away.’’ He went on to explain that virtual worlds have just as much potential to drive careers as real life since he believes that work boils down to people creating a good or service that is valuable to another, which is something totally possible within a digital realm. However, Sweeney recognizes that many will see an attempt at the Metaverse to be a money grab by a company and says that for any attempt to succeed it can’t ‘’simply be a means for the developer to suck money out of the users.’’ Conversely, there has to be a real economy where some users can make money off their goods and services while others only put in money. It’s essentially the concept of selling Team Fortress 2 hats or gold in a massively multiplayer online title expanded upon to the next iteration.

A new type of Metaverse

Traditionally, the concept of the Metaverse has always revolved around virtual reality headsets and an immersive experience, which is something Fortnite lacks in its current form. So, while it won’t be the idealized form of the digital economy, Ball says it’s already starting to show qualities of one. An example was the additions of Fortnite’s social spaces and how Epic Games recently held a concert featuring electronic dance music artist Marshmello. The event blended the real and virtual worlds as millions were able to enjoy a set held by the DJ within Fortnite’s world.

It’s a cool, if limited, example of what the Metaverse would allow people to do. If there was an actual economy backing it, Marshmello could independently perform in the world and hold virtual concerts that people would pay money to access. It’s certainly more in a novelty stage than something actually financially viable right now, but it’s a glimpse at what the future could hold in virtual worlds.

Fortnite’s popularity is striking

Other strengths that help Fortnite in its quest to become the Metaverse is its massive reach. The third-person shooter has more than 200 million registered users as of November of last year and has broken boundaries in gaming by allowing players on all game consoles to play together.

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Chart source: Statista

This helps to create a more connected experience than any other game, as it doesn’t matter how you access Fortnite, just that players are able to. If they can get into the game, they’ll get the same experience as their friends. With such a large built-in player base and access to the incredible revenue that they are bringing in on a monthly basis, it makes it possible for Epic Games to use their property to launch other business ventures such as the Epic Games Store.

As mentioned previously, Fortnite lacks a virtual reality component that has often been tied into the idea. Ball argues that Epic has been able to replicate the idea of a virtual self to an extent thanks to players having customization options in-game. After all, the bulk of Fortnite’s revenue comes from selling character skins, which have featured everything from the National Football League to other brands. He says that Fortnite is able to effortlessly use other brands due to its lack of real lore or original characters. It’s a truly digital space without pretending to be a great work of fiction.

Expanding beyond a game

As Fortnite uses Epic’s popular Unreal Engine, Ball says that it could be key for expanding the game’s world in the future. In an ideal future, players will be able to take their Fortnite character into a totally different type of experience (one that doesn’t have to be passive like attending a social concert) and that sort of functionality would be key to making that possible. Of course, this all comes with a ton of technical issues that Epic will have to figure out, but the idea of even trying to achieve the Metaverse is so young that growing pains are to be expected going forward.

However, taking Fortnite to the real world is not always successful since the recent event in the UK turned out to be a disaster:

Whether or not it actually happens, it’s clear that Epic Games has the ability to do something truly special with Fortnite. They have already leveraged its tremendous success to launch a rival game storefront to Steam, and that could be only the start of what is to come. If Sweeney is able to have his way and fulfill his technological dreams, Fortnite could be the first step to players experiencing a real virtual economy and a digital world that could change how millions of humans operate on a daily basis.

There are still countless technical hurdles to overcome before they get there, so it certainly won’t happen overnight, but it’s a long-term future that Epic is possibly building to.