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Forward-looking: Epic Games boss Tim Sweeney ended his Unreal Engine presentation at GDC 2023 by discussing the company's Metaverse ambitions. That word seems to have drifted out of the conversation lately, but Epic is still working to make it a reality. Its products may already be closer to that goal than Meta's.
In an interview with GamesBeat at the 2023 Game Developers Conference, Epic Games explained why it thinks the Metaverse is still within reach despite its flagging popularity. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney and Executive Vice President Sax Persson also detailed the obstacles hindering Metaverse development and how better tools can clear the way.
It's hard to blame people for souring on the idea of the Metaverse. Meta has lost billions over the last few years trying to get customers to put on virtual reality headsets to conduct business and play in 3D environments. Disney just shelved its Metaverse plans. Snake oil salesmen have made wild claims on social media about how NFTs will let people own and carry objects between multiple video games. Meanwhile, Epic seems to have a sober view of what needs to happen to convince users the Metaverse is worthwhile.
The initial hype around the promise seems to have passed, similar to NFTs, web3, and blockchain, while generative AI currently has the spotlight. However, Sweeney points out that 600 million users now engage with what he and Persson call the Metaverse, referring to Roblox and Epic's mega-hit game Fortnite.
Fortnite and Roblox have arguably accomplished some of the goals Metaverse proponents describe. Last year, former Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aimé highlighted their non-competitive social experiences as the most successful Metaverse applications. Persson said Fortnite players spend 40 percent of their time on user-generated content--a Metaverse cornerstone.
One of Epic's most exciting announcements at GDC was Unreal Editor for Fortnite, which lets inexperienced users make and share Fortnite content. The company exhibited sample projects totally unlike anything in the default Fortnite game. Along with the company's Creator Economy 2.0, it sounds like a ploy to capitalize on Roblox's explosive success with user-generated content, but it could also build toward Epic's Metaverse ambitions.
Earlier Metaverse hype often involved the idea of interoperability between online games, something developers quickly pointed out is almost always impossible due to fundamental incompatibilities between game engines and codebases. Sweeney acknowledged this problem, championing open standards as the solution.
An eventual open standard for scripting and building blocks could be based on Fortnite's Verse programming language, Roblox's luau, Unity's C#, or Unreal Engine's C++. Whatever it is, Sweeney thinks standards bodies could let customers utilize game assets between games within the next few years. He also took another opportunity to swipe at walled gardens like the Google Play Store and iOS, saying their ecosystems would suck the revenue from Metaverse projects.
The full interview is worth a look, as it details other obstacles and solutions Epic recognizes, like distributed computing and making Metaverse operations profitable for companies.