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Fortnite | Becoming the Metaverse
Exploring the implications of Epic's launch of Unreal Editor for Fortnite
Two weeks ago, I watched with millions of other gamers as Fortnite released Chapter 4: Season 2. If you aren't familiar with Fortnite, it's one of the most popular games in the world with over 500 million players. It popularized the “Gaming as a Service” (GaaS) era that monetized the game post-release by offering the game for free and selling cosmetic upgrades to the tune of $1.2 billion in their first year.
They also popularized the cyclical release model, dropping updates to the game every few months, rather than the traditional model of releasing a new editions every year (eg. Call of Duty), which brings me back to my story. Season 2 was the latest Fortnite update and it was nothing short of impressive. I was blown away by the impressive skyscrapers and forests, unique weapons and augments and ever-creative ways to move around the map. Every season, they somehow manage to outdo themselves.
And while the game itself is an incredible feat of engineering, game design and business strategy, a few days ago (on my birthday coincidentally), the team at Epic Games dropped what might be the biggest announcement in the history of Fortnite.
Unreal Editor for Fortnite (UEFN)
This announcement will certainly have an enormous impact on Fortnite itself, but I predict that it’ll also change the landscape of the Metaverse as well, possibly even forcing Apple’s hand.
Let's get into it.
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Fornite (along with hundreds of other popular games) is powered by a gaming engine built by their parent company, Epic Games, called Unreal Engine. It's "the world's most advanced real-time 3D creation tool for photoreal visuals and immersive experiences."
With the release of Unreal Engine 5 back in April 2022, the graphics have gotten incredibly realistic. So much so, that Industrial Light and Magic even used UE5 to generate lifelike, dynamic scenes on their StageCraft wall when they filmed The Mandelorian allowing them to change lighting and angles in real time with the camera movements and actions happening in the scenes.
Epic offers the power of Unreal Engine to other game developers as well, allowing them to import, download or even create their own 3D models, animate them, add realistic textures, play with dynamic lighting and more.
But while independent game developers can use Epic's tools to build their own games and even sell those games in Epic's game store, the worlds themselves are still disconnected. If I want to play multiple games, I have to create multiple accounts.
If I log into Gears of War and pick up a Tripwire Crossbow, I can't take that weapon into Tomb Raider. Or if I earn Creds in Valorant, I can't use them to buy a Battle-Car in Rocket League.
But… what if you could?
What if there was a greater universe where all of these games existed like the Oasis in Ready Player One? Where the items you earn from a quest on one world can be used in a battle in the next? Or where in-game currencies convert to a standardized credit system across the universe?
That's where Unreal Editor for Fortnite comes in.
UEFN gives game creators the ability to build other worlds WITHIN the Fortnite universe, allowing you to traverse the various worlds with your Fortnite avatar.
Whether you like the surreal…
Or something totally different…
The options will be endless.
Having a persistent in-game identity is an enormous step toward the greater vision of the metaverse. Some worlds may restrict or alter your skin, abilities, items, and currencies and others may opt to use those assets cross-world, but in either case your in-game identity stays the same.
We see a version of this in Meta's Quest platform as well where your Meta account acts as your in-game identity across games and worlds which begs the question, how is Fortnite any different? And, more importantly, how will Fortnite win?
How Fortnite Will Win
As I wrote in this article about Meta's pivot toward the Metaverse, there are a few things that are required for the Metaverse to exist:
Infrastructure: an interoperable ecosystem
Objects: skins, items and digital property
Worlds: places for players to visit
Experiences: not just places to go, but things to do
Hardware: the gear that allows you to interact with the meta dimension
But you know what? I think I made a mistake here. I defined the hardware as VR headsets, haptic suits and immersion rigs. But I actually think the hardware doesn't have to be quite so immersive. After all, humans have been getting lost in 2D experiences for decades from games like World of Warcraft to alternate realities like Second Life. So why should the metaverse be defined so narrowly as to only include virtual reality? The metaverse probably will start out in 2D (ie. laptops and phones) before moving to 3D (VR/AR).
If we expand that definition, it immediately becomes clear how Epic can win the metaverse race.
Infrastructure: Unreal Engine
Objects: skins, gliders, pickaxes, V-bucks and now, an entirely new suite of objects that game developers can create with UEFN
Worlds and Experiences: game developers can now build worlds and experiences within Fortnite
Hardware: your laptop, console, mobile phone and, eventually, headset (we’ll talk more about this in a bit)
Ultimately, I believe it shakes down to two concepts that I've written about before:
Means of Creation: Epic's infrastructure to build the in-game objects, worlds and experiences is leading the way in technological capabilities as well as openness and interoperability. Meta, on the other hand, doesn't offer a game engine. In fact, if you were to build a game for Meta's Quest headset, you'd end up using a game engine like Unreal Engine.
Means of Distribution: And on top of that, if you're a game developer and you want to get your game in the hands of as many players as quickly as possible, do you build for Fortnite's 500 million players across all platforms or Meta's 5 million users for Quest headsets only? It’s a no-brainer.
Epic Games has had the dominos lined up for a while and with the release of UEFN, they have tipped over the first one that I predict will cascade into an industry-defining ecosystem being built within Fortnite.
In Epic's demo of UEFN last week, they not only showed off some fantastic battle games set in different worlds, but also a really cool escape room showing that, despite Fortnite’s history as a Battle Royale, many different types of experiences can be created within Fortnite. In time, I believe we'll see more worlds that are NOT battle games than worlds that are. Worlds like…
Co-working spaces with other users
Virtual malls with realistically rendered products that you can purchase and have shipped to your real-world home
Experience simulations like put put, flying an airplane, or surfing a monster wave
Recreations of real-world places like museums, monuments or tourist hot spots like Time Square
Let’s wrap this up with a definitively far-fetched prediction.
Forcing Apple’s Hand
Apple has never been known for their games. Their computers just couldn’t handle the intensive processing power required for gaming… until now. With their M-series chips, they can handle the load, especially if those games were designed specifically for Apple Silicon.
Apple is rumored to be dropping a new product soon: their take on a VR headset. And so far, one of the best applications of a headset is gaming - the very thing Apple can now handle but still isn’t great at. If Apple wants to get a leg up on Meta, they need to give their customer base a reason to buy their new headsets. Like a hit game.
Fortnite, for their part, has been rumored to be working on a first-person mode, making the game even more immersive and potentially able to be adapted for VR. The problem is that they don’t make hardware so they’re going to have to find a platform to build for. The most obvious would be the Meta Quest since that’s one of the more advanced headsets on the market.
Here’s my take: Apple and Epic Games should squash their beef and team up.
Apple can provide Epic with a headset play to truly be cross-platform and Epic can provide Apple with a gaming play for their headset.
Just my two cents. I think it could be cool :)
I’d love to hear your thoughts! Drop ‘em in the comments.
That’s all for this one - I’ll catch ya next week.
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