Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney laid out what he called his “grand vision” for the company in a livestream on Thursday, and it might not be surprising that the company that builds Fortnite wants to help usher in the best version of the metaverse.
While the metaverse doesn’t exactly have a firm definition, Fortnite is perhaps currently the easiest metaverse idea to grasp in that it allows players to easily hang out in 3D virtual worlds and take on avatars ranging from Epic-designed human characters to Goku from Dragon Ball. But Epic doesn’t just develop Fortnite; it also makes the Unreal Engine development tools used by both gaming studios and film productions, operates a Steam competitor in the Epic Games Store, runs Rocket League and Fall Guys after buying the studios that made them, and recently acquired the music platform Bandcamp.
According to Sweeney, Epic wants to use those pieces to help people create good metaverses. “Over the next few years, what we’re going to be doing at Epic is bringing these pieces together into something that comes closer and closer to the metaverse from science fiction,” Sweeney said near the end of Epic’s “Year in Review 2022” livestream for Unreal Engine. “Not the dystopian version of the metaverse from science fiction. But the really positive versions where you and your friends get together into a real-time 3D social experience and can explore the whole world.” Epic has already signaled one way it plans to do that with the kids-focused metaverse it’s building with Lego.
“It’s the creation of all of humanity’s best content creators from all walks of life”
Sweeney, a vocal critic of Apple and Google’s restrictive app store policies, also envisions that the world people explore will be open. “The world isn’t just the creation of Epic or some other corporation, but it’s the creation of all of humanity’s best content creators from all walks of life and all countries putting together their best stuff.” The company believes that it’s possible for a million developers to be building content and a billion players to be playing that content, he said.
We might have been able to see a preview of Epic’s next-generation metaverse creation tools on Thursday... had they been working. Fortnite already offers a robust Creative mode that lets players build worlds within the game (and they can be very lucrative). But Epic has been hinting at a much more extensive set of tools it’s calling the Unreal Editor for Fortnite (UEFN), which will even have its own scripting language called Verse. Epic intended to show off UEFN during Thursday’s livestream but ultimately wasn’t able to; “it was working yesterday, but it’s not working today,” Sweeney said.
In November, Sweeney said UEFN had been delayed to “late January 2023,” but now it sounds like it could miss that timeline, too. Sweeney joked Thursday that it will ship “sometime between January 31st and like January 90th.”
It’s likely going to be a long road between Epic’s vision and actually seeing it play out in practice. But as more developers use Unreal Engine across disciplines and as more people play Epic’s crossover-filled games, it’s easy to see the path Epic is traveling down. Whether we actually want to spend our time in the metaverse is another story, but at least for now, Fortnite is as fun as it’s ever been, and it looks good, too.
During the livestream, Epic also gave a small update on the popularity of the Epic Games Store. It now has “a global audience north of 60 million monthly active users,” according to Epic’s Tina Wisdom, which is a slight decrease from the 62 million Epic reported in December 2021. It’s not clear what counts as a monthly active user, and I’m guessing some of those are people like me who only log in to claim the free game giveaways and don’t actually play them.