It is abundantly clear at this point that the last few years have taken the term “metaverse” from an aspirational (though also dystopian) sci-fi concept to a buzzword destroyed by tech companies and grifters trying to build some weird, demented, overmonetized version of it.
We saw this in big and small ways, a bunch of web3 blockchain “metaverses” where companies would buy land and Paris Hilton would hang out with an ugly avatar. These were dismal, empty, gross places that served no purpose except for attempting to make their founders rich by selling air.
Then we saw this at a huge scale with Facebook, I mean Meta, where they changed their name to Meta to better personify Mark Zuckerberg’s VR-driven vision of the metaverse. And while yes, in fiction, the metaverse is an immersive VR experience that transports the user “in person” to the virtual space, the tech we have now is not remotely close to that. Zuckerberg spent a fortune on his version of Ready Player One’s OASIS, Horizon Worlds, that featured a bunch of horrifying legless avatars running around (so to speak), getting up to a few hundred thousand players and then…promptly losing a few hundred thousand players. While the Meta VR arm still exists, VR itself remains a niche and not anywhere close to the metaverse that was promised. Meta, of course, is now pivoting mainly to AI like everyone else.
But, slow and steady may win the race, and I believe that’s what we’re seeing with Fortnite now. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney has been a bit obnoxious with his side of the metaverse fight, where he believe its fundamental existence relies on getting Apple, Google, Steam and everyone else to get ride of their 30% revenue cut or else that will “strange the metaverse” before it can actually exist.
But the rest of Epic? They have been…building the actual metaverse, or at least the closest we’re going to get to it. And unlike Facebook trying to capture the magic of OASIS with VR, Fortnite is doing it with normal gameplay, but creating the virtual spaces and cast of characters that made that universe so appealing in the first place. Something no one else trying to do this ever really understood.
We saw glimpses of this for years, with large-scale mass-watched events like meteor strikes or rocket launches on the Fortnite map, then Travis Scott or Ariana Grande concerts. Those were the first inklings of “metaverse moments” that made it feel like Fortnite was on the right track. But for a while, it felt like that came and went and Fortnite had missed its chance, stuck in the same rut with its wider ambitions stalled.
Instead, behind the scenes, they were prepping a large-scale launch that would make Fortnite more metaverse-y than ever. After refueling Fortnite’s playercount with its return to the OG map, they ended that period by launching LEGO Fortnite, a survival minigame and its own separate world, racing Fortnite channeling Rocket League and concert Fortnite which draws on Guitar Hero and Rock Band DNA.
So, in effect the game now has battle world (Fortnite Battle Royale) survival/building world, racing world and music world. This is a long-term vision as shared by Donald Mustard that is finally becoming real, and what the fictional metaverses have channeled before now:
There are always jokes that Fortnite is building a literal zoo of IPs for its game, as if there’s a popular movie, game or TV franchise you can think of, there’s probably an 80% chance Fortnite has grabbed it and made a handful of skins out of it.
This is a game that now has close to every major superhero in it. Ripley from Alien, Kratos from God of War. Master Chief from Halo. Chun-Li from Street Fighter. And now, Goku, Peter Griffin, The Incredible Hulk and Optimus Prime can rock out in a concert together.
And it’s working. Fortnite, especially after the launch of LEGO Fortnite which is siphoning off Minecraft players, is hitting new concurrent playercount records. There are more people playing Fortnite right now than every game on Steam combined. It has once again climbed to be one of the biggest games in the world, if not the biggest, outside of whatever big mobile title people are checking into a few times a day.
I always said that if anywhere had the potential to truly become the metaverse, it was Fortnite. These blockchain imitators almost killed the concept before they died themselves. Facebook making the metaverse was essentially channeling the villains from Ready Player One trying to do the same. But after a few years of relative quiet, Epic has come out and shown yeah, maybe they can actually do it now that everyone else has abandoned the concept. And I hope I they can.
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