It’s hard to find a game like Epic Games’ “Fortnite” that’s even close to being fully realized and well used. Organically, the game became a metaverse. People started hanging out with their friends in the 3D world of Fortnite after they were done playing, just to hang out.
When Epic saw this, they started planning events for Fortnite players, like concerts and movie previews, to make them more excited.
This month, Epic released the most recent version of its game engine, Unreal Engine 5. It has new tools for making very detailed 3D objects with automated lighting effects that look like they were made by nature. Large-scale photorealistic environments with realistic sound and digital people are what people are working on. I feel that Unreal Engine is gearing up to create metaverse experiences.
March was a busy month for me. My friend visited Epic’s headquarters in Cary, North Carolina, to talk to Epic CEO Tim Sweeney about those new tools and the metaverse of the future.
An edited version of this interview has been provided below for your convenience.
Are we nearing a point where graphics technology can make worlds so lifelike that they can be used outside of games as realistic simulations of things we would normally do in real life?
What they talked about back in the 1990s was called “convergence,” and now it’s becoming a reality. Then, remember that? Then you might like CD-ROMs and other types of media. People back then said that film and games would be able to use the same kinds of media and come together into a single industry that had the best of both.
In the end, it took 25 years more, but we’re now there, and convergence is happening because you can use the same high-quality graphics in a movie set and a video game.
These 3D objects can also be built-in architectural visualization and automotive design. You can make both a virtual twin of every object in the world and every object in your mind or movie by making these 3D objects yourself! You can then use all of those same assets in many different ways.
When you talked to CNBC in 2020, you said: “Developers and brands should be able to put their content into Fortnite, and the game should grow into a self-evolving ecosystem that grows and changes as it goes on.” There was no metaverse obsession in the business world a few years ago. When you say “open metaverse,” it sounds like you’re talking about a metaverse where developers and creators have more power.
It’s easy to make your own island in Fortnite with the help of these tools. Most people now play Fortnite in content made by other people, and about half of their time is in Epic content. That’s just the beginning.
This year, we’re going to release the Unreal Editor for Fortnite, which will let anyone make high-quality game content and code and put it into the game without having to get a deal with us. It’s open to everyone, not just us.
Our goal is to make it a first-class way to get in touch with people, just like you might think of mobile app stores, consoles, and Steam as ways to reach people.
Now, people are also looking at Fortnite and Roblox as ways to get in touch with people, as well. We’re building an economy that will help creators start businesses around their work and make more money from the businesses that come from people playing their content. This will help them make more money.
It’s hard to get on the web today because a few big platforms and app stores charge a lot of money to reach people. In the end, the platforms and their investors made a lot of money. Will the funds be there to make the web more decentralized?
Even though they’re burning down the world, governments and courts are trying to get them to stop their bad habits all over the world, too. People who talk about all gatekeepers or social media say that the App Store has a lot of power, but that’s a good thing because all the companies that work in these ecosystems get it.
It’s always about getting in touch with customers and building relationships with customers when we talk to third-party companies and world-class brands about getting major brand presences in Fortnite, and they always think of that.
They’re not going to let anyone be a gatekeeper to them.
There are a lot of different platforms that are trying to become metaverses. For example, you could look at PUBG Mobile and GTA Online. As the brands talk to each other about these platforms, they’re going to make sure they don’t support another company becoming an overlord between them and their customers.
To build a metaverse that isn’t ruled by “overlords,” what will it take to ensure it doesn’t?
Open systems and open standards will help us build this version of the metaverse over the next decade. Companies will work together if they respect each other’s customers.
It’s fine if you have an account from one ecosystem but play in another. Each part of the ecosystem competes with each other in a healthy way. That’s what the world had at the beginning of the web. But the walled gardens and their monopolization processes have broken down that.
When you first start, there isn’t a lot of competition in the app store market. You don’t have a competitive advertising market for online advertising. You can probably think of a dozen economies that aren’t competitive because they’re controlled by tied services, where a monopoly ties the use of one category of its services to its other services. Hence, you have to use them all or leave.
That’s the primary goal of antitrust efforts worldwide: to ensure that everyone can compete in their own market without being tied to a monopoly. I think that will open the way to the metaverse that isn’t closed off.
The open metaverse wouldn’t be possible without that. Even if you built the metaverse, Apple and Google would still set the rules for everyone else.
Antitrust issues seem even more important when you think about how power might be spread out or not in a future metaverse.
So, I think it’s not just about money, but I also feel that if you don’t have freedom online and on platforms, you won’t have a free world.
If you have two big companies that control all of the world’s communication and work for governments, especially oppressive governments, then I don’t think we’d want to live there. I think it would be very bad there. The big corporations should not be able to control online commerce, talk, or the metaverse.
Really. Will companies have to be more open and work together to make the metaverse people want?
Basically, the metaverse is the place where all of the ecosystems of everyone come together, just like when the internet was still very new. In the early 1980s, there were a lot of different research universities and businesses that had their own local area networks at that time.
Each one is separate from the other. Somebody thought that they could run some cables all across the country, and that’s how we came up with what we now call the internet.
At some point, someone came up with an address system where if you worked at X and your name was X, that would be your email address. They put the @ in front of the email address in email addresses.
One of the most important things is to be able to connect all of these ecosystems into an internet of ecosystems or a metaverse of ecosystems. If a dozen companies fight each other to create the one monopoly that rules them all, one wins, and now everyone is stuck with their own thing. We don’t want that to happen.
In the next decade, we want to work with all of the companies to help build an open system that everyone can use together.
We want more of it every year. It’s not going to happen all at once because it’s so complicated.
Every year, we want to get closer and closer to this ideal where every company can be part of it. That is why the internet is like it is. Besides, that was a long time ago. We need to accomplish many things in the metaverse but do we have the will to do them again?
Epic has. We’re doing more and more of this all the time, and it’s getting better and better. I think Roblox is also a really nice company. After putting their stock on the market, they took Roblox’s scripting language and made it freely available, so any game developer could decide to use it. It’s an amazing step toward being more open.
You have Microsoft adopting Linux and making long-term promises to partners and the world about the openness of their Microsoft Store and how they won’t use the tying practices
Apple does. You also have Apple’s tying practices. I think you can find a good group of businesses willing to work together on this. Even the companies that aren’t will be going through generational changes, and the next generation of leaders might have a very different view of the world than the one that is now in charge. Blue skies are ahead.
When many different things start to work together over time, they will make up this bigger ecosystem, or “metaverse.” One of them will be huge groups of people and their friends, which are shown on social graphs.
Epic has an account with 600 million users and 4.7 billion social links. Xbox Live is huge for Microsoft. PlayStation has one, Nintendo has one, Steam has one, and Xbox Live has one for each. We’d love to work with other people to connect them all.
Decentralization is what we’re talking about when we shift away from platform power and toward more creator autonomy. Is it possible that crypto and the blockchain could have a role in the metaverse?
There are a lot of good ideas and principles that are behind that work. If you want to make money in the digital world, you should dream of a world where there aren’t any big companies that keep it safe. That’s a great dream.
As long as you buy an avatar in one place, you should be able to own it on any platform where the concept is the same. I think that this is a good idea. I think there’s a lot of exciting work to build the foundations of technology there.
It’s going to be very important for a lot of technology in the next century to use zero-knowledge proofs, which is the idea that you can verify that something happened without knowing any private information about it. This is what many cryptocurrencies use to keep people’s privacy while running a decentralized system.
But right now, it’s mixed with a lot of speculation and a lot of outright scams, and a lot of efforts are scammy by design because they don’t achieve a plausible version of the goals they say they want to reach.
So, for example, there are a lot of companies who want to make avatars that everyone can own. But none of them, not one, has tried to get these avatars used in games or ecosystems. This is all they want to do. They want to build this thing and sell people avatars, but they’re useless in real life.
I think a multi-trillion dollar economy will be built around digital goods over time. But I think that a lot of the cryptocurrency work, especially when it comes to games, doesn’t deal with the issue of utility, which is important.
They’re showing you digital goods that you can’t do anything with except say that you own them, but you can still see them.
You can show that you own it cryptographically, but who cares about that?
Are there places for both AR and VR in the metaverse, or is there only room for AR?
I think these are both very important parts of the world in general. The metaverse will have only digital places, not real places. A space station or another planet will only be a digital trip if you want to go up there.
Even in real life, there will be things that use virtual overlays on top of things, as Pokémon Go does. Imagine that the whole world is a beehive of different kinds of work. Pokemon are running around in some places, and they can be seen.
Sometimes, there are other game assets in certain places.
And there are rules for telling what should be there at all times.
And that’s going to be a huge thing.
In my opinion, there’s a lot of magic to be born by combining both parts of this. For example, sometimes you’re in the real world with virtual enhancements, and other times you’re in the virtual world on its own. And the economy is going to be very close to each other as well.
Everyone who makes fashion products of all kinds wants you to be able to own the clothes you buy in the future when you buy them in the real world, too. And when you’re in the metaverse, you’ll be able to see some cool clothing and buy it and own it both digitally and in real life. This will be a better way to find new clothes.
This has been very good. Do you have any more ideas?
This is very interesting. If you want to find out what unreal-engine does for the world and how it fits in with the rest of the world, this is a good place to start. It’s a shame that the metaverse is getting so much attention right now because it should be more important.
There’s a lot of gas and blockchain, but when you add up all the users, we find that about 600 million people play metaverse types of games with their friends every day. This is a lot of people.
You did a great job, and it’s also fascinating. There is a lot of hype about Web 3. I just hope people don’t get excited about it and then be disappointed when it doesn’t all happen at once.
A lot of the companies making things that don’t work will have to face the facts. I think it’s like 1999 [part] two.
But it’s also a new era. When the foundations for the future are being built right now, it is a good time.