Just as the standards for the Metaverse can’t simply be “declared”, consumers and businesses won’t embrace a would-be proto-Metaverse simply because it’s available.
Just making a mall capable of fitting a hundred thousand people or a hundred shops doesn’t mean it attracts a single consumer or brand. “Town squares” emerge organically around existing infrastructure and behaviors, to fulfill existing civilian and commercial needs. Ultimately, any place of congregation – be it a bar, basement, park, museum or merry-go-round – is attended because of who or what is already there, not because it’s a place in of itself.
This has included the universe of the game Borderlands, Batman’s hometown of Gotham, and the old west
Facebook, the world’s largest social network, didn’t work because it announced it would be a “social network”, but because it emerged first as a campus hot-or-not, then became a digital yearbook turned photo-sharing and messaging service. As with Facebook, the Metaverse needs to be “populated”, rather than just “populable”, and this population must then fill in this digital world with things to do and content to consume.
This is why considering Fortnite as a video game or interactive experience is to think too small and too immediately. Fortnite began as a game, but it quickly evolved into a social square. Its players aren’t logging in to “play”, per se, but to be with their virtual and real-world friends. Teenagers in the 1970s to 2010s would come home and spend three hours talking on the phone. Now they talk to their friends on Fortnite, but not about Fortnite. Instead, they talk about school, movies, sports, news, boys, girls and more. After all, Fortnite doesn’t have a story or IP – the plot is what happens on it and who is there.
Furthermore, Fortnite is rapidly becoming a medium through which other brands, IP, and stories express themselves. Most famously, this includes last year’s live ples have rapidly expanded since. In , Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker released a clip of the hotly-anticipated film exclusively in Fortnite as part of a larger, in-game audience-interactive event that included a live mocap interview with director J.J. Abrams. What’s more, this event was explicitly referenced in the opening moments of the film. The band Weezer produced a bespoke island where fans could get an exclusive first listen to their new album (while dancing with other “players”. Fortnite has also produced several themed “limited-time modes” involving the likes of Nike’s Air Jordan and Lionsgate’s John Wick film series. In some cases, these “LTMs” transform part of Fortnite’s map into a mini-virtual world that, when entered, changes the aesthetics, items and playstyle of the game to resemble another.
Consider the real world
To this end, Fortnite is one of the few places where the IP of Marvel and DC intersects. You can literally wear a City, while interacting with those wearing legally licensed NFL uniforms. This sort of thing hasn’t really happened before. But it will be critical to the Metaverse.
More broadly, a whole sub-economy on Fortnite has emerged where “players” can build (and monetize) their own content. This can be as small as digital outfits (“skins”) or dances (“emotes”). However, it has rapidly expanded into creating all new games and experiences using Fortnite’s engine, assets, and aesthetics. This includes everything from simple treasure hunts, to immersive mash-ups of the Brothers Grimm with parkour culture, to a 10-hour sci-fi story that spans multiple dimensions and timelines. In fact, Fortnite’s Creative Mode already feels like a proto-Metaverse. Here, a player loads their avatar – one specific to them and which is used in all Fortnite-related experiences – and lands in a game-like lobby and can choose from thousands of “doors” (i.e. space-time rifts) that send them to one of thousands of different worlds with up to 99 other players.