Is the Metaverse Going to Look Like Fortnite? Kent Bye Reports on Tim Sweeney’s SIGGRAPH Talk

Bugha and his trophy at the Fortnite World Cup (image from the Guardian)

My Twitter stream has been throwing up all kinds of blogworthy stories lately! The lastest is a series of tweets from Kent Bye, the host of the long-running Voices of VR podcast, who is attending SIGGRAPH 2019, the big annual computer graphics conference, in Los Angeles.

Kent attended a presentation today by Tim Sweeney, the founder and CEO of Epic Games, the maker of the phenomenally successful battle royale game Fortnite. Launched in 2017, Fortnite now has 250 million registered users worldwide, and made US$2.4 billion dollars in revenue in the last year. (Yes, that’s Billion, with a “B”.)

You may have read in the news that the recently-concluded Fortnite World Cup (the biggest computer game tournament in history) was held in New York City, where the company handed out US$30 million in prize money, including a top prize of US$3 million dollars to 16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf (a.k.a. Bugha). In other words, Fortnite is MASSIVE, a cultural phenomenon.

Picture from Kent Bye’s Twitter Feed

The title of Tim Sweeney’s SIGGRAPH talk was “Foundational Principles and Technologies for the Metaverse”, which is perhaps a surprising presentation topic for a game developer. Kent Bye tweeted his notes on Tim’s talk at length:

The future of [a] shared entertainment medium is to have meaningful experiences that people interact with and become a part of the larger world with open world compatibility and open interfaces. The Marshmello concert in Fortnite is one indicator of where it’s going. The metaverse is going to evolve from individual creators creating experiences that interoperate with other experiences.

Need virtual worlds to scale beyond a 200 players on a shard. Need 1 shared world w EVERYONE. Needs a programming environment to scale to unlimited sized. Not single thread C++. Large-scale concurrency w safe transactions that are consistent, durable, isolated.

A viable Metaverse is going to need a successful economy so that creators can make a living, which is absolutely essential. We need a rich set of different economic models. The app store with microtransactions is merely one model. Ad models are dysfunctional.

Kent concluded his series of tweets by saying:

I’m super impressed with Tim Sweeney’s vision of the open metaverse. It’s a breath of fresh air relative to other major players who are trying to own virtual worlds through walled gardens and app store ecosystems. A viable metaverse needs to be open and interoperable.

Wagner James Au, of the long-running blog New World Notes, is less impressed:

Who really needs this? Who actually wants this? I’ve yet to see a succinct, compelling answer to either question beyond the implicit one: Because it’ll be really cool. I’m certainly in that camp, but then again, I’m a gamer/science fiction fan. So yes, I’ve loved the idea of a unified 3D Internet where gaming is significant and meaningful for decades. But I’ve become convinced that metaverse advocates are mistaking their personal preference for a market need — a desire to institutionalize gaming culture as the fundamental, universal culture of the Internet.

In response to skeptical questioning from Wagner on Twitter, Kent Bye responded:

The metaverse was first conceived in science fiction before the modern explosion of 3D gaming and immersive and interactive environments. It was an active feedback loop between game dev architects, but the metaverse today is going to be more of a blend of Fortnite and the open web.

So, what do I think about all this? I must confess that, like Wagner, I am rather skeptical that Fortnite, as it is right now, would form a useful model for the future metaverse. Games are designed to be focused more on linear play-through and set objectives, while virtual worlds are meant to be more open-ended and less goal-oriented in nature (although you can certainly have games within virtual worlds). As well, you can have thriving social communities in MMOs like World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online, so there is a somewhat fuzzy boundary between games and virtual worlds.

I do agree with Tim Sweeney that open standards are critical to create a functioning metaverse, and I also agree with Kent Bye that walled gardens and app store ecosystems are going to hinder, rather than help, usher in a metaverse for everybody.

Tim Sweeney appears to subscribe to the strict definition of the term metaverse espoused by Will Burns: one huge virtual universe instead of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of separate experiences. I’m not 100% convinced that that’s how it is going to play out, either. I think it’s much more likely that we are going to have portals between numerous virtual worlds.

It sounds like it was a very interesting presentation, and I thank Kent Bye for reporting on it!

Advertisements

Traveling Between Social VR Platforms: Does VR Market Success Depend Upon a Seamless, Interconnected Metaverse?

Did you know that you can help support my blog (as well as the newly-launched Metaverse Newscast show), and get great rewards in return? Here’s how.


One of the people I follow on Twitter is Ben Lang, who is the co-founder and executive editor of the popular virtual reality news website Road to VR. Yesterday, he posted:

I’m starting to think that VR won’t have its consumer mainstream moment (smartphone levels of adoption) until a comprehensive metaverse emerges that interconnects and makes *all* VR content social to some extent. Stuff like this awesome immersive music video is really freaking cool, but would be 100 times richer if discoverable through something a simple as a ‘VR hyperlink’, as well as easily being able to bring a friend along to experience it. Telling a friend ‘hey there’s this cool new thing, come check it out with me’, and then asking them to download an app and then coordinating a time to get online together to invite each other and then *finally* seeing the thing for 10 mins isn’t tenable for smaller experiences.

The immersive music video he refers to is a new free VR experience on Steam called Sheaf – Together EP, and it’s truly a wonderful, relaxing experience, which I can recommend highly:

Ben is making the point that it shouldn’t be so difficult to share VR experiences such as this with friends. And a seamless, interconnected metaverse would probably give a huge boost to the consumer VR market.

Another Twitter user called Matrixscene responded to Ben, with a link to a two-part report on how a metaverse working group did a field test for traversing disparate virtual worlds to see how they interconnect with each other.

Part 1 of the report gives several examples of links or portals between social VR experiences, for example:

  • Portal links in JanusVR
  • Links in Cryptovoxels to other WebVR sites

Part 2 of the report details a “field trip” the author and several other people undertook to see how well they could navigate between various virtual worlds. The places visited included:

The author, Jin (Madjin) writes:

We were communicating over Discord’s voice chat the entire time. Anarchy Arcade served as the most premium base reality we ventured to on this trip for several main reasons:
– Shortcuts were easy to launch
– Universally compatible
– Optimized heavily in the background

So, as you can see, the first tentative steps in cross-linking virtual worlds have already been taken. However, the work of creating a much more comprehensive and seamless metaverse to benefit VR consumers still faces many significant hurdles—including a patent filed by IBM in 2008 that appears to cover teleporting avatars between disparate virtual worlds.

How soon do you think it will be until we get a truly seamless VR metaverse? Or do you think it will never happen? As always, you are invited to join the ongoing conversations on this and many other topics on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, the first cross-worlds discussion group!