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Tim Sweeney believes the metaverse is "happening for real"

GDC 2023: Epic Games boss says Apple "will either try to crush the metaverse, or extract all the profit from it"

Epic Games showcased its vision for a metaverse at today’s State of Unreal, during which it unveiled more details about the economy around its Unreal Editor for Fortnite, a new unified marketplace, Fab, which offers assets across several game engines, new Metahumans animation tools, and more.

Talking to at GDC 2023, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney further clarified his vision for an open ecosystem across the games industry.

During the presentation, Sweeney had described the company's various announcements as a milestone for Epic's "unified" vision of the metaverse, adding that "the metaverse has to be open, it can't be another walled garden."

"Open is a natural state of things, it's only in the past 15 years that we've seen walled gardens take over the world with iOS and Facebook and other companies," he tells "But that's not how it has to be though, the games industry is the perfect place for an open system to be involved because there's not one predominant company that can dictate terms.

"There's three pretty strong console companies and there's about a dozen publishers who each have their own ecosystem that are pretty strong themselves. And so pretty quickly you get to the realisation that each one of them will be better off connecting their services to an open system [and] being in an open economy rather than just limiting themselves to their own user base.

"The games industry is the perfect place for an open system because there's not one predominant company that can dictate terms"Tim Sweeney

"The metaverse is way more attractive to you as a player if the majority of your real-world friends are there. This isn't the old days where you're playing with random strangers on the internet. This is about real-world experiences with real world friends. And interconnection is the way to do it."

He adds that Epic is focused on working towards these open systems with the ultimate goal being to "compete to be the leading service provider in every area."

"And with the hope that in some of these areas we might actually be number one, or two, or three," Sweeney adds.

"We want to compete in the engine space with Unreal Engine, we want to compete with server hosting in the future, get all of Fortnite hosted by servers we control. But in the future they'll be an open economy for that. We want to have the best asset marketplace. [We want] to provide some really amazing first party game experiences, just like consoles have their first parties. And you know, if we're successful, then we'll have a really interesting and diversified business in the future, without getting into the woes Apple and Google and others have gotten themselves into, where they're on the wrong side of partners and regulators and they're under fire worldwide because of bad practices.

"If we just build this thing in an open environment then companies can live on their merits. We very much like that because we have a history of winning on the merits when given the chance and we're terribly frustrated at markets like iOS where you just can't make an Epic Games Store for iOS because Apple says 'You can't compete with us'!"

When asked about why the time is right to really build upon Epic's metaverse vision – a word the company hasn't used in a while, a representative tells us – Sweeney says there's been a very clear, identifiable trend towards it, regardless of various trends such as NFTs and blockchain, with Epic is not interested in.

"[The metaverse] is happening for real. So you have to separate the different things. You know, seven years ago, you really couldn't look at any game and say, 'that's an early version of the metaverse.' Maybe Second Life, but there were less than a million people worldwide engaged in these things. Then Fortnite came out, the consoles got on board with cross-platform play... Hanging out together with your real world friends became a big thing and Roblox took off.

"Now you have 600 million users engaging with this thing every month, at least. And it appears to be growing exponentially to the point of reaching several billions by the end of the decade and so that's like a real trend that's happening that we very much care about.

"We see [Apple] as utterly dominating this business if they're allowed to use their market power and hardware to do so. So we're fighting that"Tim Sweeney

"And unfortunately, everybody wants to attach their boloney to it. So, you know, we had NFT pitches, true ownership and metaverse... You don't need that for the metaverse. It works. Robux, V-Bucks. They're fine [as is]."

When asked whether any roadblock is standing in the way of Epic's vision for a metaverse, Sweeney's answer is immediate: Apple.

"They'll either try to crush the metaverse, or extract all the profit from it. One or the other. Apple doesn't let you use a competing browser engine. So they can do the same thing with the metaverse, so [they] can say, 'you must use Apple's limited metaverse engine, you can't build your own, you can't use Unreal.' They could just amend all the platform's rules tomorrow to kill everything everybody is doing, and that's why we need really robust antitrust [laws]. And that's why we're fighting this so hard.

"We see them as utterly dominating this business if they're allowed to use their market power and hardware to do so. So we're fighting that. The other challenges I think can all be overcome."

Stay tuned for a full write up including interviews with CEO Tim Sweeney, executive VP Saxs Perrson, CTO Kim Libreri, VP of engineering Nick Penwarden, and VP for digital humans technology Vlad Mastilovic next week, with more insights into UEFN and why Epic believes it won't fall into the same pitfalls as Roblox, thoughts on Epic's strategy with acquisitions, Unreal Engine 5.2, Metahumans, Verse, and a lot more.

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Marie Dealessandri avatar
Marie Dealessandri: Marie joined in 2019 to head its Academy section. A journalist since 2012, she started in games in 2016. She can be found (rarely) tweeting @mariedeal, usually on a loop about Baldur’s Gate and the Dead Cells soundtrack. GI resident Moomins expert.
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