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Metaverse is a multitrillion-dollar opportunity, Epic CEO says

‘The metaverse is a term like the internet. No company can own it.’
Tim Sweeney in Seoul. Image: Bloomberg

Epic Games Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Sweeney may be the most enthusiastic supporter of the metaverse after Mark Zuckerberg, who renamed his entire company Meta Platforms Inc.

The Epic founder has reason to be bullish, as his company’s Fortnite has rapidly evolved from a popular multiplayer game into an online space where people socialise and big-name musicians host virtual concerts. It competes with world-building games like Microsoft Corp.’s Minecraft and Roblox’s eponymous title in pursuing the metaverse vision of a virtual environment that would be the platform we use to interact with the internet and others, supplanting web browsers and mobile apps.

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“Over the coming decades, the metaverse has the potential to become a multitrillion-dollar part of the world economy,” the CEO said at a conference in Seoul on Tuesday. “The next three years are going to be critical for all of the metaverse-aspiring companies like Epic, Roblox, Microsoft, Facebook,” he said in an interview after. “It’s kind of a race to get to a billion users, whoever brings on a billion users first, would be the presumed leader in setting the standards.”

For Sweeney, the legal and rhetorical battle with mobile giants Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google over their locked-down app stores and payments is at least in part motivated by his aspirations for the metaverse and ensuring there’s a fair playing field for the companies competing to create it.

“The metaverse is a term like the internet. No company can own it,” the Epic chief said.

Epic’s metaverse strategy has two prongs: first is expanding Fortnite from a game with 60 million monthly active users to an experience that could reach a billion in the future, the CEO said. Complementary to that, the company wants to capitalise on its content-creation tools like the Unreal Engine for 3D graphics, “enabling all of the companies throughout the industry to have a real-time 3D presence.” On that front, Epic will face stiff competition from Nvidia Corp., whose CEO is similarly optimistic.

Even if Epic doesn’t build the definitive metaverse, Sweeney wants its software tools to provide the building blocks, offering carmakers as an example: they can use Unreal to visualise their products in design and manufacturing processes and later to produce digital advertisements. Fortnite added a Ferrari that players can drive in the game this July.

The company is working to “build one set of digital assets that can be deployed to film and television and in real-time games, scaling from high-end consoles down to low-end smartphones,” Sweeney said. And while he doesn’t believe that specialised hardware such as augmented or virtual reality glasses would be necessary to access the metaverse, Epic is collaborating with all designers and manufacturers of such devices, he said.

Epic intends to take a similar approach to the other big growth opportunity for game developers: China. The company gave up on its multiyear effort to get Fortnite approved in the country this month, but will continue to offer its tools and software for other creators to make use of, he added.

© 2021 Bloomberg

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