Epic is making its hit game Fortnite less about firearms and more about self-expression and socializing. It launched a new game format that looks like it inches Epic closer to the sought-after metaverse so many tech and gaming firms keep going on about.
The new experiences, called Party Worlds, are player-created spaces with strict rules around violence and combat. Epic's guidelines say, "Party Worlds should not be threatening. They shouldn’t center on combat or damage." Epic also says these virtual spaces "should have a high focus on self-expression through emotes, sprays, outfit changes, or other mechanics," and that they should "encourage social interaction, giving people a way to make new friends or team up with existing friends in new ways."
The new examples Epic is leading with are two worlds created in partnership with players. One is an amusement park called Walnut World, and the other is a self-described "after-hours adventure" called Late Night Lounge for making new friends and hanging out with existing ones.
Since its release in 2017, Fortnite has been primarily about dropping out of an aircraft onto an isolated island and battling up to 99 other players to be the last one standing. These days, that battle royale component is just one of many different flavors of Fortnite, as Epic has put significant effort into transforming the game into a large-scale social platform. In many ways, Epic wants Fortnite to more closely resemble Roblox, the now publicly traded game platform where players can create their own experiences and even monetize them.
Fortnite is still, of course, a competitive shooting game, and much of its sustained appeal comes from a mix of that core experience with its limited-time events, ever-evolving in-game narrative and crossovers with popular media like the anime Naruto and a 20th anniversary exhibition for Radiohead's "Kid A." But Epic has clear ambitions to turn Fortnite into the metaverse, or at least an approximation of what the tech and gaming industries think that this next-generation internet should look like. And that is proving hard to define: a kind of nebulous combination of social networks, gaming and commerce with new computing platforms like virtual and augmented reality.
Fortnite, Roblox and Meta (formerly Facebook) all have varying ideas of what this might look like. But for now, it's about small steps away from the video game's primary mode of interaction, shooting guns, and more toward the types of activities we might realistically want to do in the metaverse when it does eventually materialize, like meeting up with friends in a virtual hangout.