Game development platform Core is offering its own twist on the metaverse by pitching musicians to use its tools to build their own virtual worlds. Manticore, the company behind Core that in March raised $100 million, has its first artist onboard: Joel Zimmerman, known better as the electronic music artist deadmau5.
Zimmerman plans to launch his own virtual world on the Core platform this fall, the company announced at the Gamescom Opening Night Live event on Wednesday. The world, called Oberhasli, will feature live music performances, games and other experiences both created and curated by Zimmerman himself. A former programmer and 3D animator, Zimmerman is an avid gamer and game development enthusiast who over the years has taught himself some of the tools of the trade for use in his live productions.
The partnership is Manticore's biggest entertainment crossover to date as it gears up to compete with the likes of Epic's Fortnite, Roblox and other titles that have become both popular development platforms for young and burgeoning creators as well as lucrative destinations for large-scale virtual concerts and brand tie-ins.
Core, available for free on PC right now, is similar to Roblox in that it is both a place to play games and a toolset used to create those games and the virtual worlds they exist in. One difference, however, is that Core is built using Epic's Unreal Engine and features more realistic-looking graphics and design tools allowing for mature titles, like shooters and survival games. Manticore very much sees itself in the fast-growing metaverse business, in that it wants to be a place where people come to create and play games and interact with pop culture from the real world, but with a more adult target audience that sets it apart from the kid-focused Roblox.
The metaverse is a buzzy concept right now, but it's still loosely defined and many years away from being fully realized as the next-generation internet foretold by science fiction. Manticore, like a number of companies in the game industry, is trying to get in on the ground floor of what promises to be a paradigm shift in how people socialize, entertain themselves and spend money in the future.
Manticore's vision is of a world where game development is as easy as making a YouTube video. The idea is that as games become an even more crucial pillar of pop culture, lowering the barrier to entry for making them could result in new types of experiences with real staying power and the capacity to compete with big-budget productions from established game studios.
"The game development pipeline is extremely complex and complicated, and it requires lots of specialists and also time. The iteration cycles are very long," CEO Frederic Descamps told Protocol. With Core, Descamps says you can make a game in minutes, and in fact his co-founder Jordan Maynard, with whom Descamps worked at companies like Electronic Arts and Zynga, did just that while on Zoom during our interview. Maynard shared his screen as he explored a desert world he created from premade assets and a shooter game template that had him competing against Descamps in real time.
One inspiration for Core, Descamps said, was the immense success of the modding community that led to major hits like Counter-Strike and Playerunknown's Battlegrounds. "Many of the biggest games of the last 15 years have come out of user-generated content and modding," he said. "[These] platforms and games were made by people outside the gaming industry who are just players." Manticore wants its platform to facilitate the same kind of novel creations.
Right now, the company is focused on bringing more people to Core, especially those who are excited about the prospect of building virtual worlds. Zimmerman, who has spent much of the past decade teaching himself real-time graphics and other game development techniques for use in his live productions, was an ideal candidate.
"I dove down the rabbit hole and decided I could take a good stab at producing a real-looking thing from Unreal Engine solo," Zimmerman told Protocol in an interview over Zoom from his home in Toronto. That was a gigantic mistake, he said. "I soaked in too much, but I realized that's why it costs $200 million to make a video game."
Zimmerman says his efforts in learning how to push his stage productions, lighting and graphics to the next level gave him a newfound respect for the art of game development. That led to conversations with a number of companies over the past few years trying to build a bridge between traditional entertainment and video games. With the COVID-19 pandemic shifting many music events online, combined with the efforts of Fortnite and Epic's pioneering virtual concert series, the timing felt right, Zimmerman said, and Manticore made an appealing pitch.
"They're doing what I want to do, but they're doing it for everything," he said. "It's exciting to watch a company try to take on the world, literally, and it's a really fun synergistic partnership." Zimmerman's virtual world is launching in October with a live musical performance, the company said.
Zimmerman hopes to continue building out the experience for fans and to work together with the community of Core users to incorporate art, game ideas and other content into the virtual world. "The thing about Core is that it's going to be open to the end users or the more-savvy fans who would like to be interested in modifying the universe and making it their own," he said.
Going forward, Manticore wants to sign on more artists to use Core, hopefully in a way that involves less direct partnership. That way, if a musician or other artist wants to create their own fan hub, virtual performance or other variety of in-game world, they can do so without having to consult with anyone or hire any third-party designers or marketers to help them build and promote it.
"Ideally, we get out of the equation altogether. The idea is that other creators and other influencers, musicians and artists can come and set up shop and build their worlds and they can also monetize from it," said Patrick Buechner, Manticore's chief marketing officer and a former Amazon Games and EA executive. "Instead of it being a place where a company like Manticore has to give millions of dollars for artists to show up and play an event, we're building an economy they can take part in and all they do is just opt into it."
Manticore hopes Zimmerman's Oberhasli is the first of many artist collaborations and that it inspires people to start bringing more of the real world into Core, to help realize the metaverse vision. "Anyone with no prior knowledge making games can make something on Core," Maynard said. "We want to do for making video games what YouTube and more recently TikTok has done for producing videos."