Epic Games, the metaverse and the terrifying consolidation of the games industry

By November 24, 2021Metaverse
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The year is 2030 and I’m eating my dinner while my children (adults who can’t move out due to rampant inflation) sit across from me, dabbing and wearing a virtual reality headset that spoonfeeds them G-Fuel. I scroll through Twitter on my EyePhone, ocular implants that render the internet in full augmented reality, and look at my video game feed, which is now curated by a handful of massive companies that gobbled up all the smaller ones. I read a tweet and get an achievement for logging in for the first time today.

According to the tweet, Sonic is playable in Fortnite. Not a skin, an entire game – the new one. Sonic Origins. Epic Games owns Sega in 2030, you see, along with a bunch of other massive publishers and mid-level developers. Microsoft, Sony, Embracer Group, EA and Tencent own the rest.

Out of morbid curiosity, I load Fortnite up – there’s no console needed because it’s pre-installed on all TVs, ocular implants and VR sets – and step into Fortnite Plaza, a hub area where all my friends and family are hanging out. My wife is here, even though she hates games, because Epic has a deal with the big supermarkets where you get a hefty discount if you buy your shopping within the metaverse. She’s walking down virtual Asda aisles and filling up a shopping basket – something Epic mastered when it implemented a shopping cart function into the Epic Game Store in 2025.

I hop into my Rocket League car and speed off in search of Sonic, zooming past live concerts staffed by real security guards checking everyone’s tickets before entry – it’s a place to play, but also a place of work for many. I shake my head and skid past Call of Duty Town, where people play the new Warzone map. To my left, another player attempts to initiate a race with me, but they’re dressed as Pickle Rick so I bring up the social menu and block them, removing them from my instance. Up ahead there’s a helpdesk that’s hiring for admins to patrol Fortnite Plaza and make sure people are enjoying product instead of being mean to each other. Endless billboards whizz overhead, advertising McDonald’s, Uber and Tesla.

Finally, I reach my destination. Sonic Origins, a new Sonic game inside of Fortnite. Actually, it’s less a game and more like a minigame, but at least playing it earns me a Sonic backpack to wear in Fortnite’s Battle Royale mode.

This is the future video game companies want.

The video game industry is consolidating and everyone is chasing the “blue ocean”, a market strategy where competition is irrelevant because the rules of the game are still being set. Everyone wants to build the first metaverse, to own the most brands and hold the most power over all the art that people hold dear. It’s not just Epic Games – almost everyone wants a slice.

Just today, Epic Games announced that it has acquired Harmonix, the developer known best for Rock Band. Harmonix “will collaborate closely with Epic to develop musical journeys and gameplay for Fortnite”, according to Epic’s statement, which means we’ve likely seen the end of rhythm games from Harmonix – it’s just a part of Fortnite now. Epic Games also owns Psyonix, creator of Rocket League, and Tonic Group, the studio behind Fall Guys. I’m sure there are more to come.

“It’s no secret that Epic is invested in building the metaverse, and Tonic Games shares this goal,” Epic Games founder and CEO Tim Sweeney said at the time. “As Epic works to build this virtual future, we need great creative talent who know how to build powerful games, content and experiences.”

“Content and experiences” – that’s the important part of the statement. This is the plan laid bare. Epic Games will keep gobbling up studios in order to bolster what Fortnite can do. Consolidation is the enemy of diversity.

The aim is to make Fortnite all games, all things. Already, we’re seeing advertisements for Nike Jordans, John Wick and the NFL pop up in the game – we’re approaching a dystopian hellscape like something out of a straight to DVD Blade Runner prequel.

It’s strange because we already live in the metaverse. Log onto Twitter on your phone and you’re in another world filled with people you probably don’t interact with outside of it. Twitter had landed people jobs, got them in trouble and allowed them to meet their significant other. The internet already impacts our lives in real, tangible ways. Video games’ idea of the metaverse is just another way to extract money out of people and keep them “engaged”.

For the past few years, “engagement” has been a key metric for success for video game companies. But has it ever been a metric that benefits players? No. Not at all.

The need for players to be constantly engaged in their video games is what led to the creation of games as a service, battle passes and open-world games where you do the same repetitive activity 5,000 times. It’s what spawned loot boxes and all other manners of toxic waste dump mechanics, all in a bid to keep us playing. The metaverse is just a seedy extension of that. It will mean fewer smaller creators making the kinds of things they want to make and more giant games and experiences that demand all of your free time, luring you back with constant events and limited-time deals.

It’s not even a good thing for the developers. Sure, consolidation is helping some struggling devs stay afloat in the same way work for hire does, but do developers really want to work on the same project forever? I’d argue they don’t, which will eventually lead to creative burnout and talent churn. After all, if you’re not enjoying working in video games, why not go into the much more lucrative world of software development? I’ve seen a glimpse of the future, and the future is grim.

Written by Kirk McKeand on behalf of GLHF.

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