Two of the biggest names in entertainment are coming together to create a virtual space aimed at kids, through a new partnership between Fortnite developer Epic Games and Lego. “We are excited to come together to build a space in the metaverse that’s fun, entertaining, and made for kids and families,” Epic CEO Tim Sweeney said in a statement. Details are scarce — and the concept of a metaverse remains a murky one — but the companies say that whatever it is they end up building will be designed as a family-friendly virtual space from the beginning. But in some ways, the metaverse is with us now. The term “metaverse” got a lot of attention last fall after Facebook changed its name to Meta to focus on the metaverse. Generally, says Kavya Pearlman, the founder of nonprofit XR Safety Initiative, it’s defined as a shared three-dimensional state where people can interact in virtual reality.
So instead of putting online orders in a cart, your avatar would look at a product in a virtual 3D store, interact with a real salesperson (also as an avatar), and use your virtual reality device to make the purchase. Or kids from different states or countries could ride roller coasters together in a virtual theme park, or take virtual trips into space together to learn about the moon. More than 30 million people own virtual reality headsets, and kids spend hours on immersive games like Roblox and Minecraft. And that means that as the technology continues to expand and engulf kids’ lives, parents need to understand it and strategize for how they and their families will handle it.
“The Lego Group and Epic Games will combine their extensive experience to ensure that this next iteration of the internet is designed from the outset with the wellbeing of kids in mind,” the companies explained in a press release. The pairing makes a certain amount of sense. Epic has extensive experience creating virtual worlds, primarily through the enduringly popular Fortnite, while Lego has had an increasingly large focus on video games, most recently with the launch of Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga this week. Meanwhile, two of the most popular online video games — Minecraft and Roblox — offer a similar style of sandbox building as Lego bricks. Epic has also spoken about creating a more child-friendly metaverse in the past. The new partnership joins a host of other attempts from companies building their own interpretation of the metaverse, which to date includes everyone from Pokémon Go maker Niantic to the rebranded Facebook and major NFT brands. There’s no information about what this new Fortnite-meets-Lego world could look like, when it will be available, or on what platforms it’s expected to launch. But the companies did announce a trio of principles they say will guide its creation: “protect children’s right to play by making safety and wellbeing a priority; safeguard children’s privacy by putting their best interests first; empower children and adults with tools that give them control over their digital experience.