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Lego and Epic Games partnership aims for a kid-friendly metaverse

(The Washington Post illustration; Lego; Epic Games)
3 min

Epic Games has already outlined ambitious plans for the metaverse and Thursday the “Fortnite” maker announced it intends to build part of it with Lego.

Epic and the LEGO Group have entered a long-term partnership to “shape the future of the metaverse” by constructing a digital experience where children can play safely online. While the companies didn’t go into detail about what that would look like in Thursday’s announcement, they outlined three principles driving development: to prioritize children’s well being, to protect children’s privacy and to equip both children and adults with the necessary tools to shape their digital experience.

“The LEGO Group has captivated the imagination of children and adults through creative play for nearly a century, and we are excited to come together to build a space in the metaverse that’s fun, entertaining, and made for kids and families,” said Epic Games founder and CEO Tim Sweeney in a news release.

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The definition of the metaverse varies widely, but it’s generally considered to be the next evolution of the Internet: a network of virtual spaces that opens up new ways for users to interact with brands, services and each other online. Previously, Sweeney said he envisions the metaverse as a sort of online playground, a communal space where people mingle with both brands and other users while hopping seamlessly between multiplayer games, streaming entertainment platforms and other digital experiences.

It remains unclear what the new project entails or how Lego’s brand of toys will factor into Epic’s metaverse aspirations. Epic Games declined to go into further detail.

With Epic’s Unreal Engine and game development experience, this partnership opens the potential for a sandbox Lego game to compete with popular creation platforms like “Roblox” and “Minecraft.” Epic has already seen success among young audiences with “Fortnite,” a game that brought in more than $9 billion in revenue for the company in 2018 and 2019.

That Lego’s foray into the metaverse isn’t with TT Games, the development studio behind the Lego video games, is notable. The decision could be related to workplace issues brought to light in a Polygon report from January. In it, current and former employees of the studio described a toxic work environment where management’s ambitious plans for its latest game, “The Skywalker Saga,” came at the cost of 80- to 100-hour workweeks. One issue that reportedly came to a head during development was the use of Epic’s Unreal Engine. According to Polygon, employees warned management that continuing to use the studio’s proprietary game engine, NTT, for “The Skywalker Saga” could cause problems in an already strained development timeline. Despite support from staff to switch to Unreal Engine, management opted instead to continue using NTT to avoid paying engine licensing costs.