The LEGO Group has announced a “long-term” partnership with Epic Games, with the purported aim at making this nebulous concept for an imagined future Internet “safe and fun for children and families.”
In a joint statement released earlier today, the two companies expressed their intention to “team up to build an immersive, creatively inspiring and engaging digital experience for kids of all ages to enjoy together.” This experience, they claim, will “give kids access to tools that will empower them to become confident creators and deliver amazing play opportunities in a safe and positive space.”
Neither LEGO nor Epic offer much information about what this experience will look like. But child safety online is heavily emphasised throughout the announcement. LEGO Group CEO Niels B. Christiansen states that “we have a responsibility to make digital play safe”, while Epic CEO Tim Sweeney says he’s “excited” to “build a space in the metaverse that’s fun, entertaining, and made for kids and families.” The announcement also lists three principles that will guide the development of LEGO and Epic’s planned experience, which are:
- 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.
While it isn’t explicitly stated, this repeated line about child safety seems like a clear shot across the bow of Roblox Corporation, which has recently been accused of building its massively profitable gaming platform off the back of exploiting and underpaying (opens in new tab) young game developers, all while failing to protect (opens in new tab) its child-heavy audience from scammers and unsuitable content.
LEGO certainly knows its way around creating child-friendly experiences, while Epic’s Fortnite has increasingly shifted from a straight Battle Royale shooter to being Second Life with guns. But there’s also nothing in this announcement that makes the Metaverse sound any less woolly, and it’s worth remembering that driving the whole “Web3” concept is a desire to commodify digital social spaces. Look at how Tim Sweeney describes the Metaverse in the Washington Post, as quoted in Wes’ colourfully-titled polemic (opens in new tab) about the idea.
“A carmaker who wants to make a presence in the metaverse isn’t going to run ads. They’re going to drop their car into the world in real time and you’ll be able to drive it around. And they’re going to work with lots of content creators with different experiences to ensure their car is playable here and there, and that it’s receiving the attention it deserves.”
To me that sounds rather more insidious than simply running an ad, which is at least overtly selling to you rather than covertly. Then again, LEGO is increasingly just buildable advertisements for a whole bunch of different brands, from Star Wars to Mario, so perhaps here I’m just an old man yelling at the cloud. Nonetheless, I think it’s worth treating the announcement with some scepticism until we see hard footage of this Lego/Epic Metaverse in action.