The LEGO Group has announced a “long-term” partnership with Epic Games, with the aim of making this nebulous concept of an imagined internet future “safe and fun for kids and families”.
In a joint statement released today, the two companies expressed their intention to “come together to build an immersive, creatively inspiring and engaging digital experience for kids of all ages to enjoy together.” This experience, they say, “will give children access to tools that will empower them to become confident creators and provide incredible play opportunities in a safe and positive space.”
Neither LEGO nor Epic offer much information on what this experience will be like. But online child safety is heavily emphasized throughout the ad. LEGO Group CEO Niels B. Christiansen says “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.” , fun 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 well-being a priority.
- Protect children’s privacy by putting their best interests first.
- Empower children and adults with tools that give them control over their digital experience.
While not explicitly stated, this repeated line about child safety seems like a clear shot in the bow of Roblox Corporation, which has recently been accused of building its massively profitable gaming platform on the back of exploiting and underpaying (opens in new tab) young game developers at the same time failing to protect (opens in new tab) your child audience from scammers and inappropriate content.
LEGO certainly knows how to create experiences for kids, while Epic’s Fortnite has increasingly moved from a shooter straight from Battle Royale to Second Life with guns. But there’s also nothing in this ad that makes Metaverse sound any less confusing, and it’s worth remembering that driving the entire “Web3” concept is a desire to commodify digital social spaces. See how Tim Sweeney describes the Metaverse in the Washington Post, as quoted in Wes’ controversy with colorful titles (opens in new tab) about the idea.
“An automaker that wants to be in the metaverse is not going to run ads. They’re going to launch their car into the world in real time and you can drive it around. And they’re going to work with a lot of content creators with different experiences to make sure your car is playable here and there, and is getting the attention it deserves.”
To me, this sounds more insidious than simply running an ad, which is at least selling you overtly rather than covertly. Then again, LEGO is increasingly just buildable ads for a bunch of different brands, from Star Wars to Mario, so maybe here I’m just an old man screaming at the cloud. However, I think it’s worth treating the ad with some skepticism until we see footage of this Lego/Epic Metaverse in action.