Silicon Valley is racing to build the next version of the Internet. Fortnite might get there first.

By Gene Park April 17, 2020 at 1:19 p.m. CDT

The next version of the Internet is often described as the Metaverse, a term borne from science fiction, describing a shared, virtual space that’s persistently online and active, even without people logging in. It will have its own economy, complete with jobs, shopping areas and media to consume. The Metaverse is inevitable, many believe, and the Silicon Valley C-suite has been obsessed with the idea — as has a video game company in Cary, North Carolina.

In recent years, there’s been serious talk about how to build the Metaverse, and who will build it first. One only needs to witness Facebook and Google’s Internet success today, given how both companies dominate digital business, to understand the eagerness with which companies hurry to populate this next frontier. In observing that pursuit, there’s the very real possibility that Fortnite, the video game that became a global phenomenon that turned celebrities into players and players into celebrities, has been building the foundations of the Internet’s future right before our glazed eyes.

Fortnite’s creators at Epic Games have not been shy about this ambition. Its CEO, Tim Sweeney, wants this conversation in public, and has made overt references in the last few years in establishing Fortnite as something more than a game. He’s even hinted that this transformation could begin by the end of this year.

Fortnite is a game,” Sweeney tweeted in December 2019. “But ask that question again in 12 months.”

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Conversation around a more tangible, actualized Internet seems only more pointed in light of our current shelter-in-place reality in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In the past month, office culture has coalesced around video chat platforms like Zoom, while personal cultural milestones like weddings and graduations are being conducted in Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The Metaverse not only seems realistic — it would probably be pretty useful right about now.

Why the Metaverse befits Fortnite

The Metaverse reality is still years, possibly decades, away. But Sweeney has been publicly pushing for its creation, and he isn’t alone in his desire to push for the Metaverse, where the online world echoes and fulfills real-world needs and activities. Constructing the virtual Internet space is Silicon Valley’s macro goal, many of whom are obsessed with Neal Stephenson’s 1992 book, “Snow Crash,” which defined the term.

In recent years, Facebook, Google and Samsung have all made heavy investments in cloud computing and virtual reality companies in anticipation of a Metaverse. Facebook Horizon, announced in 2019, is a virtual reality social space intended to serve as a Metaverse. Google’s shared workspace tools, powered by its cloud computing investments over the years, were all small but significant steps to institutionalize work culture online.

But it’s Epic Games, with Fortnite, that has the most viable path forward in terms of creating the Metaverse, according to an essay by venture capitalist and former Amazon executive Matthew Ball. And if today’s Internet dystopia scares you, the Metaverse will only make things more complicated. Although Fortnite’s entry into the Metaverse race was all by accident, the gaming industry has been tackling the possibility of creating it for years.

“We’re seeing this advancement of technology and Internet interaction and the Metaverse coming from gaming because it tends to be at the forefront of something designed for many, and who have the highest [technological] needs,” Ball told The Washington Post in an interview.

Gamers, he said, tend to own the most powerful computer processors available to consumers. There’s a reason Saddam Hussein famously hoarded PlayStation 2 consoles 20 years ago, and the U.S. military has experimented with creating supercomputers with clusters of PlayStation 3 units.

The most widely agreed core attributes of a Metaverse include always being live and persistent — with both planned and spontaneous events always occurring — while at the same time providing an experience that spans and operates across platforms and the real world. A Metaverse must also have no real cap on audience, and have its own fully functioning economy.

Gamers, he said, tend to own the most powerful computer processors available to consumers. There’s a reason Saddam Hussein famously hoarded PlayStation 2 consoles 20 years ago, and the U.S. military has experimented with creating supercomputers with clusters of PlayStation 3 units.

The most widely agreed core attributes of a Metaverse include always being live and persistent — with both planned and spontaneous events always occurring — while at the same time providing an experience that spans and operates across platforms and the real world. A Metaverse must also have no real cap on audience, and have its own fully functioning economy.

In 2017, Fortnite was created to be a four-player cooperative game about defending a base, a classic popular game type. The Battle Royale mode, which brought the game global success, was grafted on later, after the genre gained ground in the PC market. Through 2018, Fortnite developed a reputation as less of a video game, and more as a Gen Z’s preferred social platform.

It has featured live events that have sparked intrigue both in-game (as when cataclysmic events altered the game’s map) and in the real world (when the game made headlines by disappearing into a black hole for two days in October to reset its servers for its second chapter). And all of those elements have prompted players to drop hundreds of millions on V-Bucks, Fortnite’s in-game currency, which in turn brought Epic hundreds of millions in real-world revenue.

Epic Games never planned for Fortnite to become such a cultural touchstone, not to the point that it inspired everything from World Cup celebrations to Netflix considering the game, not HBO, its biggest competitor.

Fortnite hasn’t reached Metaverse status yet. But Fortnite as a social network and impossible-to-ignore cultural phenomenon, Ball says, provides Epic Games a key advantage for leading in the Metaverse race. Fortnite draws a massive, willing and excited audience online to engage with chaotically clashing intellectual properties. For now, it’s the only legal place on the Internet where a Netflix-approved avatar of Hopper from “Stranger Things” can twerk on a Disney-approved avatar of Rey Skywalker from Star Wars.

“This organic evolution can’t be overemphasized,” Ball writes in his essay. “If you ‘declared’ your intent to start a Metaverse, these parties would never embrace interoperability or entrust their IP. But Fortnite has become so popular and so unique that most counterparties have no choice but to participate. … Fortnite is too valuable a platform.”

Of course, Fortnite isn’t the only instance of a game displaying key traits of the Metaverse. Some investors believe Roblox, which allows users to create their own games, will build the Metaverse, as evidenced by a recent $4 billion valuation, the Wall Street Journal reports. Most recently, the game Minecraft showcased a great example of the online world’s flexibility when it comes to intellectual property. International nonprofit Reporters Without Borders chose Minecraft as its venue for millions of publicly-censored documents, all archived in a massive 12-million block library built inside the game over the course of three months.

Signs of the future in the present

The Metaverse is not likely to happen anytime soon. Although Fortnite can draw 10 million people to log on to see DJ Marshmello put on a virtual concert in the game, players would only see 99 other people online. Fortnite matches are limited to only 100 people, so events are populated the same way. The technology to gather millions in one virtual space is not yet here.

But Fortnite has the capacity to rally and unite millions regardless. For its 10th season finale of Fortnite, Epic Games manufactured a narrative around pulling the game offline for maintenance. And the best preview of what a Metaverse might seem like was not the actual in-game event itself, but the millions of people excited and confused by it, says Jacob Navok, CEO of Genvid Technologies, a former Square Enix executive who works in cloud computing.

“When 2 million people watch the exact same event together, not in one room or a slightly different synchronized version but the same exact version of that event, that is the closest you can get to, in my opinion, the definition of the Metaverse,” Navok told The Post. “If you think about where these worlds are going, where the earliest formats of content are going to be, this is it. … It’s going to be a mix of game engines, interactivity and video.”

The Metaverse must be built by something and someone, and the games industry has a significant skill advantage in leading the way. For years, game engines, the tools developers use to make games, have been used for more than just games. Game engines build the settings and backdrop for big budget Hollywood productions, most recently and notably “The Mandalorian,” Disney’s flagship TV show for its streaming service. The backdrops of “The Mandalorian” were built by the same tools Sweeney built in 1998: the Unreal Engine. In its fourth incarnation, the Unreal Engine powers hundreds of video games and media properties — including Fortnite.

Navok believes that the Metaverse will need a centralization of resources in a single server to combat current issues like latency and speed. But he agrees with Ball that game engines like Sweeney’s Unreal will fuel the Internet’s future.

“Client side processing will grow, therefore game engines will be the primary way in which people will have interfaces with content,” Navok said. Unreal and another engine, Unity, have a huge upper hand because of the familiarity and accessibility of their development interfaces, according to Navok. Easier, familiar tools makes for easier building. Navok said his former employer Square Enix, makers of the celebrated Final Fantasy franchise, was among the first to sign on for Unreal Engine 3 back in 2007. Executives, as many other developers have in the past, cited it as a way to expedite development and save on time and resources.

But there’s still an open debate about what the Metaverse infrastructure is going to look like, says Jason Rubin, Facebook’s vice president of special gaming initiatives.

“There’s going to be a Metaverse, and it’s not clear whether it’s going to be an open platform, or even one platform,” Rubin said at the DICE Summit in February, where gaming executives gather to chart the industry’s future. He added the ongoing debate about open or closed platforms is about the choice between more creativity or more control.

“Both sides are probably right,” Rubin said. “The arguments we should be having are, should we be more open than we are now, or should we be more closed than we are now? That would lead to a more rational discussion.”

Another discussion that needs to be had, according to Ball, is one around security. Ball says the time to worry and think about the Metaverse is now, given how the Internet disrupted the world’s economies, ushering in epochal change along with a host of new problems, like misinformation, harassment and the ease for extremist groups to organize online.

“It has the potential to make all of today’s problems much, much worse,” Ball said. “Think about how ISIS recruits. Their whole thing is they radicalize and brainwash through digital propaganda like beheadings on YouTube, and then bringing you to a site and then radicalizing you by preaching, training and poisoning your views of the West. In the ultimate version of the Metaverse, you don’t have to sneak into Syria and you no longer need your passport. And this would be a thing that’s going 24/7.”

Covid-19 could shape the Metaverse

The current pandemic may inspire more ideas contributing to the Metaverse, Ball said. Already, the crisis has drawn attention to gated off attempts to create smaller, focused Metaverse communities. A virtual reality church driven by a megachurch pastor in Pennysylvania has been in service for some years now, but has recently gained media attention due to the coronavirus crisis.

“This, whether in direct articulation or not, will drive a lot more funding [for the Metaverse], and thinking most of all,” Ball said.

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The current swarm to an online-only social and capitalist economy has only highlighted the current Internet’s failings, and what the Metaverse needs to do, Ball said. Big sites like Facebook, Google and Amazon continue to dominate online activity, as do larger streaming services like YouTube and Netflix. But each location requires its own membership and has separate ecosystems.

“Right now, the digital world basically operates as though every restaurant and bar you go to requires a different ID card, has a different currency, requires their own dress codes and has their own units [of service and measurement],” Ball said. “It is clear that this really advantages the biggest services. People are just sticking to the big games, really. However there’s a clear argument that reducing network lock-in can really raise all boats here.”

Sweeney said as much in his DICE Summit keynote speech February. If the game industry wants to reshape the Internet and move away from Silicon Valley’s walled gardens, Sweeney stressed that publishers need to rethink economies in the same way email was standardized. In email’s early days, different companies would have proprietary messaging systems that only worked for internal communication.

“Somebody introduced the @ sign in email addresses, so now I can be Tim@Epic and I could talk to Tim@Microsoft or Tim@Sony,” Sweeney said. “That involved everybody with their own proprietary systems agreeing to connect to everybody else’s systems. … This critically needs to happen in gaming. … We need to give up our attempts to each create our own private walled gardens and private monopoly and agree to work together and recognize we’re all far better off if we connect our systems and grow our social graphs together.”

The Metaverse will also need a democratization of creativity, says Frederic Descamps, CEO of Manticore Games, a company that’s created its own virtual space for creating and publishing games called Core. Like society, it will be built by people contributing their own ideas and skills to it.

“Everybody is looking at the Metaverse as something to experiment with and be in, but they never talk about the creation,” said Descamps, the former general manager for Zynga, the company best known for its viral Facebook hit game, FarmVille. “Even in [the film] ‘Ready, Player, One,’ who actually made the Metaverse there? It will be all about the act of creation.”

Descamps calls himself a pragmatist, but is also excited about the construction of the next Internet.

“It’s bigger than all of us,” he said. “Maybe it’s the next hundred big opportunities moving forward.”

The Metaverse may be decades away from being built. But as the world waits at home, quietly but slowly realizing the potential of a more robust, engaging online experience, Fortnite continues to lay the foundations of one, slowly but surely.

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In the midst of the pandemic, April saw the launch of a new streaming service, Quibi, backed by investments from Disney, NBCUniversal and ViacomCBS. The company’s marketing strategy included streaming its reboot of “Punk’d” starring Chance the Rapper to Fortnite players at the Risky Reels venue.

As players logged on to watch the show inside the game, other players started to build their forts to block the screen. Any openings left were pelted by tomatoes. It was a stark reminder that even though the Metaverse may evolve the Internet, the way we behave on it may not be so easily changed.

How A Female Finance Pro Became A Pioneer In Healthcare Innovation

EDITORS’ PICK|653 views|Apr 10, 2020, 07:00am EDT

With the COVID-19 crisis disrupting the entire world, the need for rapid innovation in healthcare has never been clearer. But beyond this terrible virus, there remain many afflictions that impact the weakest and most disadvantaged population the most, due to a lack of funding for accessible and affordable treatments. Tammi Jantzen is a lifelong finance professional who, after embracing the world of venture capital, committed herself to making a difference in the lives of women and children through healthcare innovation. She is the cofounder and CFO of Astarte Medical, a precision medicine company using software and predictive analytics to improve pre-term infant outcomes.

But Tammi offers valuable insights beyond the topics of healthcare innovation and running a company, for she is also a successful entrepreneur who struggled to succeed in a male-dominated industry, while focusing on the most vulnerable people among us. In an inspiring Q&A, we discussed her life story, how to build a great finance team, the importance of continuous upskilling and tech savviness and the unique challenges facing women in the finance profession.

Jeff Thomson: Venture capital is considered a male-dominated field. Yet you were highly successful working as a CFO for Astarte Venture. Later, you secured funding for your own start-up, Astarte Medical. What advice would you give to women who are working in predominantly male fields? What do you do when you encounter gender bias?  

Tammi Jantzen: Perseverance is key. The road to accomplishing whatever it is that gets you up in the morning will be hard – most of the time. Personally, I never want people to invest in my firm because they are trying to fulfill a quota and they feel it’s a requirement. On the other hand, I would like to get the same access to investors as other male-led companies. Even in 2020, gender bias still exists, but it isn’t always because of outright discrimination. Venture capitalists, predominantly men, tend to back serial entrepreneurs who have been successful in the past, also mostly men. They are comfortable investing their money with entrepreneurs with vetted track records. It’s understandable that we are all more comfortable with the familiar; however, because many women haven’t had the opportunity to prove themselves as entrepreneurs, they remain unproven, which further exacerbates the problem. 

Astarte Medical successfully raised a Series A financing last year. However, the fundraising journey was not what we expected it to be. As former venture investors, my co-founder Tracy Warren and I thought we knew exactly who our investors would be and how long it would take; we were wrong on both counts. My advice to female founders is to stay focused on your goals, continue to knock on those doors, and never give up. To make the venture capital world more female-friendly, women need to assert themselves until their presence at the table is no longer a novelty, but routine.   

Thomson: Astarte Medical uses software and predictive analytics to improve health outcomes of pre-term infants. Why did you shift focus mid-career to work exclusively on women’s and children’s health? Did you feel that there was a market that was being under-served and had potential?

Jantzen: After working together for almost 15 years in venture capital, Tracy and I set out to blaze a path investing in companies we were most passionate about: those with technologies focused on women’s and children’s health and well-being. We saw an enormous opportunity to add value to an under-served and underfunded market. In fact, the term “FemTech” had yet to be coined. We put our own money to work investing under Astarte Ventures with the intent to build a track record in the space, and then raise a larger fund around our successful thesis.

In an attempt to gain insights into clinical needs and pain points, we visited women’s and children’s hospitals across the country, talking to innovation groups and researchers. It was during a visit to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston that we met our scientific cofounder, Katherine Gregory, RN, Ph.D. Kate had a unique background with hands-on clinical experience alongside academic and research credentials. She started her career as a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurse, received her Ph.D. and had been doing research in her lab at Harvard on pre-term infant microbiome and gut health, long before microbiome was a buzzword. In that initial meeting, Kate opened our eyes to the challenges of pre-term infants and early life nutrition, and we were immediately hooked. Kate’s passion quickly became our passion. We didn’t want to just invest in her idea; we wanted to build the company ourselves. Astarte Medical is a precision nutrition company using software and predictive analytics to improve outcomes for pre-term infants, with a suite of digital tools and diagnostics designed to standardize feeding, optimize nutrition, and quantify gut health. It was that initial meeting with Kate that prompted our entrepreneurial shift.

Thomson: As a platform so heavily reliant on automation, artificial intelligence and data analytics, what did you do to upskill yourself in these technologies to prepare for Astarte Medical’s launch? What should all finance professionals be doing to stay relevant in the digital age?

Jantzen: The upskilling was not trivial. I read – and read some more – anything and everything I could find. There are so many different technologies at play for Astarte Medical. We are a software and data analytics company, so learning about software development, data science and machine learning was certainly in order. Moreover, our software and data analytics are focused on feeding, nutrition and gut health, so understanding microbiome sequencing was also necessary. For example, strange as it may sound for a CPA, I took an online course entitled “Gut Check: Exploring Your Microbiome” to expand my knowledge in this area.

Another way to upskill our entire team at Astarte Medical was by implementing “Lunch and Learns” so that each team member could showcase and share what they were working on. We also brought in subject matter experts to really deepen the knowledge transfer. We exposed the team to topics like the infant microbiome, shotgun sequencing, bioinformatics, machine learning techniques, software development, fundraising, neonatal nutrition, feeding protocols and outcomes metrics. It was an incredibly efficient way for the whole team to learn about all aspects of the business and provide the forum to ask questions and absorb new information.     

Thomson: On Astarte’s website, you describe yourself as a “classic utility infielder,” someone who has the versatility to cover the basics, but also to quickly transition to cover more complex tasks. How do you cultivate agility in yourself and in your staff? When hiring what qualities do you look for in staff?

Jantzen: The start-up environment demands versatility and creativity from basic execution to complex strategy. An agile attitude is essential for real, fast-paced and effective decision-making and execution. It’s what makes a start-up both exciting and frustrating at the same time. Most days it feels like a sprint. You have to be willing to contribute wherever you are needed. Although I am the CFO, I spend less than a third of my time on finance and accounting matters. I also currently act as head of marketing as well as head of human resources. Having the ability to do whatever it takes to make the company succeed is crucial and we are continually fostering that attitude amongst our team.

In the last three months, we have doubled the size of our team at Astarte Medical, which is both exciting and terrifying. Outside of the specific technical requirements of any position, some of the other qualities we look for are curiosity, creativity, positivity, integrity, good communication skills and attention to detail. Maintaining our culture and preserving the passion for our mission is an integral part of our hiring process. We invest time in finding the right hires to make sure the cultural fit is right. A bad fit can create negative energy and can bring the whole team down.   We operate as a team and attitude is everything.

Thomson: You are a Kauffman Fellow – part of a Silicon Valley based program focused on accelerating innovation, supported by the global venture community. What did you learn from that two-year experience? How were you able to apply it to founding Astarte Medical?

Jantzen: Kauffman Fellows is a leadership program for the venture capital industry to develop talented innovation leaders to support entrepreneurs in their mission to change the world. The two-year structured curriculum consisted of quarterly in-person modules, each tackling a theme or aspect of innovation investing from fund management and deal terms to building boards and optimizing human talent to social responsibility and ethics. Following the completion of the program, I have now graduated into the Kauffman Fellows Network, a global connected network with access to more than 500 leaders in the venture and innovation community.

During the program, I was challenged to create and execute on a personal development plan and was continually pushed to think outside the box. I was introduced to incredible speakers and thought leaders in our modules, including numerous icons from the venture world with different points of view, which resulted in many moments of surprising clarity. The session that stuck in my mind the most was a deep dive into the characteristics of a visionary entrepreneur: radical self-belief, willingness to go against the grain to follow your passion even when others think you are crazy, and being able to build a stellar team of talented and diverse individuals who also believe in that passion. 

This session still resonates with me today. Tracy and I founded Astarte Medical based on the belief that we could not only build a company with a sustainable business model that would provide sizable returns to our investors, but also one that would develop solutions that would have a meaningful and measurable impact on the lives of the tiniest, most vulnerable patients. It was extremely validating to raise $8.5M last year from an incredibly supportive group of investors who share the same vision. In addition, we are deliberately working to build a strong, diverse team of individuals who also share our passion. Passion makes you believe, at the deepest level, that what you are doing matters. This conviction is evident at Astarte Medical whether you work in Sales, Dev Ops or Finance.

This article has been edited and condensed.

Here are 3 ways to save money amid coronavirus

GMA logo

By GMA Team

As many Americans increasingly find themselves out of work and filing for unemployment amid the coronavirus pandemic, many have to find extra funds.

ABC News Technology and Consumer correspondent Becky Worley shared her tips for finding a few extra dollars during these uncertain times.

Subscription scrub

Get your credit card statement and pull out every recurring monthly charge. Cancel anything you can and don’t forget to go through your iTunes and Google Play subscriptions too. Becky said she was able to find $55 dollars worth of subscriptions, which accumulates to $600 a year.

Becky also suggested renegotiating cell phone plans or cheaper cable using a website called Asktrim.com.

Get a budget together

The second way Becky suggests saving during these times is to budget. She suggests several apps to get started like “You Need A Budget,” which can help you list your outgoing income and stick to a plan, and another app called “Mint,” which is a less rigid budgeting tool but gets the job done.

Sell

Go Marie Kondo on hyper drive and see if you can sell anything that you have that’s valuable. Becky suggests familiarizing yourself with sites like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, The Next Door “For Sale” section and selling apps like Poshmark and Mercari.

Figure out how they work, take pictures of your items and sell.

MORE: How to get financial help during coronavirus pandemic

Livly Inc. Raises $8 Million in Fundraising to Transform Property Management and Resident Communications

New funding led by Geolo Capital, OCA Ventures and Founder Equity

CHICAGO, April 2, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Livly, a leading provider of modern digital applications for apartment buildings nationwide, is announcing a new fundraising of more than $8 million dollars to fuel its future growth. The investment round includes private equity group Geolo Capital, venture capital groups OCA Ventures and Founder Equity, and many additional strategic investors from across the real estate industry.

The Chicago-based property technology startup provides a simple integrated platform of mobile and web applications for both multifamily community residents and property managers. CEO Brian Duggan says that the new capital raise will accelerate Livly’s growth to new domestic markets and development of innovative tech solutions to improve resident experience and streamline property management.  “We’re very fortunate to have such strong support for our vision from both institutional and strategic investors, who position Livly as one of the best capitalized startups in this burgeoning industry,” says Duggan. “This investment round is a vote of confidence from the private markets in our unique ability to create substantial value for our clients in the multifamily industry.”

Livly’s new apartment technology represents the most modern and user-friendly alternative to the existing legacy industry offerings. Before Livly, residents and property staff required multiple disjointed software solutions for basic tasks such as resident move-in, general communications, package management, rent payments, and amenity reservations. Traditional building apps, which consolidate some of these services, provide antiquated experiences that do not meet today’s technology standards.

Livly offers a no-cost digital amenity that significantly improves the resident experience through an intuitive mobile app and online community hub. In just a few clicks, residents can seamlessly handle tasks such as move-in onboarding, setting up renters’ insurance, requesting maintenance, receiving package notifications, and much more. Livly also enables property managers to cultivate resident communities through a variety of dynamic communication and social engagement tools, including a unique new digital community feed that serves as a private social network for apartments. Geolo Capital Partner, Tom Gottlieb said, “Livly is the must-have platform to compete in multifamily and represents a giant leap forward in proptech and resident engagement.”  OCA Ventures Partner Kevin McQuillan echoed Mt. Gottlieb’s sentiments. Further, Kevin McQuillan said, “The Livly team is producing the first industry applications that can meaningfully move the needle on resident retention.”

Livly selected its investment partners to provide added value to the startup and support its national growth. Among many other benefits, Geolo Capital lends deep expertise in delivering hospitality-level products to multifamily, OCA Ventures offers vast experience in scaling successful technology companies, and Founder Equity brings advanced analytics to Livly’s digital product suite. The remainder of the investors provide additional distribution channels for Livly’s technology.

Today, Livly is active in more than ten U.S. cities, and has partnered with some of the most prestigious organizations in multifamily real estate, including The Related Group, Lincoln Property Company, and Golub & Company.

About Livly, Inc.
Livly, Inc. is revolutionizing apartment communities by developing innovative digital applications for the multifamily industry. Livly’s no-cost digital applications offer a fully integrated one-stop-shop for property management tasks and resident engagement. For more information please visit: www.livly.io