The metaverse might, generally speaking, be a bit of a bullshit concept. But one shining proof-of-concept for a lot of the ideas that circulate around it is Fortnite because, honestly, what even is this thing anymore but a platform for anything and everything. Stuff like an Ariana Grande concert or a Marvel showdown make obvious sense as brand crossovers, but at the edges there's all sorts of weirder stuff like a Martin Luther King Jr. exhibition and, now, a map dedicated to informing players about the problems we're facing with soil degradation, sponsored by food giant Heinz.
The interesting element here, in the context of metaverse ramblings, is that Heinz has been a bit of a saucy customer and, while presenting this as some sort of official tie-in and using the Fortnite logo, it hasn't worked with Epic to create this or incorporate it in the game. There's a certain irony in a mass market producer of processed food banging on about things like this, but then I guess who else is going to do it? It uses community tools to create a brand space and push a message the company wants out there. Which in this case is presumably something like "Heinz: We really care about mud."
The stunt is called S.O.S. Tomatoes and consists of an island map that recreates elements of tomato farms, showing off Heinz's "sustainable and regenerative practices" as well as having a storm that shrinks faster than usual. The latter is the metaphor for soil degradation, apparently. The corporate bona fides are taken care of with an additional £100,000 of funds made available for Heinz's own "soil health program" and it claims "$30 will be contributed per acre of tomato farming which equals to a total of 13.5 million m2 of soil which will benefit as a result of this game." As ever with these things, take that with a whole shaker full of salt: This is an awareness campaign, and the link between the funding, the soil improvements, and this Fortnite map isn't especially meaningful.
The sting in the tail of course is that Heinz talks a good game but this is all work-in-progress.
"[W]e’ve committed to achieving sustainably sourced ketchup tomatoes globally by 2025," said Heinz's Cristina Kenz. "Through this commitment, we are building better soils that will not only feed our unique tomatoes but has the potential to help store carbon, an important pillar in our roadmap to aim to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050."
To aim to achieve by 2050… That's quite the wiggle-room they've left themselves. Players can access the S.O.S. Tomatoes Island from today by entering the code '1877-1435-6432' on the in-game Discover screen. Note the disclaimer that "This is an independently created Fortnite Creative experience and is not sponsored, endorsed or administered by Epic Games, Inc." Yet it looks to all the world like Just Another Fortnite crossover. Maybe that does speak to what any future metaverses might look like: Platforms where the business collaborations are pretty one-sided, and there whether you want them or not.
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Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."