It’s now widely acknowledged that games are the gateway to the 3D interconnected internet — aka the metaverse — but leading figures in the gaming community are less enamored of the vision proposed by big tech.
“The metaverse vision, as it was presented over the past year by Meta, is a very not creative vision that was basically lifted directly from Matrix, Ready Player One. When Microsoft and Activision merged, this talk of the metaverse was, again, just more marketing bullshit,” says Phil Libin, founder of mmHmm and former Evernote CEO.
“They try to make a deal look more interesting to investors in the month that had happened. Had it happened six months before, they wouldn’t have said the metaverse, they would have said something else.”
Libin was speaking as part of a roundtable of industry technologists talking to the Financial Times about the future of the internet from a gaming point of view.
Gaming is already a $201 billion industry, twice the size of the film business, and attracts hundreds of millions of players. Given that it’s such a lucrative business, it’s no surprise that some of the world’s most valuable companies are now taking video gaming much, much more seriously.
- “Ready Player One is a pretty dystopic vision of the future of the metaverse. The people that are accessing that vision of the metaverse are escaping the physical world because the physical world is not very fun. That’s not the future that I want to see, right?”
Amazon made a big move into games a few years ago when it bought Twitch for a billion dollars. We’ve since seen the pace of consolidation in the gaming industry pick up, especially at the beginning of 2022 with some truly monster deals, like Microsoft buying Activision Blizzard, Sony buying Bungie, the maker of Destiny and Halo, and Take-Two buying the social and mobile gaming company Zynga.
“Tech companies are basing their future on games, in part because of the games themselves, and the IP that come with that,” says the FT’s technology commentator Tim Bradshaw. “People will go out and buy the next Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty when it comes out. But they’re also betting that we’ll spend more time in these virtual worlds.”
Sébastien Borget, co-founder and COO of The Sandbox, thinks games will unlock all the possibilities of the metaverse and create new forms of entertainment.
“The way games work is like life. And so using gaming mechanics at the core of building the metaverse will make it more accessible to everyone.”
Manuel Bronstein, chief product officer at Roblox, says, “Most of the activities that we do online are going from things that you did by yourself to things that you do with other people. So gaming is a good example, because if you think about gaming [then] 3D, immersive and multiplayer has been possible for a long while.”
The metaverse may be a wild frontier, but here at NAB Amplify we’ve got you covered! Hand-selected from our archives, here are some of the essential insights you’ll need to expand your knowledge base and confidently explore the new horizons ahead:
- What Is the Metaverse and Why Should You Care?
- Avatar to Web3: An A-Z Compendium of the Metaverse
- The Metaverse is Coming To Get You. Is That a Bad Thing?
- Don’t Expect the Metaverse to Happen Overnight
- A Framework for the Metaverse from Hardware to Hollywood and Everything in Between
One of the chief reasons we should be paying attention to what game developers think is that the audience for shared online games is huge and growing and will essentially inherit the web.
“That’s a mindset shift for a lot of people,” observes Cathy Hackl, futurist, author and consultant. “When they see something happening in gaming spaces or in virtual spaces, they say, oh, that’s not real, just because it’s not physical. [but] I think the big change that’s happening is that for younger generations the Gen-Z and the Gen-Alpha, what happens in these virtual spaces is real. They own these virtual assets. They build these worlds. And it’s very, very real to them.”
However, the metaverse being plugged by the likes of Meta — built on the sci-fi novel Ready, Player One with the premise of the metaverse as a giant virtual arcade — is necessarily one that gamers seem to like.
“The metaverse shouldn’t be a replacement for the real world,” says Borget. “It should help you augment the real world. It should allow you to do things that maybe were not possible to do.”
“Ready Player One is a pretty dystopic vision of the future of the metaverse,” says Hackl. “The people that are accessing that vision of the metaverse are escaping the physical world because the physical world is not very fun. That’s not the future that I want to see, right?”
Yet the idea that we can form an avatar, engage in multiple virtual worlds, and do all sorts of activities, much beyond gaming or working, like socializing, dancing, interacting, learning, attending all sorts of shows, art galleries, museums — is drawing closer.
“The thing that we are not necessarily close to is this MetaHuman representation, where we need to be as realistic as possible on the graphic side to be immersed in the metaverse,” says Borget.
Part of the problem is the thorny one of having to access the metaverse via a VR headset. Metastage founder Christina Hella says, “The challenge when you put it on a headset is having enough graphical power in that headset, because it’s portable, so it has less power. It also gets hot, so hot it burns the person’s face. If you’re in VR for a long time, you take off the glasses and sometimes the real world feels alien.”
Game developer Rami Ismail agrees: “Wearing a thing on your face, and not being able to see where you really are or actually talk to people, and being this kind of isolated, is not fun [for any length of time].”
He continues, “This idea that there’s an immersive world that we primarily experience through VR, through virtual reality, as sort of an alternative, a substitute to the real world that has a connected economics, that encompasses gaming, and living, and working, and we’re all kind of spending our time in this like skeuomorphic 3D VR world, I think it’s dystopian. I think it’s unpleasant. It’s stupid and it has pretty bad repercussions for the world.”
Another issue is the corporate roadblocks to creating an interoperable open next-gen internet capable of having unique avatars hopping from ‘verse to ‘verse.
This would require keen competitors in the gaming space like Electronic Arts and Activision to cooperate on an unprecedented level.
Equally, it seems kind of difficult to imagine that Apple, which is working on its own augmented reality headset, would some way interoperate with Meta’s Oculus.
“Those companies do not like each other,” says Bradshaw. “And it seems like the vision of a metaverse, where anyone can go anywhere and take all of their digital assets with them wherever they go is going to hit up against some pretty hard business rivalries and reality.”
Hackl thinks gaming could be the solution to this. Right now, there’s only one internet albeit with millions of domains or websites within it. Likewise, there will be many metaverse platforms.
“You almost have to envision it as when someone says the metaverse, it’s like the metaverse capital-M, and then there’s maybe metaverses lowercase m, or metaverse platforms,” she says. “So what does it take to be a metaverse platform? There needs to be an element of social. A lot of these early metaverse platforms have to do with gaming, so gaming is on-ramp or is kind of the parent to that greater metaverse capital-M.”
Bradshaw observes that we hear a lot about the metaverse from the big tech companies but far less from players themselves. The metaverse seems like a vision that suits the business objectives of Meta, Apple, Microsoft, and Epic rather than something that players themselves genuinely want.
“Part of the urgency for all of these tech companies rushing into the metaverse is that we’ve reached a bit of a plateau in the current generation of smartphone and PC technology,” he says. “Smartphone penetration is very well established in Europe and the US. So, the upside of getting more people to download your app is that much smaller. Tech companies are having to try and find a new frontier to colonize. And they’ve seized on the metaverse as that concept.”
Ismail is just as cynical, “I think the way it’s being sold right now is very much in line with old science fiction books, getting beamed into a computer. If everything in the computer just kind of is what you do in real life, but now you’re a virtual puppet, I don’t really see the benefit.”