No one can avoid the technology convergence that is underway. In the near future, our world, and how we interact with it will be fundamentally different. Like Ready Player One’s Oasis, who you are in the physical world will not be representative of who you can be in the virtual world. The things you will be able to do and experience will be limited only by your imagination.
The combination of the internet, gaming, digital social networking, and virtual technologies are combining to create a new dynamic for how we interact digitally. This convergence is setting the foundation for a virtually enhanced future.
The internet has begun to mature and so has our comfort with sharing elements of our lives online. Every day we grow more comfortable interacting and sharing information online and now we are starting to create new elements of digitally influenced culture.
In the past 15 years, social networks have become intertwined with our daily lives. Our digital personas are a fragment of our real lives but are increasingly an important element of self-expression.
It was a natural fit to incorporate our social networks into gaming.
As the internet has matured, gaming has evolved alongside it. This includes enhanced graphics that provide realistic experiences. These new games frequently include socially connected elements as central aspects of their product offering. Most gaming is now conducted online, in multiplayer settings.
As the maturation of these technologies and industries has taken place Virtual Reality has quietly started to come of age in the background.
Together, these technologies are converging to create a new and immersive digital life. This experience will increasingly take place within what is referred to as the Metaverse.
What is the Metaverse?
A Metaverse is a shared virtual reality space. In these spaces, individuals can interact with one another in digital constructs (environments)and represent themselves with digital avatars. Like the internet, the Metaverse will always stay active and live. It will never turn off, even when you are not interacting with it.
Remember The Matrix? The Metaverse is similar in concept where we interact with one another in a computer-based reality. In these spaces, individuals are free to express themselves in many different ways. This is characteristic in modern gaming where players are able to customize their avatar's appearance. Users will be free to express themselves however they see fit.
Digital economies will exist and thrive in the Metaverse. As in the physical world, users will be able to purchase status symbols or spend their time completing tasks to acquire assets.
The Metaverse is a continuation of social networking in virtual environments and is arguably the next iteration of what the internet will be.
Culture & Life in the Metaverse
MMORPG’s (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) give us an insight into what life within the metaverse may be like.
Fortnite by Epic Games is an immersive gaming world that provides an insight into the social and interactive elements you can expect in the Metaverse. In the game, unique digital culture has developed and is translating to the physical world. Examples include the latest in-game dance moves your children are performing or their new way of self-expression manifested through their wacky avatars.
Within games such as Fortnite, you can signal status using either time or money spent on unique and rare skins. Or perhaps you happened to attend the latest in-game concert by Travis Scott with 12 million other concurrent users.
As companies like Epic Games experiment with building the Metaverse it will become increasingly hard to ignore these new elements of culture.
Games such as Roblox and Minecraft, are seen as examples and the precursors to the type of user-controlled worldbuilding opportunities within the Metaverse. These games are characterized by their User Generated Content (UGC) which is an important value component to digital platforms. The more open-sourced content production, the greater the total potential value of the Metaverse will be.
MMO games like EVE, World of Warcraft and Counterstrike are indicative of how virtual economies may develop.
Imagine a scenario where you enter your personalized Metaverse construct. Within your construct, you have at your disposal infinite prefabricated digital assets such as homes, fantasy environmental constructs, clothing, avatar features, and more.
This is the culture and lifestyle that is converging towards reality.
Will there be 1 Platform to Rule them All?
The Metaverse is quickly becoming a possible reality. The problem? There are quite a few big players moving a lot of money around and competing to become the dominant player. As a result, we may see several versions of the Metaverse appear. If this happens, there is likely to be a protracted arms race and cultivation of an in-group out-group situation. Similar to the smartphone platform competitions and the blue versus green text message debate.
For a more robust Metaverse, the big players may come together to build a unified platform that they all can operate on.
Why would they do this? To create a global and open platform in order to facilitate a UGC and developer-oriented ecosystem. By having one system, developers can specialize in one platform architecture. It empowers more creative capital to be deployed for the benefit of the majority rather than siloing it across multiple platforms. Think of Apple in the early days of the iPhone. They launched their phone and empowered developers to use it for access to a wide audience. Ultimately, this decision led to the robust app ecosystem that drove adoption. The same can be true for the Metaverse.
The goal of a unified Metaverse is to build an environment where the incentives align with massive application development and independent worldbuilding.
At this point, a unified Metaverse seems like a bit of a pipe dream. But there are years between now and the beginning iterations take place.
What to watch in the coming years
It will be important to see answers to questions such as:
- What do worldbuilding games like Minecraft, Roblox, and Fortnite “Creative Mode” tell us about the direction of UGC and in-game development possibilities?
- What is the Metaverse content equivalent to a website and landing page?
- If there is more than one platform creating a multitude of Metaverse’ what will the variety entail?
It will also be important to follow gaming engines like the Unreal Engine. A gaming engine development tool created by Epic Games and one of the largest gaming engines.
Will this gaming engine, or another set of developer tools becoming the driving force behind the creation of the Metaverse? IE: which set of developer tools establishes a self-fulfilling feedback loop. If it’s what everyone uses then it becomes what everyone must learn, creating a self-reinforcing loop.
The Metaverse will be about more than capturing human movements. It will also include human expressions and emotions that are important to unique in-person interactions. The breakthroughs in tech capturing real-time motion and expression will be interesting to follow.
Virtual gaming commerce functions as a microcosm of the real economy. Like a mini sealed terrarium, MMORPG’s have provided a fascinating glimpse of how virtual economies are created within online gaming communities. These communities are increasingly bridging the divide between the physical world and the virtual world.
It will be important to watch the development of virtual gaming economies and their continuing interconnectedness with real-world economies. As an example, the Travis Scott Fortnite concert was free for users but it’s not hard to imagine event-based revenue models within the Metaverse.
the idea that the best way to monetize content might be to give it away for free and charge for optional $0.99 items of no consequential value. -Matthew Ball
Imagine 12 million concurrent users charged $1 each to attend. The scale of opportunity within the Metaverse creates an ability to experiment with new financial models and create massive wealth-building opportunities. Virtual world economics will be essential elements to the viability of the Metaverse. Users' ability to monetize within the Metaverse and extract that value into the physical world will be a major step.
Be patient, there won’t be a Metaverse anytime soon
Although the technologies are converging to create the Metaverse, it is still many years away from being a reality. But the prospects of what’s to come are well worth the wait.
We need to be very patient. A lot of companies are doing experiments along these lines. We have to realize it’s going to take many attempts before we find the key combination of elements that makes it all work. In two years, when everybody’s downloaded different versions of the Metaverse from different companies and found that they all suck, I wouldn’t give up at that point. We need to continue to look for the magic. — Tim Sweeney, Epic Games, Source
For an in-depth conversation on what the Metaverse could be, check out Tim Sweeney’s talk: