During this pandemic, I can’t think of anything more exciting for us to do from the comfort of our own homes than to explore the Metaverse, the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One.
It’s the same goal that Epic Games, maker of Fortnite, is reportedly chasing after as well, as are numerous other companies who spoke at our recent GamesBeat Summit event. I’ve been thinking about this, and I’m getting impatient for somebody to do this. So much so that I’d like to do a dedicated GamesBeat Summit event dedicated to just the idea of building the Metaverse. (Ping me about that.)
The only trouble is that nobody shares the exact same idea of what the Metaverse is. At our event, Matthew Ball of Epyllion Industries said that opinions vary and the fullest version of it isn’t technically achievable today. Those that are saying they are doing it haven’t quite supplied all of the substance yet. Yet it should be a persistent, live, synchronous, living universe that makes you feel like you are someplace else.
An evolved version of Fortnite might not be too far from the early version of the Metaverse. Epic Games recently hosted Travis Scott’s concert in Fortnite, and that drew 27.7 million viewers. And last night, Epic held a premier in Fortnite where Christopher Nolan showed a trailer of his new film, Tenet, and said that he will premier the entire film in Fortnite this summer. While other companies are still debating the Metaverse, Epic is just going out and building it, one big event at a time.
This makes us feel so tantalizingly close to the Metaverse. Yet it’s been coming forever. I just wonder if we’ll get it sooner because the pandemic is going to drive us, game developers included, to the edges of boredom. I mean, wouldn’t it be disappointing if Zoom turns out to be the only practical Metaverse? Something has to be better than Zoom, right?
I don’t think this newfound hope for the Metaverse is just my own fantasy. In an interview, I asked Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia, if he thought the Metaverse would come soon — and perhaps sooner because of the coronavirus — and what form it would take.
“The answer is absolutely, yes,” he said. “I think that it’s time, and it won’t be one. We’re going to have a whole bunch of metaverses. Each one is going to be based on the stories you like. There will be some based on Minecraft, Fortnite, Battlefield, or based on Call of Duty. There are all kinds of styles and personalities. You’ll see one based on The Witcher, one based on Warcraft, and all kinds of genres. There will be hundreds of metaverses. That’s the exciting part of it.”
Sam Englebardt, managing partner of Galaxy Interactive, agreed at the summit that he thinks we’ll see a “multiverse,” or a collection of many different worlds or universes.
What has to happen
Roblox has its own view of building the Metaverse, as expressed by Matt Curtis, vice president of developer relations, speaking at our summit.
That gets to one of the important prerequisites for the Metaverse. You have to have a big audience that you can lead across the desert into the promised land of the Metaverse. Roblox has more than 115 million monthly active players who enjoy more than 2 billion hours a month of UGC gameplay. Roblox was able to raise $150 million in February on the strength of its user base in a round that venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz led. They can lead a lot of users into their version of the Metaverse, and Curtis’ talk showed they are serious about it.
As he said in his speech, Curtis noted a bunch of things have to happen. First, it has to be a persistent world, or a place where you can visit it over and over and it’s the same world. You need a sense of identity. You need an underlying social fabric. It has to be vast and diverse. The experiences have to be immersive, and they have to be frictionless. The economy has to be integrated, and the places have to run on rules and order.
To get there, Roblox is working on platform technology, developer tools, and developer economics. Curtis said that immersive 3D experiences have to be dynamic, where the worlds, while persistent, can change. These should run on any platform, like the consoles or the PC or mobile, he said. Anything you create in these works should seamlessly work with those platforms. It’s hard to solve this problem, but it is key, Curtis said.
Identity is a foundational element of the metaverse as well. You should be able to create a high-fidelity avatar without to much difficulty. That avatar should be able to express real emotions, which is a requirement of really being immersed in a world. The developer tools have to enable players to build worlds fast and easily. Large teams should be able to work on things together, even if they are in different locations.
With collaborative editing, script creators can code in real time without interrupting each other. That’s a step in virtual collaboration, and it’s one of the things Roblox is working on. Roblox is also creating fully automated translation so that a game created in one region can be enjoyed all over the world.
And the developer economics part is getting advances with improvements in the UGC marketplace. Creators can share their wares to others and allow those creators who buy them to move on without reinventing the wheel. Frederic Descamps, CEO of Manticore Games, agrees that user-generated content will provide the heart of the Metaverse.
No doubt Roblox’s version of the universe is going to be pretty blocky, but if you want realistic graphics, someone else will surely try to pull that off.
And what comes next?
That’s a lot of groundwork, but it looks like one company is going to try to pull it off. Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, has also shown so much enthusiasm for the idea that I’m betting he’s going to invest what it takes (using Fortnite’s riches) to do Epic’s part. I have to believe that Microsoft, as the owner of Minecraft and its 200 million users, will join the race.
Hironao Kunimitsu, CEO of Japan’s Gumi, publisher of Brave Frontier, believes that VR and blockchain technologies will provide the path to the Metaverse, and he is investing in them. He even has the Oasis of Ready Player One baked into his business plan.
Entrepreneurs Raph Koster (creator of massively multiplayer online worlds such as Star Wars Galaxies) and Philip Rosedale (CEO of High Fidelity and creator of Second Life) believe that any Metaverse will have to have robust physics simulations, just as our own world has believable physics.
And some people believe this world will come more slowly.
“I really didn’t like the movie Ready Player One. I read the book, and I thought the movie missed it entirely. But here’s one thing you did get. I took away one point,” said Owen Mahoney, CEO of Nexon, in an interview with GamesBeat. “You get to the end of the movie and then you realize, and I do agree with this, that the future entertainment industry does not look anything like what it looks like today.”
He added, “If you live in that world enough — even with all my skepticism and I didn’t like how they missed the whole point of the game and all that stuff, I did agree with the fundamental premise, which is that this future is totally different, and we’re going to look back on the current entertainment options and say, ‘That is so 20th century. That’s so ‘okay boomer.’’ Right now we’re having this meeting on Zoom. Right now is the time we’re going to look back on and say, ‘This is where the whole entertainment industry flipped and went to interactive.’”
It would be nice if everybody involved in this would talk to each other and figure out the plumbing, so that all of the worlds will connect. Sweeney believes this part is critical and it has to be based on open systems.
But they’re all going to try to build the biggest little Metaverse they can in hopes that it will become the one and only Metaverse. The competition will be healthy, and hopefully it will transport us out of our living rooms into someplace better and more social. I just hope that enough is happening here that nobody believes the Metaverse is a joke or a scam or a pipe dream. Because of this crazy pandemic, it is now an urgent task that we should all take seriously.