At first glance, Facebook/Meta’s Metaverse looks like a videogame. Much like a game, it involves creating an avatar, roaming around digital worlds, and interacting with users from across the globe. Both also allow users to do things that they wouldn’t be able to do in the real world, like transport themselves to the command deck of a starship or alter their appearance instantaneously. However, the much anticipated, soon-to-be flagship product of Meta is distinct from games in several notable ways.
The breadth of experiences and activities that the Metaverse offers users is what sets it apart. In the Metaverse, users can expect to spend cryptocurrency on digital real estate, a virtual parcel of land whose “deed” is represented by an NFT on the blockchain. Whereas traditional massively multiplayer online games (MMO) allow gamers to interact with other players from across the globe and team up to complete specific tasks, the Metaverse has no pre-set objectives or storylines. Users can make their experience entirely their own: they can set up and run a business, shop for real and virtual products, create works of art, attend digital events, and so much more.
The Metaverse will certainly feature games for players of all stripes and act as a forum for avid gamers to connect, play with, and learn from each other, but this will by no means exhaust its possibilities. By using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) tech, the Metaverse will create an unprecedented level of freedom and immersion.
Ready Player One
In some key ways, gaming has contributed to and is in the process of creating the Metaverse. This goes beyond the relatively simple concept of a virtual world bringing users together, which has been around for a long time—many consider Neverwinter Nights, released back in 1991, to be the first MMO. There are some more recent developments in the field that are pushing the envelope, acting as metaverses in their own right and/or helping inspire the capital-M Metaverse.
For instance, in 2016, developer Rec Room released 3D Charades which, as its name suggests, is a game in which players gather in a digital room. One player sketches an image, and their teammates try to guess what they’re drawing. Where 3D Charades differs from traditional video games is that, after being on the market for a while, players started turning the rooms into galleries and their drawings into artworks. We can expect the Metaverse to take cues from this kind of experience.
Games like Robolox and Minecraft, which encourage players to come together and collaborate in platforms that lack strict rules or objectives, also provide insight into what the Metaverse might look and feel like. The insanely popular shoot-em-up game Fortnite offers us another exciting glimpse of the future: more than just an insanely popular first-person shooter, it’s also a space in which users can hang out and watch movies or live performances by artists such as Ariana Grande.
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Popular books like Ready Player One and movies like the Matrix are a testament to the desire for digital immersion that has existed almost since the dawn of the computer. Using AR and VR, games on the metaverse could take on an unprecedented level of realism. Players will be able to feel infinitely more connected and at one with their characters than they ever could by pointing and clicking with a mouse.
There are other advancements that will fundamentally change how we think of digital experiences. For instance, the idea of virtual property could completely change how MMOs are played. A gamer could purchase a small plot of land in an MMO world that has a limited size, setting up a kind of hyper-localized real estate market. Characters in Metaverse games could also be tied to a player’s out-of-game Avatar, creating a consistent virtual representation of a player from one game-world to the next. Players could also find rare items in-game and then sell them for real-world money or cryptocurrency. Further, the Metaverse can allow seamless connectivity between a user’s social life and their gaming life, easily inviting friends to play games together.
Gaming began its life as a niche hobby, and has since blossomed into a $300 billion industry. The Metaverse is still in its inception, yet it is projected to be worth around $13 trillion. According to one study, 48% of gaming executives surveyed said that the Metaverse will “create new opportunities for new business models.” However, 90% also said that they don’t have viable business models to cash in on some forms of digital assets, like NFTs. There’s money to be made in the Metaverse for gaming companies, but it will require change.
Part of the Metaverse’s extraordinary valuation is the fact all industries, not just gaming, can benefit from it. For instance, food and drink companies can find novel ways to market themselves to gamers, either through traditional ads, digital events geared towards gamers, or sponsorship deals with pro-level gamers.
Both gaming and non-gaming companies will need to develop the tech infrastructure to have a presence on the Metaverse and find ways of integrating their commercial models with it, such as by accepting cryptocurrency or investing in NFTs. While gaming companies, which have remained at the forefront of digital technologies, are well-poised to thrive in the Metaverse, they–along with companies of all kinds–will need to remain active and vigilant as we transition into a totally new digital world.