According to Theo Priestley, CEO and co-founder of Metanomic, the metaverse is not just a video game, but an ecosystem that offers many possibilities.
There is certainly no consensus on the exactness of what the metaverse is, but I can tell you that it is not a video game; blockchain or not.
This does not preclude what I would warmly describe as ambitious – while some would say unscrupulous; game companies are looking to join the fad in reclaiming the word “metaverse” at every opportunity.
When there is an opportunity, companies want to step into it to be seen as innovators or leaders leading the way into a new era. They seek to create a brand image and extract money from customers.
But putting the “metaverse” label on an online game is, on the contrary, reduction for this sector. It even risks negatively impacting the virtual world’s almost limitless potential before it’s even had a chance to shine.
The biggest danger lies in users starting to believe that the gaming world is all that the future and Web3 have to offer. In this case, there are countless possibilities.
If we take an experience today called a “metaverse,” that experience encompasses little more than an online game or a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). If I see so many MMORPGs on Web3 and metaverse events, it’s because the marketing team saw it as an opportunity to make money by rebranding their product to ride the wave.
This is not at all surprising, since $120 billion has been invested in the “metaverse” by 2022, while McKinsey estimates that its value could reach $5 trillion by 2030.
A triumvirate of online games that – with more credibility than most – have taken their first steps into this digital world without resorting to advertising, these are Fortnite, Roblox and Rec Room.
But even these companies don’t mention the “M” word or the metaverse appellation in their mission statement:
“Fortnite is a free-to-play battle royale game with many game modes for every type of player.”
“Roblox is a global platform that brings players together for games”.
“Rec Room is a space to build and play together”.
Do you see the idea? It’s games. Sure, they all have a more or less prominent online 3D social element, but the core experience is still easily recognizable as a game, a “sandbox” concept, or whatever.
That doesn’t stop them from being popularized as metaverse by influencers, journalists and bloggers all over the world. Websites need to collect clicks and the metaverse is a hot keyword right now. So we refer to online social games as “metaverse” and expect the sweet referral traffic.
Metaverse: gamification is not necessary
Given that much of what the metaverse will become will be an online shared experience, we should ask ourselves why social media is so ubiquitous today. Not because we have to imitate existing platforms. Especially not! But understanding what brings people together in a digital environment.
The answer doesn’t lie in inferior first-person shooters or match-3 type puzzles. It’s about interactions between people – not players – whether it’s one-on-one, head-to-head or between multiple people.
The problem is that when you consider games as the natural basis of the metaverse – for the simple reason that they are already known as interactive 3D environments – we expect us to “do” something in these virtual worlds. We must have compelling reasons other than just relaxing and spending time together. What if that was reason enough?
The metaverse before it was meta
Believe it or not, there are precedents for online spaces like this. Launched in 2008, PlayStation Home was above all a place to meet other gamers. Sure, there were minigames, but the main focus was getting the PlayStation tribe to meet, chat, and just “be there.”
Official support ended in 2015, but fan power brought it back to unofficial life last year thanks to the efforts of Destination Home. In collaboration with the PlayStation Online Network Emulated (PSONE) fan group, it’s now free for anyone with a PS3 or an emulator. The very fact that this project exists demonstrates the enduring appeal of simply sharing online space with like-minded people.
It turns out to be much more “metaverse” than anything else that exists today.
The Metaverse and Second Life
After all, the social aspect of the metaverse is about people and interaction. For this reason, in my opinion, Second Life remains superior to Decentraland, The Sandbox, and other platforms that have emerged recently. Since its inception 20 years ago, its avatar system has enabled all forms of personal expression, and its marketplace offers literally billions of possibilities.
It is used for educational, but also social and recreational purposes. It allows its users and brands to create almost without limits.
345 million transactions are processed per year, bringing in no less than $650 million! If only it had continued to invest in its technology, like MindArk’s Entropia Universe. While Second Life draws on creaky architecture, Entropia Universe – which has been around for around the same time – now uses Unreal Engine 5 to keep up with the trends of the time.
But if Web3 companies like Fortnite can garner $800 million in investment for an NFT gaming/economy platform, then Second Life deserves the same levels of investment to future-proof the technology and infrastructure and thus surpass anything currently on the market.
Appearances can be deceiving…
Even in an age where mental health is front and center and we are constantly reminded to take time for ourselves, escapism is still seen by many as a waste of time. Sometimes it feels like even our hobbies have to be measured against things like clearing levels or getting a high score. It can be fun, but it’s almost as if the creators of the metaverse – by which I mean the big brands – can’t handle the concept of a place where users can do whatever they want.
These companies need to measure things like audience engagement and “time spent hanging out” is not actionable data. Simply escaping into another VR – whether it’s a flat screen or in your head – is considered pointless and therefore needs to be filled with things to do. Our escape is therefore filled with work, tasks or non-profit activities that pass for gamification. Video games are forced upon us like the metaverse.
Players at the meeting
There will always be avid gamers and there will always be games in the metaverse – and I can’t wait to play them! But this world cannot be reduced to that.
We know what a game looks like in 2022. And if a 3D metaverse looks like a game, it doesn’t have to feel like one. The games are a good starting point for the conversation about the evolution of the metaverse, but for now they risk dominating the debate.
The virtual world represents a true singularity, not only at the level of the various technologies that make it possible to build it, but also at the level of humanity’s need to be a part of it.
Let’s not just make another video game out of it.
About the author
Theo Priestley is the CEO and co-founder of Metanomic, a company specializing in game economics and player analysis. A world-renowned thought leader in emerging technologies, Theo founded Metanomic in November 2021 while developing his own MMO game. He enlisted the help of leading economists and AI experts to build Metanomics’ Thunderstruck player analytics platform and financial engine.
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