It certainly feels that people talking about “the metaverse” have taken the universality aspect of of the “meta” prefix a bit too literally as the word “metaverse” is rapidly approaching the state where it means whatever the speaker thinks it mean in that moment.
Of course, we’ve been down that path before. I remember when “MMO” meant a game with specific characteristics, like hundreds of people in a shared space. Now it pretty much means any online game where six or more people can interact in some way.
There is the grand purist metaverse vision which says, as Bhagpuss so astutely put it, if there is more than one then it isn’t the metaverse. That is the online ideal of sort, the place of Snow Crash and Ready Player One, where everybody goes or has a presence… though if you’ve read either, the actual real worlds they exist in are dystopian nightmares, so no wonder everybody is so keen to strap into their VR gear and get away from it all.
We’re probably never going to get there… or I hope we’re not… though we certainly seem to working hard on making the real world something to escape.
But this past week VentureBeat hosted a Summit on the whole Metaverse idea.
It was preceded by a Facebook gaming summit… now Meta, but we still know who they really are… which has moved big towards the whole metaverse idea despite some skepticism within their own ranks, which I covered previously. While technically not directly part of the metaverse event, it covered a lot of the same ground, so it might well be counted as day zero of the whole thing.
Facebook has been on the metaverse idea for a while, as this now more than two year old trailer for their Horizon product indicates. (For some reason this ad was making the rounds this week as though it was new.)
At that point they were very much locked into the idea that VR would be the domain for the metaverse. Also, legs were clearly not a thing.
However, on the first day of the summit, which was all Facebook, I listened to somebody from from the Oculus group tell the audience that the metaverse would need to be on every device, phones, tablets, laptops, consoles, as well as VR.
The same person also mentioned that when he joined Oculus, before they were acquired, everybody who signed on was given a copy of Ready Player One, which is somewhat telling I suppose. In Snow Crash the metaverse seemed more like something the dispersed internet evolved into. In Ready Player One it is run by an evil corporation. So I guess they were already on board with being bought by Facebook before it happened.
A more disturbing trend to me has been the union of the concept of the metaverse and the crypto blockchain NFT demographic. This has nothing to do with video games and everything to do with money. Venture capitalists have found they can extract money from a crypto investment much faster than a traditional startup so have been pumping and dumping to their heart’s content.
Essentially, the word “metaverse” has become shorthand for “NFT vehicle” for some so, while the Oculus guy didn’t mention them, Facebook is all in on the idea, while other speakers, such as Brendan Greene of PlayerUnknown fame, who helped establish the battle royale genre, spoke about his new project, Project Artemis, a world sized metaverse, which will be on board with the NFT train.
Because somehow over the objection of the developers who actually have to do the work, execs and finance people have seemingly embraced the NFT idea as the way to move assets between games in order to create a single metaverse out of everybody’s own pocket virtual world.
However, I will say that, for the most part, the summit wasn’t over-hyped on the whole crypto NFT thing. There were certainly crypto proponents on the schedule and who sessions were about how this is going to be great once more people jump on the bandwagon. But there was also some recognition that NFTs needed to win people over, something that had not happened yet, though I did hear one speaker go on about how if gamers weren’t going to get on board with NFTs then they would just find another demographic, leaving gamers behind.
I am not sure who else they are going to get to buy into it… well, I have a guess… but Ubisoft, which has literally bought into NFTs, is certainly finding gamers unwilling to invest in NFTs. They feel that gamers just “don’t understand,” which is the most common crypto scammer talking point around. We like to point out how bad Activision and EA are, but Ubisoft is literally the worst and has been for more than 20 years.
Honestly though, while I signed up for the whole event, I would guess that I checked in on maybe half of the sessions, and some of them weren’t all that interesting. There was, for example, a pleasant man from Helsinki speaking about industrial applications for VR and the metaverse and I just took my headphones off and went on with something else.
The only session I was completely in for was the one featuring Raph Koster, who got the last 20 minute speaking slot at the end of the whole thing. I teased him about that on Twitter, though he spun it as getting the last word. Still, they gave some guy 30 minutes earlier in the day to talk some nonsense about The Matrix and promote his book, so I was feeling a little defensive of Raph’s place in the order of things.
But I need not have fretted even a bit. Raph came in strong with that last session, with a short slide deck, which made him stand out from most of the presentations. He was there to talk about how we even get to a metaverse, where you’re able to move from one world to another across vendors, a issue he framed as a social problem. There are standards to be agreed upon and rights and ownership and all sorts of things that need to be sorted out before we start thinking about walking between WoW and Fortnite, which seemed to be the interoperability metaphor of the conference.
Many of the issues that need to be resolved have been under discussion for ages at this point.
He didn’t come up with any specific answers, but blockchain and crypto did not enter into it his talk, those not being solutions to any of the current problems facing the metaverse.
I did stick around for the post-game summary by the GameBeat staff, who were cool on the NFT idea, which surprised me a bit since their parent, VentureBeat, seems keen to cover all things crypto. But, then their audience is more investors and VCs, and crypto is what investors want to head about now. You have to give your audience what they want, even if they want garbage I suppose.
The whole thing is up on YouTube on VentureBeat’s channel if you are interested.
As noted, Raph is at the end of day two if you want to watch his 20 minutes. (Also, seeing Raph live, Playable Worlds might want to update the promo pic they use of him, which must be from 2006 given how much gray hair he has now. Why not play up his age and experience rather than trying to keep him looking forever 35?)
The site also did decent summaries of some of the sessions on their site, which are a little more detailed that the presentations. I’ll link to a few of the more interesting ones:
- Raph Koster’s Real Talk about a Real Metaverse
- Jason Rubin on Meta’s Strategy for the Metaverse
- The Metaverse will bring new forms of toxicity and will require new tools
- An Open or Closed Metaverse?
- Why Representation now means a much better Metaverse-to-come
- Why play-to-earn games are the key to the marketing and monetization challenge
- Blockchain game advocates aim for the mainstream
Those last two are interesting for specific definitions of the word, like if you want to hear the crypto side of things try to rationalize why the metaverse needs them. I think that quote about leaving gamers behind is in that last session.
Not everything at the event was worth hearing, but it was the place to be if you wanted some insight into what the people… mostly money people… want to hear about. The GamesBeat team kept things going, though occasionally the slipped up a bit. I think they were about done with the event when this poll popped up.
So it goes.
And, while we’re on the topic of the metaverse, interoperability, and NFTs, I figure I should toss in a video that cam up last week. It is 30 minutes of a developer going through the issues, one by one, about how NFTs don’t solve any of the problems that need to be solved for the metaverse. It is just shy of 30 minutes, but it is pretty to the point.
I’ve seen all these points before, but it is nice to have them summed up in one video. He also has a follow up video because the crypto bros came after him with the whole “but we want to be able own/trade independent of the developer” scenario, which he also picks apart pretty well.
However, if you really want to dig into the NFT/crypto thing and have two hours to spare, I highly recommend this video from Folding Ideas.
It is essentially a documentary look into where cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and NFTs came from, what they really are, how badly designed they really are, who is making money on them, and how the scam really works. Spoiler: It is all based on the greater fool theory.
I don’t think there was a lot shockingly new to me in that video, except for the cost, and the variability of cost, of blockchain transactions, which would make the whole thing a non-starter for any legitimate enterprise.
Seriously, you would have to be insane to use crypto for your business unless it is a scam. Any CEO of a legitimate company that says they are seriously considering NFTs is throwing out a buzzword to boost their stock price or doesn’t understand how they actually work… though you cannot rule out both being the answer.
Anyway, the video did nicely tie together a lot of different threads and I felt it was well worth the time, so much so that I listened to it twice. (While doing some quests in EQII.) Hat tip to Massively OP for linking to this video.
Addendum: If you prefer the written word to a two hour video, then there is David Rosenthal’s Stanford talk that he reproduced on his blog, which gets down into the details of crypto and how it goes so very wrong.