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Here’s Dean Takahashi’s opening speech at the GamesBeat Summit: Into the Metaverse 2 event.
Let me start with a question. Would you like to get a metaverse for free? Your answer might very well be: How much will it cost me?
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, I chose to escape from reality by reading science fiction or watching films. Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, Westworld, the Blade Runner film, and eventually Ready Player One were all part of my metaverse education. I didn’t know it was homework for the event that we’re launching today.
My own fantasies about the metaverse have turned out to be a shared hallucination. I would define the metaverse as a shared, persistent, real-time and social online space that has its own economy and feels like you’re inside an immersive and interconnected world.
It is a fair guess that gamers are going to want this concept of a metaverse first, and game developers will build it. This might be the most difficult thing and the most important thing that humanity could ever build.
The lockdowns continue to take a toll on our mental health. It’s never been so clear that we need something like the metaverse. We should seize this moment.
Before we go further, I want to celebrate and thank game developers and publishers for providing us with entertainment that distracted us and saved us during the pandemic.
The Blue Shirt
Just like fighting the coronavirus is a worldwide priority for our survival, I thought back in January 2021 that we could use a massive effort to build the metaverse. It could do wonders for our collective state of mind. I wonder if anybody considered that Biden’s infrastructure bill could have included metaverse infrastructure.
Then again. Can you imagine how bad the metaverse would be if the government tried to build it? If a totalitarian government built it and gave it to you for free, would you take it?
I might put more faith in our tribe, the nerds of gaming and Silicon Valley. These people remember their sci-fi, and they’re trying to liberate us from the Zoom calls that can be so uninspiring.
As part of our collective homework are the works of Philip K. Dick, (the mind behind Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly, and The Man in the High Castle). He first got us thinking about the idea that we are living in a computer simulation, and that nothing about reality is real.
In a 1977 speech, the science-fiction author said that we only notice the unreality when a glitch occurs. One of our speakers, MIT’s Riz Virk, will talk about this simulation theory, how far along we are to making it real, and how seriously some people already take it.
“When The Matrix came out in 1999, it was in the realm of science fiction,” said Virk. “With today’s advancements in virtual reality, augmented reality and the metaverse, a simulated universe is not far away.”
Riz noted how he was playing ping pong in VR and he got so into it that he forgot he was in VR. He dropped his paddle on the table, and it clattered to the floor. That was a glitch.
Riz took a well-known line from Shakespeare and modified it as: All the world’s a video game, and men and women are merely avatars, each of us playing our part in a game.
If you see me glitch today, you might conclude that none of this is real. If you see me glitch today, you might conclude that none of this is real. If you see me glitch today, you might conclude that none of this is real.
But I’m asking you, for this moment, to believe. Take the red pill.
Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia, likes to say that we are living in science fiction. That is because of the breakthroughs with AI and deep learning neural networks that started happening in 2012. He says that AI is the single largest technology force of our time.
Once you have AI, other things fall into place. Brendan Greene, the creator of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and the battle royale genre, wants to create a planet-size world called Artemis. And he says that this kind of metaverse will only be possible if we can design enough interesting details within that world. The design will come from human game designers, including professional game developers and user-generated content. On top of that, the rest will have to be designed by AI, through procedural programming. That’s the only way we can get vast worlds that will seem detailed enough to fool us into thinking they’re real.
Yes, we are going to call upon the brains of AI, something that is not real, to create a reality that is not real, so that we don’t have to spend our time in reality.
And because AI has fallen into place, we can expect so many of the things that we thought were just science fiction to become reality as well. We can expect to see non-player characters who behave like real humans do and engage us for hours at a time in conversation. We should be able to travel seamlessly and instantly from world to world to world, and take our avatars with us, with AI translating them on the fly at the border so that they can fit within the next world’s rules.
In 2021, with Lana Wachowski’s film The Matrix Resurrections, we were challenged again to question whether what we see, feel, hear, and touch is real or just an illusion. It was so appropriate that there was a video game inside that movie where you questioned what was real.
The challenge of the metaverse is that it seems so easy and hard at the same time. Like I said, Brendan Greene wants to build a planet-sized world. And Nvidia might give it to him for free.
In November, Nvidia’s Huang said his company will use its metaverse for engineers, the Omniverse, to design a digital twin of the Earth. It will use all of its AI resources and the supercomputers of the world to build this model with meter-level accuracy. And it will use this simulation to predict climate change for the Earth. And once this digital twin of the Earth is done, we will get the metaverse for free. Jensen told me this himself.
And Huang isn’t the only one giving us things for free. Meta’ Mark Zuckerberg has an advertising business model that enable him to give us his metaverse for free. Kim Libreri of Epic Games noted that his company is giving away the entire city that it created for its Matrix Awakens demo. Game developers will be able to use it as a foundation to build games with amazing cities that could arrive after the debut of Unreal Engine 5 in 2022.
Some say the metaverse is already here in the form of online games like Grand Theft Auto Online or virtual worlds like Second Life or user-generated content platforms like Roblox. That’s a little too easy. I think the metaverse is going to be more imaginative than what we have today.
We have asked our speakers if the onset of the metaverse is one year away, or 10 years away? With Unreal Engine 5 launching this year and Nvidia’s Omniverse simulation environment for engineers already here, it feels so close. They’re creating the tools that will manufacture our reality.
It’s enough to make you believe that all of our dreams are going to come true, and that the metaverse is the path for the game industry to expand beyond its natural borders.
All developers have to do is build their own worlds, connect them with some glue, like NFT avatars, and then the metaverse will be born. Again, it all feels so easy, like a natural evolution from today to tomorrow.
And again, I ask you. If we got the metaverse for free in just one year, what will it cost us?
The red shirt
Now I could end my speech there, especially if I believed that we live in a perfect world where nothing ever went wrong. But let’s switch our perspective just a little. What if the metaverse is really hard to pull off? What if it takes a decade?
How could this beautiful plan for humanity go wrong? Now I would ask you to be skeptical. Maybe there is a glitch in the matrix.
There is so much hype around the metaverse and its companion fantasies of cryptocurrency and NFTs that we should step back and wonder if some of this gravy train that we’re riding is too good to be true.
Raja Koduri, the chief architect of Intel, figures we don’t have enough computing power to pull off the metaverse. He thinks that creating a real time metaverse for billions of people will require a 1,000 times more computing power than we have. If we tried to create that computing power, we might very well melt the polar ice caps that we are trying to model.
And then there are more mundane problems, like overcoming the sniper problem in online worlds. Kim Libreri, Herman Narula, and others will discuss how it’s so hard to coordinate the networking when a sniper in a game could zero in on any part of a giant map and target one individual. Making that networking work in a vast landscape with lots of people is a real-time nightmare. And Hilmar Petursson has warned us that connecting the virtual goods of two worlds could quite easily tank the economies of both.
We’re hitting this subject mostly from the angle of games. But it is a journey of science, philosophy, psychology, ethics, and conspiracy theory.
I love Kurt Vonnegut’s line from Mother Night. We are what we pretend to be, so we should be careful about what we pretend to be.
It’s not going to be all fun and games. And we should think about this thing we’re creating before we create it. Even if it isn’t real.
We will have to actively plan so that the metaverse doesn’t turn out to be a dystopian nightmare as so many have envisioned it to be.
To do this, we have to listen to new voices. At GamesBeat, we are helping to bring those voices into the conversation. We have 124 speakers across 49 sessions over three days. Of those 50% have diverse origins, with 42 women and 20 minority men.
We have chosen these speakers because we believe that different perspectives will give us better answers. After all, no one is making the metaverse for just one group. It’s for everybody, and all are welcome here. Some of these people – like the cofounders of HiDef, Jace Hall and Rick Fox, may help us see beyond our blind spots.
One of the coolest ideas of Ready Player Two, Ernest Cline’s sequel to Ready Player One, was that the equivalent of YouTube would turn into a repository of uploaded content where we would record our time in the metaverse and show people exactly what it is to see the world from our perspective, to see it as an LGBTQ person would, or to see it as a person with accessibility challenges would. With the metaverse, we should be able to actually walk in someone else’s shoes.
One of our most interesting sessions at this event is about the ethics of the metaverse, or what happens where our guard rails fail us. Our panelists led by Kate Edwards have pondered the right thing to do when it comes to protecting consumers and their privacy. What do we get for free, if we give up our privacy? Our session on regulating the metaverse will also probe into what’s both legal and appropriate. If we crash our car in the metaverse, can we sue someone in the real world?
While one of our visions is about science fiction coming true, the other perspective is that this hype is going to drown us and set in motion a future that we won’t be able to control.
We invited you hear not because it is easy, but because it is hard. That may remind you of John F. Kennedy’s Moon Shot, an example of thinking big. GamesBeat is our community where passion meets business, and we try to sort out tough problems. We want to see where this industry intersects with others, and what’s just around the corner.
Our partner Subspace, which wants to make the metaverse work in real time, is helping us create the Metaverse Forum, which will hold both public and private thought leadership sessions on a regular basis so that we can help create an open metaverse. We no longer have to talk about this just once or twice a year.
This kind of partnership enables us to do our jobs. We’re journalists. We tell stories. We are not fake news. We believe in getting it right, and covering the day to day events in this most interesting of all industries. We report for duty every day.
One of the things that will guide us is a simple rule. Follow the money. With Microsoft’s $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard pending, and the $12.7 billion Take-Two purchase of Zynga, we are almost at last year’s level of $85 billion in investments, public offerings, and acquisitions.
So many of the world’s investors are betting on games, and they’re also betting that games will lead the way to the metaverse. Many of the leaders at the big tech companies that rule the internet today are betting they will build the metaverse.
Mark Zuckerbeg made his chess move as he changed Facebook’s name to Meta and said he would invest $10 billion-plus a year into Facebook’s metaverse efforts. I suspect that Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and others are all taking the metaverse just as seriously.
The startups are getting in on the act too.
When I look at the capital markets, and the amount of money they are putting into games and the metaverse, I see they are betting on change. You don’t orchestrate something so huge, something on the scale of the Manhattan Project and have nothing come of it. The metaverse will happen because capital is betting it will happen.
However, we should follow other things besides the money. We can follow the developers. We can follow the brands and advertisers. And we can follow the gamers. They are the canaries in the coal mine that will tell us if we are on the right path, or we’re leading them into a sea of poison gas.
Our of all the scenarios that are possible, I hope the open metaverse wins. Only by having an open metaverse can we accrue so many of the benefits of working together. I firmly believe that those who win will be the ones that make the common good work for all.
But my dream is to see these companies place the right value on our time and our attention. I would love for them to pay us for using their versions of the metaverse. We are seeing a glimpse of this in blockchain games like Axie Infinity, which saved a lot of people in the Philippines during the pandemic by enabling them to make several times the minimum wage.
That could lead us one day to the leisure economy, when we all get paid to play games.
I truly hope that you’ll find some answers here and lead us to the golden age of gaming and bring the non-dystopian metaverse to life.
I want to thank our sponsors who have heard our call to support a great GamesBeat community and a free and independent press that is capable of authentically covering games. Thanks to our speakers and advisers too. They’re all part of this metaverse train that we’re riding into the future. I hope we can all enjoy a little fun by meeting each other in Spatial after today’s show for our reception.
This time, our entire event, including the Women in Gaming breakfast, is taking place online. Next April, we’ll have our next train stop. Our GamesBeat Summit 2022 event will happen April 26 to April 28.
I hope we’ll see each other in the metaverse soon. And I want to ask you this question about which reality you want.
Do you want the blue shirt, forever hopeful that the metaverse will come, free and easy, or do you want the red shirt, worried it is all an illusion, but clear-eyed that it will be the hardest thing we will ever do?
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