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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.
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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 Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang 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, a 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 too 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.