With three billion gamers active worldwide, it’s a good bet the metaverse will initially emerge through gaming. Are game makers ready to stitch it all together? That was the description for a metaverse panel — about gaming leading the way to the metaverse — that I moderated at the recent CES 2023 tech trade show in Las Vegas.

I was struck by how far and wide the idea of the metaverse traveled across CES 2023 content this year. LG said that it would use its flat-screen TVs to show off metaverse content like online concerts in a partnership with Oorbit. HTC and Sony showed off high-end VR headsets. Magic Leap was there to show off its efforts to use mixed reality to penetrate enterprises with its augmented-reality glasses.

Nvidia talked about Omniverse enabling digital twins of factories, or virtual factories that can inform the design of sensor-ladened factories in the real world that can yield a lot of digital data to improve the virtual factory designs. And it foresees generative AI creating a lot of the content for the metaverse.

Nvidia Omniverse is getting an update for enterprises.
Nvidia Omniverse is getting an update for enterprises.

And so it seemed apt that our panel was one of many across CES — which drew 115,000 people to see 3,000 exhibitors across more than two million square feet of space — that focused on the metaverse.


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Our panelists generally agreed that gaming would lead the way to the metaverse. I recalled that Jason Rubin of Meta reasoned that the metaverse with its 3D animations would be built with game engines. And game developers are the ones that know how to use game engines. And so it follows that game developers would lead the way to the metaverse. That argument made sense to me.

“From my background of designing toys, and working in a video game companies, I’m a strong believer that gaming really leads a lot of technology,” said Jeri Ellsworth, CEO of augmented-reality glasses maker Tilt Five. “Part of it is that it’s easier to delight people with fun than to make a productivity tool. When I was taught to design toys, I was taught, when it’s fun, it’s fun. It doesn’t matter what the technology is behind it. And so my perspective on what we’ve done it at Tilt Five.”

Tilt Five essentially does the metaverse on a tabletop, and it lets you play tabletop games with an augmented reality experience and connect with people to who are in remote locations and play tabletop games with them.

Nils Wollny, CEO of Holoride, was there to show off his VR games and apps designed for use in cars. He was excited to give backseat passengers something thrilling to do while they were stuck traveling. Wollny said he was reminded of Homo Ludens, a 1938 book about how play is so important to human society.

“You can play in every free minute you have on your mobile device, or in every every situation. You might need a little bit of distraction. It frees your mind a little bit from your obligations during the day. Play has a big impact on society in general. Coming from the angle of playing games, I think that will lead us in ways that make the world a little better place, hopefully not a dystopian metaverse,” said Wollny.

And Dirk Lueth, an economist and cofounder of Upland, got into the metaverse through his company that lets players acquire virtual real estate overlaid on the real world. He believes that Web3 will help establish player ownership and enable users to create their own metaverse applications to escape the walled gardens of big platforms which can inhibit the growth of a free and open metaverse.

If you bring user-focused technologies together like Web3 to help people play, socialize and then take their identities and assets across worlds, that will be more like the metaverse, he said.

Mark Stutzman, CTO of Area 15, is in charge of the tech for something that I think of as Burning Man of Las Vegas. Tucked away in a warehouse, Area 15 is a psychedelic explosion of light shows and artistry, using a wide range of tech and projectors to deliver a far-out experience. His company wants to bring metaverse-like experiences to real world physical locations.

“I envision this overlay of all kinds of different worlds on top of a physical world where we can all still interact, and certainly be guided,” Stutzman said. “But I think the thing that’s been missing through this product development cycle of the metaverse is that adoption drives it. What sticks, right? Changing behavior is really hard. I think what the worlds and the platforms and the end product will be is going to be fully dependent on what the heck the consumer actually adopts and enjoys.”

Do game developers want to lead the way to the metaverse?

Metaverse Cyberpunk Style City With Robots Walking On Street, Neon Lighting On Building Exteriors, Flying Cars And Drones
Will we be able to build the metaverse?

Interestingly, not all game developers believe in the metaverse, per a survey from the Game Developers Conference. Perhaps they are losing faith because it was overhyped after Meta embraced the metaverse in an overly enthusiastic way.

By contrast, Accenture reported in a survey that more than half (55%) of the roughly 9,000 consumers surveyed see the metaverse as a business opportunity for creating and monetizing content. Most (89%) C-suite executives also believe the metaverse will have an important role in their organization’s future growth, Accenture said.

Hopefully, someone will get excited about delivering metaverse experiences to all those consumers and businesses.

But the question that generated more fun answers was “What is your favorite metaverse fantasy?”

Ellsworth said that her metaverse fantasy was that the metaverse won’t be dominated by walled gardens or companies that seek to create their own moats around metaverse content and take a big cut of the revenues. She thinks those corporations don’t need to be so aggressive about owning an experience that should be shared by everyone.

“Let it evolve, and let the customers tell us what it is,” she said.

That led us to a discussion on what it takes for game companies to control their own destiny in the metaverse.

Lueth believes that pets will be a big deal in the metaverse. He thinks people will want to have pets with them at all times, whether they are at home or work or traveling. They can play with the pets, and be around them all the time.

And Wollny said he wants to see the “motorverse,” where we take the metaverse into the car and on the road with us.

The Star Trek Holodeck

Nvidia’s Holodeck back in 2017 was inspired by Star Trek.

Maybe I can see farther than just those who are just focused on the game industry. I’ve covered the metaverse across a lot of industries. And so I believe that many industries, from retail brands to manufacturing companies, are bracing for the change that is coming. Part of my metaverse

The other part of my metaverse fantasy has to do with skepticism. I laugh when I hear others say that the metaverse has already been done via VR and Second Life — and those people say that both of those examples are proof that the metaverse has failed. But I think that reflects a lack of imagination. And while Second Life was innovative, it’s fair to say its potential was limited because it came before its time.

Those skeptics think the metaverse will never come. But it’s like saying that the internet on smartphones failed because 3G phones were duds. We all know that better technology comes along to deliver a real-time experience that is much better. By the time better technology delivered speeds like 5G and Wi-Fi, the internet on smartphones was smash hit.

The holodeck from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

I think when we get something like the Star Trek Holodeck, which can create a fantastical and visually immersive world for me instantaneously, I’ll feel like that’s the metaverse.

The other part of my internet fantasy was around interoperability and re-use of assets. If Nvidia creates an accurate model of the entire U.S. in the Omniverse so it can test its AI chips for self-driving cars, that’s great. They can simulate those cars in a safe environment where no one gets hurt in car crashes. But it’s even better if that model of the U.S. and its streets and traffic becomes reusable.

Maybe Rockstar Games can take New York City and fashion a new Grand Theft Auto game around the extremely realistic buildings and streets that somebody else took the trouble to create. And maybe for their next game they could trade New York City to Ubisoft, which could give Rockstar the city of Paris. When the objects within the virtual worlds become infinitely reusable and users themselves are able to bring their worlds alive with these pre-existing assets, then I’ll feel like the metaverse is here.

Stutzman agreed that he believes the ultimate tech dream is the Holodeck. Area 15 has a 360-degree projection map room where the lighting can be changed and it transforms the room into all sorts of visual experiences.

“We can change it in all kinds of crazy ways,” he said. “But I want to change it like the Holodeck. And I want you to be able to pick your own story. And I want like the projection mapping and the AR and the soundscapes and all of that stuff to change based on who you are, and how you’re interacting with that environment. I mean, that’s when shit gets crazy, right? And I don’t think it’s that far away.”

Steve Koenig, vice president of research at the Consumer Technology Association, predicted that the metaverse would stretch across many industries and infiltrate many services and applications, which he dubbed the “metaverse of things” or “metaverse as a service.”

Maybe that is wishful thinking. But I have to believe that, on the other side of this recession, the metaverse will still be a dream that is very much alive.

I’ve embedded a video of the panel here. Please check it out. We’re going to have a lot more content like this at our GamesBeat Summit 2023 event, which will take place in Los Angeles on May 22-23. Hope to see you there.

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