We’re Already Living in The Metaverse

Now that in-person conferences for the games and interactive entertainment sectors are inching back to full-swing, fewer topics have drawn such extreme reactions — whether strongly in favor of, opposed to, or with opinions landing somewhere in between — than the debate around web3 and what is generally referred to as “The Metaverse.” Against this impassioned backdrop of analysis and “hot takes,” there has been a rapid proliferation of games, tools, platforms, Metaverse instantiations, and many exciting media convergences that are infused with web3 sensibilities.

The German theoretical physicist Max Planck once said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Planck may have been born over a century ago and yet his oft-quoted statement speaks to the remarkable ability that we humans have throughout history to both imagine and construct our futures, often out of necessity or in response to sudden changes in the world around us. The significant transformations embodied by web3-focused businesses, technologies, artists, and audiences alike, exemplified in no small way by this drive “to” the Metaverse, was spurred on in part by the preeminence that our online lives took for so many of us during a generation-defining global epidemic. In this very real sense and given the way we already interact in XR and online via a variety of connected computing devices, we are already living in a kind of Metaverse and have been for some time.

It may be hard to predict with certainty the ways in which all these various Metaverse experiences, touchpoints, and augmented layers will change how we live and interact with each other and the world. It is worth remembering that the Metaverse isn’t somewhere “out there” — it exists within our hearts, our minds, and our evolving perceptions as our attention increasingly shifts to these online and XR places.

The (Re)Birth of The Metaverse

There is currently no singular agreed-upon definition of the Metaverse. I view the Metaverse in its current form(s) as the blurring of lines between our physical and virtual worlds. The Metaverse both exists within and acts as a bridge to real, virtual, and hybrid environments — all contexts in which digital assets and Digital Twin manifestations have the potential to hold value in much the same (though not exact) way as their “real world” counterparts.

To experience the Metaverse, you don’t need to wear a VR headset to be transported somewhere else, although that can certainly be part of the experience. Metaverse experiential touchpoints are everywhere, unique liminal spaces that we are only now starting to understand. In the Metaverse, humans are the interface.

This initial cohort of Metaverse and web3 products may incorporate non-fungible tokens (NFTs), blockchain, and utilize token-based economies — all to different degrees and efficacies. Much of this is somewhat familiar terrain for game developers, especially those with a background in free-to-play (F2P) games. What’s more, play-to-earn (P2E), one flavor of this trend, has experienced its own fierce contingent of supporters and detractors. Investments in web3 gaming start-ups, specifically those with a cryptocurrency focus, topped $3.6 billion. Only recently have they shown any signs of a slow-down as this first wave of massive investments play out in real-time in the marketplace.

Meanwhile, Metaverse detractors will tell you they are “not into that Metaverse hype.” Some may rightly point to a lack of compelling game-changing experiences with true staying power that operate in this space. Those critics may cite a myriad of bad user experiences, poor security protocols and, let’s face it, the rampant use of deceptive or ill-conceived design practices. Still others with a sense of the history of immersive technology experiences (i.e., virtual worlds, forerunners such as “Second Life”) might be compelled to ask, “haven’t we all been down this road before?” My answer is no, we haven’t. This is a new road, a new experience.

Nonetheless, I believe that it is important to look back at the through line that brought us to this current state and, as creators, focus on how and if we can leverage this evolution of thought and practice for the greater good, in the context of a world that many of us probably could not have imagined even five years ago.

Strong reactions at key inflection points within games and interactive entertainment are nothing new. Indeed, healthy skepticism is a necessary growing pain, and an expression of valid concerns around how achievable the ideals espoused by web3 approaches really are. Over the span of my career working in video games, I saw similar reactive stances to a host of such disruptive newcomers: downloadable games, “casual” games, mobile as a viable gaming platform, the rise of free-to-play games, and the ubiquity of so-called “gamification.”

Despite any negativity that these new ways of doing things drew from industry critics, all those forms exist and thrive to this day. Mobile games, once largely ignored by game industry leaders, now constitute its largest sector. “Gamification” has seeped into product designs for a variety of purposes. Free-to-play games have, for better or for worse, transformed gaming. Now even cars are set to offer expanded gaming experiences, offering casual games as part of the channel mix.

In no small part, reactions both for and against web3 and the Metaverse underscore a seismic groundswell of disruption of societal norms and values experienced throughout and reflected in our games and interactive entertainment and fueled by current events: supply chain issues, an historic pandemic, and transformations in culture and society driven by struggles for climate action, equity, inclusion, and social justice. It’s therefore incumbent upon all of us working in these sectors to act with intention — putting people at the center of these experiences.

Unlike many of our Web 2.0 antecedents, we can never forget that people are the heart and soul of the Metaverse.

Goodbye, Web 2.0. It’s Been Real. It’s Been Fun. But It Hasn’t Been Real Fun

There is no denying that Web 2.0 brought forth a stunning range of technologies, products, and services. Web 2.0 companies gave us more personalized user experiences, software-as-service, social networks, and incredible technologies and tools for collaboration, self-expression, and data transformation. However, it’s time to move on. Many of the institutions that gained prominence during the Web 2.0 era no longer serve us. These platforms embed and reinforce old forms of relating in ways that are sometimes hindrances to our collective well-being. The conversation is rapidly advancing, change is in the air, and so are the expectations around what makes for a quality-of-life that’s imbued with abundance and meaning.

Expressions of the Metaverse and the promise of web3 reflect our collective aspirations and yet some voices still have greater prominence over others. As tempting as it may be, we must not give in to cynicism, and instead unite around what we as humankind stand for, what we wish to represent, and what we want to create for ourselves and for future generations.

The Promise of The Metaverse

Sales of video games alone have already surpassed the film industry and North American sports combined — topping $179.7 billion by 2020, according to IDC. The competitive landscape for the Metaverse ecosystem, strongly allied with gaming, encompasses game developers, platform and hardware makers, as well as social networks, marketplaces, IoT, extended reality (XR), live events, and entertainment. Investments in this space have been mind-boggling. By the end of 2021, Bloomberg Intelligence Senior Industry Analyst Matthew Kanterman and Bloomberg Intelligence Industry Analyst Nathan Naidu, studying data from Newzoo, IDC, PWC, Statista and Two Circles, say the Metaverse market size is predicted to reach $800 billion by 2024.

Still, the question must be asked: Is “The Metaverse” already approaching a Gartnerian Trough of Disillusionment? If that’s the case, it does not presage the death of the Metaverse and web3. Instead, this movement exemplifies the unique rhythm of innovation, a standard, if not frothy, ebb and flow of invention marked by iteration, trial, error, emergence, and optimization.

The magic of our time is partly rooted in the ability to leverage a lot of different technologies to iterate quickly around a vision. Web 2.0 lost sight of the people who are at the very center of all interactivity — treating users, and our attention and emotions as commodities, deriving great value from us while not giving very much back in return. While it’s important to retain a healthy skepticism, the Metaverse, at its best, promises a truly connected global space that facilitates collaborations, the exchange of information, of value, and the transformation of our human experience.

Whatever the outcomes, it bears repeating: We’re already living in the Metaverse. It remains to be seen where our combined efforts take us. I am optimistic about this future.

Margaret Wallace is Head of Gaming Technology and Metaverse at PraSaga. She believes in the promise of a connected global space dedicated to collaboration, knowledge-sharing, ownership, and the transformation of commerce and human potential. Connect with her on Twitter.

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