This is one of those louder for those at the back moments in life. Eschewing the need to wax lyrical about definitions I’ll state this plainly and clearly — the metaverse is not a video game and it doesn’t need to be gamified either.
It’s a huge problem clouded by the fact that tech press and moronic blogs constantly use examples like Fortnite as the epitome of metaverse design and yet it’s as plain as day even in its own definition that it’s a fucking video game.
Fortnite is an online video game developed by Epic Games and released in 2017. It is available in three distinct game mode versions that otherwise share the same general gameplay and game engine: Fortnite Battle Royale, a free-to-play battle royale game in which up to 100 players fight to be the last person standing; Fortnite: Save the World, a cooperative hybrid tower defense-shooter and survival game in which up to four players fight off zombie-like creatures and defend objects with traps and fortifications they can build; and Fortnite Creative, in which players are given complete freedom to create worlds and battle arenas.
Online video game…battle royale game…survival game…three game mode versions….gameplay…game engine…JFC how many times does the word ‘game’ need to be used before it sinks in?
But later on, I’ll explain why Fortnite is becoming a metaverse platform and it’s got nothing to do with the reasons sites like Adweek harp on about.
99.99% of “metaverse” examples we have today are simply online games or MMO/RPGs. I see so many at Web3 and Metaverse events where the marketing team slapped on a new badge because investors are no longer interested in play-to-earn anymore so metaverse has become the new buzzword once again.
Within the next 18 months or so, we expect hundreds of millions of new entrants into the open metaverse because the quality of open metaverse products, such as new and higher quality blockchain games, will have launched, and will attract a new wave of people joining the space. — Yat Siu, Animoca Brands
It’s statements like these that cause so much confusion as well as talk a lot of bullshit.
For a start, there is no such thing as an ‘open metaverse’ nor will there be in the next 18 months. Secondly, if hundreds of millions of people didn’t play or care for video games in the past then they’re not going to give much of a shit about them now just because you’ve added blockchain or a Bored Ape to it. And with the state of most metaverse platforms, you’re more likely to tarnish the expectations of hundreds of millions of people because they’ve got a Hollywood perspective of what the metaverse is supposed to be.
Siu pointed out that over 3.2 billion traditional gamers are already in an “enclosed metaverse” that do not own their in-game assets.
What enclosed metaverse?
Did you really mean the games industry but wanted to confuse lots of idiotic journalists who will regurgitate anything you say without question?
While we’re on the subject, let's take a look at Animoca Brands.
The Animoca enclosed metaverse
I don’t see a lot of metaverse going on in there but the interesting side note is that Animoca is leading its own metaverse standards initiative called OMA3 (OMA 3 — Open Metaverse Alliance for Web3).
We will build infrastructure to ensure the metaverse operates as a unified system where digital assets (such as NFTs), identities, and data are permissionless and interoperable for all and controlled by users, not platforms. Users will immutably own these assets and transfer them to any OMA3™ virtual worlds freely, without needing the platform’s permission.
This sounds like a lot like a closed system to me, as long as you’re part of the group of companies building on their infrastructure. And if you look at the real estate that Animoca currently owns in the graphic themselves you can see the extent of how enclosed this “open metaverse” that Siu speaks of really is.
I see you Yat, I see your strategy.
Poor Matt is also confused
Do you remember annoying your parents to take you to the playground when you were younger? Remember that small, enclosed plot of land with some slides, swings, the whirly thing that made you sick, the seesaw…remember how you’d go around them all and have fun for exactly 30 seconds on each and then get bored?
That’s the metaverse today. It’s all and nothing.
Then, when you were a little older, you’d go back with your mates but instead of playing you’d just hang out. You’d sit on the swing but you wouldn’t actually swing at all. You’d sit on the whirly thing and it would lazily turn instead of furiously trying to buck you off.
That’s what the metaverse begs to be.
There’s a common issue I’m seeing about the metaverse and our expectations for it.
The issue is simple: we are setting up the expectation that we have to do something in these virtual worlds. That we must have compelling reasons other than to just chill and hang out. That’s why most examples have turned out to be video games.
But what if that was enough for many of us?
The original PlayStation Home was exactly that for example — a place to hang out with fellow gamers.
Playstation Home ran for a decade and allowed users to create a custom avatar tied to the user’s account. Each avatar was given a personal apartment that users could decorate with free, bought, or won items. Users could travel throughout the Home world, which was frequently updated by Sony and its partners.
Public spaces were made for display, entertainment, advertising, and networking. Home’s primary forms of advertising included spaces themselves, video screens, posters, and mini-games.
Home also featured many single and multiplayer mini-games, and hosted a variety of special events, some of which provided prizes to players. Users could use items to further customise their avatars or apartments.
In all, Home felt like, well, home. It was a chill place. So, what if we wanted spaces of solace and solitude to escape from the rat race and do nothing with others in the same way?
Games capture our attention and draw us in, asking us to accept their rules and adopt their priorities.
Even the most mundane of games, like Power Wash Simulator, don’t have any real competitive driver or huge, urging gameplay mechanics other than to just clean something however you want. Heck, I play Elite Dangerous not because I want to be the best space fighter pilot in the galaxy but to just chill and unwind floating past huge planets.
So when I was pointed towards this 2019 article called Numbers Game by a friend it struck this point home beautifully. Drew Austin, the article’s author, compared Fortnite to a place of relaxation against a backdrop of constantly craving attention on social media.
And he’s right.
We come to social media to hang out and find ourselves gradually playing a game, often to our dismay, and without a clear grasp of the rules.
But Fortnite inverts that: It attracts us with the intention to compete and then actually encourages players to hang out and socialize.
For all the attempted behavioral engineering to which our devices and apps subject us, we should welcome this development.
We can go further by asking why escapism is seen as a waste of time and not welcomed. It’s frowned upon as unproductive or lazy, and yet the opposite is mostly viewed as busywork — the appearance of productivity with bullshit tasks to make us look active.
It’s almost as if the powers that be don’t want the metaverse to be a place where users can do anything they want, they need to be directed and their attention owned all over again.
Busywork is an activity that is undertaken to pass time and stay busy but in and of itself has little or no actual value. Busywork occurs in business, military and other settings, in situations where people may be required to be present but may lack the opportunities, skills or need to do something more productive.
Escapism is a deliberate entrance into a simpler reality, as opposed to an entrance into a messier or busier one. Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and now the Metaverse are all varieties of technologically mediated escapism.
Yet even our escapism is being filled with work, tasks, or activities with a purpose, and with the ability to earn money or compete for it such as play-to-earn games.
I‘m having some trouble understanding the draw of these metaverse plays that are visually pretty, but don’t have a lot of mechanics or gameplay.
A lot of these projects seem to be trying to recreate in person social gatherings. However, most of in person social experiences do have other ‘mechanics’ like eating or drinking. The equivalent in games seems to be mechanics or gameplay goals. Do any of you view this differently?
In real life, we go to pretty places, but not to just sit there for long periods of time. How quickly would most people be on our phones if there wasn’t something else to do than see the place? — Matt Sorg, Solana
In real life, we go to pretty places, but not to just sit there for long periods of time…why the fuck not? What’s wrong with enjoying the silence?
And so to escape into another virtual reality is seen as a bad thing and it must therefore be filled with things do to otherwise it’s seen as a bit pointless. And so we get video games rammed down our throats as the metaverse.
If you are planning on getting into the business of designing metaverse environments anytime soon, you would do well to follow a counter-intuitive design approach: think of your goal not as the task of designing an alternate reality filled with things to do but as the exact opposite.
The freedom of an open space filled with not very much to do also represents the freedom from the constraints of a designed space filled with everything to do. The more you design the greater the limitation — the environment is filled with guardrails and boundaries funneling you into performing like a mouse in a maze.
The point is — stop designing the fucking metaverse like you would a video game.
By creating vast and engaging metaverse experiences, inviting brands into our spaces with in-your-face marketing, competing for virtual land and scarce assets, and the pressure to feed the creator and web3 economy, aren’t we just falling into the same traps we’ve done in real life all over again?
This explains why brands and businesses are really going to struggle all over again in the metaverse. All the lessons from 2006–2013 in Second Life are laid bare for all to see and learn from but ultimately are being ignored.
If you’re a brand or organization thinking of entering the metaverse the chances are you will fail.
Kill me because I’m about to use a Simon Snekoil quote here but he has a point to make in this context.
Fuck me, I feel dirty for using this.
Why do you want to be a part of the metaverse? What possible purpose do you need to be here?
Residents will have lots of ways to interact in world with Dell. In the factory, for example, residents can see 3-D interactive views of products, build their own systems in world, and even order real systems from Dell.com. “Second Life traffic is very events driven, you gotta have something for people to come and do.”
Dell, like many businesses right now rushing to Decentraland or The Sandbox, experimented with a plot of land in Second Life. They claimed it was a success but history may judge this differently today.
Second Life traffic is very events driven, you gotta have something for people to come and do.
You see, there is no compelling reason to interact with a business on a regular basis in the metaverse. We’re back to the playground where we’ll run in and experience it for the first time but once that’s done with, what next? Why come back? Most attempts will be static with little interaction that changes.
Those that change will do so because, like Dell learned all those years ago, you need to constantly create reasons to visit.
This means that there will be a perpetual spending and marketing focus on trying to justify maintaining a virtual presence in an environment that just isn’t natural for customers to engage within.
It also doesn’t help that so far, the imagination of agencies and retail-type experiences extend to just recreating the same mundane shopping drudgery we endure today only in a virtualized environment. Right down to pushing the fucking trolley and picking things off the shelves.
And as a result, everything in the metaverse will be forced to become a video game to survive, along every step of interaction there has to be some kind of gamification to keep you entertained or interested in completing whatever half-assed journey customer journey you created.
There is another negative aspect to why the current direction of the metaverse is too much like a video game and that’s homogenous design and experiences.
It’s a sad statement given that the metaverse represents unlimited potential and get all we get is the same fucking thing over and over.
Take Roblox — arguably becoming another contender for being a metaverse platform but it’s a sandbox game platform if nothing else. If you look at the games available there’s a very boring pattern to them, which is part and parcel of the creator economy and the monetization of it.
You see, every successful game made in Roblox has bred a thousand clones.
Why create something new when you can make money quickly by copying someone else’s formula?
In Web3, where there were Bored Apes suddenly there were whales, snakes, penguins, bats, lions and tigers, and bears, oh my. The much-celebrated creator economy is also turning into cheap copies of one another.
Only now it’s not enough to just make or create stuff, it all has to have utility.
And in designing for the utility you’re just adding another layer of constraint because someone else now has to design a virtual world that takes advantage of it for it to be useful so their unlimited potential now has boundaries. And we’re back to making games in order to prove how useful these items can be.
That’s why we’re subjected to the absolute garbage of play-to-earn games being touted as the metaverse. And in Animoca’s case, all those games under their portfolio will eventually be forced to become NFT “interoperable” under their ecosystem and branded as a singular Animocaverse one day.
We’re in for a very painful set of years to come as we embark on discovering what the metaverse really means for us outside of the technical rules and frameworks and definitions most are happy to cling to.
The metaverse roadmap offers a glimpse of what the next decade might hold, but does so recognizing that the futures it describes are not end-points, but transitions.
If we’re willing to try, we can create a future, a singularity, that’s wise, democratic, and sustainable — a future that’s open. Open as in transparent. Open as in participatory. Open as in available to all. Open as in filled with an abundance of options. — Ray Kurzweil
The metaverse is a moment in time, it represents a true singularity not only of various technologies to build it but in humanity’s need to be a part of it.
Let's not turn it into just another video game.