The metaverse we are talking about right now is in many parts based on concepts from a pretty bad science fiction movie, Ready Player One. Which is fantastic, since the entire concept of modern VR was kickstarted by another bad science fiction movie, The Lawnmower Man from 1991, which set up a concept that seemed so plausible it was accepted as inevitable, and then realized. And just like then, the movie has introduced the idea in a way that makes it tangible for not just the geeks who are in this space, but for the world at large.
So the metaverse seems to be happening, and here is what I think it is going to be like.
In 2014 I was marketing manager for a startup in the games industry. And everybody with a tie, and there were a lot of them, was talking about Minecraft. And they were, of course, talking about it because of one thing.
The fact that a startup could be sold to Microsoft for two billion dollars suddenly made indie gaming something to reckon with. And a-reckoned they did.
So I had to sit through hours of conversation with wild-eyed Gordon Geckos telling me that we should make our thing way more blocky, because that would be a surefire way to send those millions magically appear.
Everybody had a theory on why Minecraft was the future, and how to replicate that success. In the end, I made one of my few executive decisions before I quit being a boss, banning anybody and everybody from using The M-word when talking strategy in my presence.
Now it seems everybody has a new word on their lips. And just like then, it chafes at me that most of the people mentioning this word have never ever experienced that whereof they speak. They’ve just glanced a crappy sci fi movie and read in Forbes that large companies are throwing insane amounts of money at this newfangled technology.
The word is ’metaverse’.
When Neal Stephenson wrote Snow Crash he chose to come up with a new term for what was formerly referred to as ’cyberspace’ since that term had been co-opted to mean anything cool in digital communication, such as Flash pages, or grainy webcams of coffee makers, or web pages using the blink tag.
All of this was cyberspace now, so Neal called it the metaverse instead.
In the book, the metaverse is the one place where everybody goes in virtual reality. Regardless if you’re a samurai or a cowboy or a large fluffy rabbit, this is where you go. And from there you go to fluffy rabbit world, or Tombstone, or wherever you want to go.
Same in the movie Ready Player One. What was special about this depiction of virtual reality was that it was one persistent world where anybody could be anything they wanted. Just like in that movie, whoever controls that world, effectively controls the world. Since this is the place everybody wants to spend their time in. World domination, baby!
So now things are moving and new contenders are entering the ring daily. In one corner, Facebook Horizon. In the other, Microsoft Altspace VR. Vive flow. Rec Room. Roblox and Fortnite and Steam, oh my! Each contender is betting that theirs will be the pool the kids eventually bring their rubber ducky to. They all have different strengths and strategies.
So who’s gonna be still standing in the end?
Well, let’s go back to talking about Minecraft a little bit more. I’ve mulled what made that platform just roll out and take over the world. Not only take over, but stay on top. From a fairly simple and reasonably copyable concept just become the natural bedrock of any gamers library. Become the carpeting of the room in your hearts where digital worlds live.
I have come to think that the secret sauce is found in the simple concept of passion. Consider this guy.
Notch – or Markus Persson as his parents know him – together with his team built the foundations of what was to become Minecraft not by drawing up a strategic plan of how to conquer the world, but by getting rid of any cost or hindrance to make their game a reality. What is the minimum amount of money or users we need to make this a reality? Because… this needs to exist.
That mindset can be summed up with one word – passion. To approach the creation of a place or a game or a concept with a burning conviction, not with sheafs of excel sheets. Walking around the infinite worlds of Minecraft today, that passion, that love and need is still present. There’s no single feature or function or capability that encompasses it, but it is still there.
I believe whatever emerges from the Metaverse wars will be something that is built on passion. It will be not a single system or service, but a mixture of several. People will create their online personas and love them, so they must be able to bring them with them. The large players will probably resist creating an open ecosystem, and the enthusiasts will fight an uphill battle. But in the end they are going to win. Just like in that crappy movie.
This may all seem a bit touchy-feely and theoretical, so where are the precursors of what might become the Metaverse? At this point, they are all over. The other day I walked around a large world in VR Chat and came across a little back alley where a small group of avatars sat talking amongst themselves. That little group looked like Metaverse to me. My good friend has a vision for a story, and is spending his days and nights teaching himself Unity to bring that story into reality. That passion is also the Metaverse. My son showed me, almost teary with pride, an Ender Dragon model a friend had made him and left in his Rec Room dorm. What that gift means to him is the Metaverse.
The Metaverse is coming, and it is going to be built on passion.