PYMNTS Metaverse Series: Gaming Has a Big Lead in the Metaverse, for Better or Worse

Metaverse, gaming, WoW, Fortnite

Sixteen years ago, a group of World of Warcraft (WoW) players organized an in-game funeral for a real-life guild member who had passed away. The player, whose in-game avatar was named Fayejin, liked snow and fishing, so they gathered by a good fishing lake in a snowy game zone called Winterspring to pay their respects.

It wasn’t the first in-game memorial service in the massively multiplayer online (MMO) role-playing game, and it certainly wasn’t the last. On July 2, 2020, a memorial for WoW streamer, Byron “Reckful” Bernstein, who had almost 1 million Twitch followers, drew one of the largest crowds of any in-game event, according to reports.

If you think about it, it’s a core use of the metaverse: social interaction by people from around the world with shared interests. And game makers have been doing that for a long time.

See also: What’s a Metaverse, and Why is One Having a Fashion Show?

Believers have pitched the metaverse as the Next Big Thing in online life. Social media titans, brand marketers and, of course, blockchain investors are all betting their decentralized development tools and cryptocurrency- and non-fungible token (NFT)-based economies are the best backbone for the 3D, immersive virtual worlds.

Blockchain metaverses like Decentraland and The Sandbox — which use unique cryptocurrency tokens as building blocks, avatars and virtual goods that have already outsold some of their real-life counterparts — have seen brand marketers pouring in, with fashion houses, fast-food chains and record labels all rushing to develop experiential outposts.

Related: PYMNTS Metaverse Series: The Brands Are There. Will Eyeballs Follow?

And certainly, a leading contender for real-life metaverse overlord is Mark Zuckerberg, who renamed Facebook last year, calling it Meta to reflect his belief that the metaverse was the future of social media.

He poured $10 billion into that vision in 2021 — so much that the firm missed its numbers and suffered a historic stock price collapse.

Read more: PYMNTS Metaverse Series: How Meta Will the Metaverse Really Be?

Gamers Lead the Way

But there’s no arguing that game developers got there first and are intimately familiar with both the architecture and, perhaps more importantly, how players should act and interact. And they know it.

Epic Games drew first blood in the metaverse on its popular Fortnite game two years ago, when an in-game concert by rapper Travis Scott drew 12 million fans — and $20 million in virtual merchandise sales — leading to the firm’s April 11 announcement that Sony and the maker of Lego had invested $1 billion each.

See also: Metaverse Ambitions Raise Epic Games up to $31.5B Valuation

Saying the funds would help it “reimagine the future of entertainment and play,” Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney added: “This investment will accelerate our work to build the metaverse and create spaces where players can have fun with friends, brands can build creative and immersive experiences and creators can build a community and thrive.”

Lego teamed with Epic on April 6, announcing plans for a family-friendly metaverse it described as “an immersive, creatively inspiring and engaging digital experience for kids of all ages to enjoy together.”

Read more: Lego, Epic Games Building Metaverse For Kids

Gaming Platforms Jump In

Sony Group’s President and CEO, Kenichiro Yoshida, said that the investment would deepen Sony’s “relationship in the metaverse field, a space where creators and users share their time.”

Yoshida continued that the company was “confident that Epic’s expertise, including their powerful game engine, combined with Sony’s technologies, will accelerate our various efforts such as the development of new digital fan experiences in sports and our virtual production initiatives.”

Of course, that’s chicken feed compared to the $69 billion Microsoft poured into its purchase of WoW maker Activision Blizzard on Jan. 18.

Framing the move as a potential metaverse play in the same breath as pointing to its massive synergy with the Xbox gaming platform, Microsoft said the acquisition “will accelerate the growth in Microsoft’s gaming business across mobile, PC, console and cloud and will provide building blocks for the metaverse.”

Related: Microsoft’s $69B Activision Blizzard Buy Begs the Question: Is the Metaverse Gaming, Commerce or Escapism?

Also jumping into the metaverse fray is Sega, which announced in an interview last week that it will incorporate NFTs and cloud technology into its “SuperGame” project, which involves creating connected world of AAA games that “will be interactive titles that go beyond the traditional framework of games.”

While Sega Executive Vice President Shuji Utsumi did not use the word metaverse in an interview on the firm’s website, he did say “there is no doubt that they will be interactive titles that go beyond the traditional framework of games,” according to industry news source VCG. “We are also developing SuperGame from the perspective of how far different games can be connected to each other.”

Creeps Jump In

Of course, that World of Warcraft fishing funeral also provided us with a very small glimpse of what the social interaction paradise that metaverse boosters describe might really be like.

Playing on the game’s Horde side, the guild publicized the event, inviting anyone — including the opposing Alliance’s players — and as they played on a PvP server allowing one-on-one combat anywhere, they asked not to be attacked.

Seeing as the event is now known as the “Serenity Now Funeral Raid” — Serenity Now being an Alliance guild — you can guess how it ended.

See also: Activision Blizzard Earnings Show the Metaverse in Gaming’s Future

It gets worse. In November, a woman complained of being sexually harassed in Meta’s new Horizon Worlds virtual reality (VR) game that is its metaverse-in-the-making. It wasn’t the first such incident in various VR worlds, leading the MIT Technology Review to proclaim “the metaverse has a groping problem already.”

Shocking no one who’s ever seen an argument on Reddit or a post on 4Chan, a shared world populated by semi-anonymous avatars doesn’t prevent people from being creeps.

Read more: Meta Opens Its Metaverse Platform to Payments, and It Doesn’t Come Cheap