Our first glimpse of the not-so-distant future of handheld tech was ‘the communicator’ on TV’s "Star Trek" in the late 1960s, providing science fiction’s vision of the smartphone. Earthbound versions of actual devices were ubiquitous within 30 short years of their Syfy debut.
It’s a well-worn example of how science fiction has a habit of becoming science fact quickly.
Similarly, industry and society are moving on to new experiences in futuristic online “worlds” with functioning economies where real-world and virtual events commingle in an evolution of social media-style community offering safety from COVID and, increasingly, commerce.
Consider “the Metaverse”— a self-contained virtual world built atop ‘older’ constructs like the existing Internet. While the super-secret Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) gave us the original Internet, online gaming platforms are bringing forth the Metaverse.
Murmurs From The Metaverse
By way of definitions, “The most widely agreed core attributes of a Metaverse include always being live and persistent — with both planned and spontaneous events always occurring,” The Washington Post recently reported, “while at the same time providing an experience that spans and operates across platforms and the real world. A Metaverse must also have no real cap on audience, and have its own fully functioning economy.”
Currently, a frontrunner in all things Metaverse is Epic Games, whose Fortnite multiplayer game is the most widely-subscribed with an estimated 350 million players worldwide.
With so many eyeballs and all that engagement, it’s the perfect place for Metaverse proof-of-concept run-throughs like Travis Scott’s recent virtual concert for 12.3 million Fortnite players, and the three-week Fortnite Party Royale Concert Series running through September.
For context, Business Insider reported that Scott’s Fortnight performance attracted “nearly as many viewers” as a typical Monday Night Football broadcast at 12.6 million viewers. Even the largest venue in America, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, holds just 250,000 people by comparison. Such are the game platform efficiencies clearing the way for a Metaverse.
As gaming systems grow more advanced and more people seek entertainment from the safety of home, commerce between physical and virtual worlds is poised to become big business.
With the news that iconic Burberry will become the first major fashion house to livestream its 2021 line via Amazon’s videogame platform Twitch on Sept. 17 in place of a live event, the Metaverse takes another small step to connected commerce in the real world.
Virtual Economy, Real Money
While a truly immersive VR Metaverse is still several years away, the beginnings of it are already taking shape in advances happening now across multiple videogame networks. Generating real revenues from virtual experiences — concerts, sporting events, films and the like — is one of the ultimate indicators of a functioning Metaverse, when it does arrive.
In a recent interview published in Medium, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney said, “When you’re talking about something like the Metaverse, the economy should actually be fairly complex and robust. But you have a lot of different companies who can provide services to play a role in this,” he said, adding that “there is a really competitive infrastructure there where all the payment processors compete to earn clients’ business and there’s many of them and some very robust systems to enable that.”
Openness and uncontested revenue-sharing terms are not the forte of the major app stores at the moment. More competition may change that. Meantime, there’s the Metaverse idea.
Sweeney has been a vocal critic of Apple App Store and Google Play revenue-sharing policies on things like in-game purchases — for example, paying real money to outfit your game avatar in new virtual gear — and he’s been urging game developers to move to less restrictive platforms.
Additionally, with innovations like The Unreal Engine for 3D game developers, open gaming environments make inviting greenfield opportunities for game makers to create more profitable games while making valuable contributions to a more diverse Metaverse.