Reactions to Dom Tait’s (Omdia) talk on current and future developments in Metaverse/VR technology, including reviews of games like Fortnite and Minecraft.
Dom Tait begins by providing a fairly abstract definition for the Metaverse, calling it:
“A virtual shared space where users can do everything they’d expect from the real world.”
It’s a welcome departure from the usual headset-immersive/3D marketing speak we’ve been flooded with over the last six months, although I’m hesitant to accept the word “everything.”
And don’t get me wrong, the rest of his talk jumps quickly into discussing the latest technology trends and projected adoption rates for Virtual Reality (VR) headsets, but I thought it was important that the crowd hear an initial definition for the Metaverse not artificially constrained to 3D virtual worlds.
Tait posits that a given Metaverse implementation is a virtual world that is somehow augmenting the real world.
Some of the Metaverse attributes he discusses are self evident, like economy and identity, while he spent a bit of time discussing harmony and no limits by invoking Super Mario Bros. 64.
Peach’s Castle acted as the “base world” in which Mario could jump through magic paintings and experience completely different environments and objectives (sometimes different rulesets!), and Tait felt that it would be important that certain Metaverse-compatible worlds be accessible by the same player from a central location, but not be directly connected with each other.
“[It would be] a bad thing for the Resident Evil world to overlap with the Hello Kitty world.”
It was an interesting point, but I’m not a big believer in the whole idea that we’ll be accessing Metaverse games from a central location or hub, although I could see it happening with a given publisher’s own tech platform (ala Ready Player One).
As an aside: one of the big, underdiscussed topics in Metaverse design is what happens when we have such an open development platform that we end up with the equivalent of Resident Evil/Hello Kitty fanfiction-but-they’re-3D-worlds-instead. This is very disharmonious.
And I think it’ll happen. Save for lawsuits I can’t believe that it’ll be a very controllable future for content distribution and mixing, and it’ll consequently push decentralization of Metaverse access instead of centralizing it.
Tait then further defined the Metaverse as being an evolution of the way we experience the Internet.
To my surprise he didn’t discuss the platforms/services of Web 1.0 (Connected and privately hosted resources) → Web 2.0 (Social + centralization of resources) → Web 3.0 (Digital identity + Decentralization).
Instead, he discussed the physical ways that Internet consumption has evolved: first, from large desktops (out of necessity), and then secondly to mobile (out of convenience).
I feel like the two sides (platforms/services & access hardware) are each necessary to full grok the whole of each generation of the web, but I can understand if he felt it would be distracting to focus on anything besides the hardware.
Still, I agreed with him on the form of the next evolution.
Driven by VR and Augmented Reality (AR) headsets becoming more accessible and attractive to users , immersivity will be the defining hallmark of Web 3.0— a process he doesn’t imagine will be complete even in the next five years.
I think it’s good that Tait looks back at the evolution in the way we access the Internet and was quick to point out that we haven’t abandoned the older tech: we didn’t trash our desktops in favor of mobile — they’re not obsolete — we just augmented our ability to access the internet.
And the same will be true of immersive VR tech. Augmenting our use of the internet, not replacing the other ways we do so.
Nor does he think that the Metaverse will remain a niche technology for hardcore gamers and sci-fi nerds.
“You don’t need Snow Crash to understand the Metaverse.”
He identified a common complaint about VR technology in that the headsets are large, unwieldly, and often tethered by a cord to another device. Tait points out that devices being initially ugly and massive is pretty normal in hardware development, and punched it home with a few pictures of “ancient” (1980’s) Personal Computers and brick-sized cellular phones.
Comparing it to the history of game development he believes we’re at the “8-bit stage” and Elden Ring is more like the end stage — drawing a mental picture for us of the gap in Metaverse and VR tech from the present to a hopeful future.
Although I have to ask: if we’re just now reaching the 8-bit stage, where the heck were we back when Nintendo’s Virtual Boy arrived under my Christmas tree in 1995?
Tait spends some time reviewing six “Metaversy” games/platforms: Minecraft, Fortnite, Roblox, Dreams Quest, Core, ZEPETO. These he ranked according to various dimensions like Scalability and Interactivity.
He pointed out that these games aren’t “Metaverse” games right now, but already have the combination of social interactions + active economies that make them good candidates for it.
Second Life and Decentraland were also mentioned (among a few others), but they — surprisingly — took more of a back seat in the discussion.
Tait proposed that Metaverse-evolving games needed to enter into numerous licensing deals and partnerships — to avoid lawsuits and to entice users with unique content — and that the evolution of common services shared between the games were critical to the success of the Metaverse.
It’s hard to disagree with that. I agree that a lot of Metaverse designs problems are manifestly social in nature and not distant technological ones. Standards, licensing, shared platforms and resources — these are all big problems without easy solutions.
Fortnite was the big winner under Tait’s criteria for being the most Metaverse-like-game (or with the most potential), thanks to its focus on live events and existing licensing deals that brought the real world into it.
Minecraft and Roblox, naturally, followed right on its heels.
Overall I appreciated Dom Tait’s perspective on the Metaverse — on what it is/will be, and also the way he provided paths for existing platforms to reach a higher degree Metaverse compatibility.
I was skeptical of him making any kind of comparison and awarding mental “winners” with existing games, but I came to recognize that his big idea was more about recognizing which of those games was demonstrating Metaverse-like qualities.
“Metaverse Games: State of Play and Opportunities” will be published at the GDC Vault.