For most people, the world “metaverse” was completely alien when it quickly entered common parlance in October 2021. While it came too late to be considered for the “word of the year” awards given out by most major dictionary publishers, it very well could end up being a contender in 2022.
The definition of the metaverse is still very broad and loose. Each company that is working on its own version of a digital world has created its own interpretation and is hoping to drive the industry in that direction.
In reality, it is so early in the development of the metaverse (or metaverses), that no one can make any predictions with any real certainty.
That said, the area in which the metaverse is most likely to have its biggest impact, at least initially, is in gaming because this is where much of the development has and is already taking place.
What is the Metaverse and Why is it Called Such?
The term metaverse was coined in the early 1990s when Neal Stephenson wrote the science fiction novel, Snow Crash. The Financial Times recently reported in a podcast that the author told an interviewer that he had essentially “made it all up” when asked about the metaverse.
Yet, despite this dystopian digital environment being a complete work of fiction, the tech community has embraced the idea and set about developing it for themselves.
For these tech companies, the metaverse is a digital world for humans to interact with each other through avatars. It is presumed that this will all be done through virtual reality in the future, but early examples of the metaverse can be accessed through traditional TV, computer, and smartphone screens.
The Future of Metaverse Gaming
While gaming is clearly ahead of most other industries when it comes to the metaverse, it is still in its infancy. The future of metaverse gaming is likely one that uses VR to create a more immersive playing experience.
There are already virtual reality games and titles that include some elements of VR functionality, but a metaverse gaming world would take it further. There would be no “main menu” screens that are common in most games today, you would move around the digital space to select the games you want to play, similar to how you activate missions in Grand Theft Auto.
A good application for this would be in online casino gaming. The metaverse could be used to recreate the type of gaming floor you’d expect to find in a large integrated resort, with row after row of gaming tables and a large bank of slot machines.
Instead of choosing your game from a menu, you would move around the floor, looking at the different options as you walked past tables, and then place your chips on the one you wanted to play at.
Of course, a virtual gaming floor would be different from a real one, so some of the casino etiquette and behavior that’s expected in places like Las Vegas probably wouldn’t apply. For example, dress codes wouldn’t really apply since metaverse avatars are likely going to range from human-like figures to giant ogres and monsters. However, the expectation of politeness when interacting with others and the rules of the games will remain unchanged.
The focus won’t necessarily be placed all on the actual games themselves. A metaverse gaming platform will likely include much more social functionality perhaps with virtual bars, restaurants, and cafes for friends to chat with each other. Other forms of entertainment, like the ones seen in Fortnite, could also play a bigger part in many future metaverse games.
The fact that the industry has been at the forefront of this new frontier is the result of it being the most obvious consumer application and where the greatest demand lies. Therefore, as the metaverse will continue to evolve in the coming years, gaming is clearly the area where it will develop fastest.
Gaming Leading the Way
Most of the first metaverse products have all been gaming or gaming-related. One of the earliest examples was Second Life, an online title that was first released in June 2003. In it, users create an avatar and then move around in the virtual space. The digital world shares many elements that we find in real life, with users able to buy and trade virtual property, objects, and services with each other, as well as build and create things with in-game resources.
As of 2017, there are nearly 1 million active users of Second Life, while some estimates suggest its virtual economy has a value of around $500 million, making it larger than small countries like Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Micronesia.
In more recent years, other games have begun to morph into what some would define as the metaverse. For example, Minecraft is an open world in which users are free to move around and create and build whatever they like while interacting with others.
The battle royale title Fortnite has gone further, hosting concerts for Ariana Grande, Marshmello, and Travis Scott in which players could attend as their own avatars. Its developer, Epic Games, is reportedly investing $1 billion to develop its metaverse offering further.