I’m writing a book at the moment for your reading pleasure. It’s called How Video Games Made the Metaverse (pre-order it). This article therefore provides an additional secret indulgence of mine; because for the last 30 years I have been dreaming up the ultimate video games world and now the metaverse exists, I have been dreaming up the ultimate gamified metaverse. Want to know what might go into it? Read on…
The Whole World
Video game worlds, yes! From Mushroom Kingdom to Rapture, the world inside our beloved video games are integral and lucid, they take us over, they make us want to live in them. In 2023 these stylised worlds should become increasingly important to the development of the metaverse, but among the boring grids or monotonous spoke and wheels of top down drivel it’s fairly easy to see why metaverse worlds have such little appeal. As more people spend time in virtual worlds, the need for immersive and engaging experiences is becoming more apparent. Video games could easily lead the way in examples and ideas that can be used to enhance the metaverse and make it a more vibrant and exciting place.
One reason why video game worlds are so important is that they offer a high level of interactivity. Players are able to move around, interact with objects and other players, and shape the world around them. This level of ownership is crucial for the metaverse to succeed, as users need to feel like they are part of the world rather than just passive observers. Games like Minecraft, for example, allow players to build and modify the world around them, creating unique and personalised environments that reflect their creativity and vision. So UGC or user generated content is a good way of connecting the “player” to the space.
A Place of Your Own
Another important aspect of video game worlds is their attention to detail. Game developers spend countless hours designing and refining their virtual worlds, ensuring that every aspect is finely tuned and crafted to create a rich and immersive experience. This level of attention to detail is essential for the metaverse, as users will be spending more and more time in virtual worlds and will demand high-quality and engaging experiences. Games like Red Dead Redemption 2, for instance, have received critical acclaim for their realistic and detailed worlds, complete with living ecosystems, dynamic weather, and complex AI systems. Can we honestly compare existing metaverses to the awesome power of video games for immersion? Hands-down the game world has the edge. The carefully crafted lexicon of images and words is an art form that only video games can achieve.
Video games also offer a wealth of creative and imaginative ideas that can be used to enhance the metaverse. Games like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy have created entire worlds with their own unique lore, characters, and cultures. These worlds have inspired countless fan creations, from cosplay to fan fiction to art. Hello? If you’ve never seen my tattoos you have no idea of the impact video games have had on my life! By incorporating these ideas and elements into the metaverse, developers can tap into a rich creative community that is already invested in these virtual worlds.
Finally, video games offer a glimpse into the future of the metaverse. As virtual reality and augmented reality technologies continue to improve, games like Half-Life: Alyx and Pokemon Go offer a tasty vision of what the future of immersive and interactive virtual worlds might look like. These games blur the lines between the virtual and physical worlds, allowing players to experience new levels of immersion and interactivity.
Living in the Metaverse
So what does all this look like from a metaverse perspective?
All the games I’ve made in my career have rich seams of habitable environments that we could really ‘live’ in. I feel like currently that’s the only way to pivot the metaverse away from this slow-car crash of moving parts that simply look naff to anyone. I’m always asking metaverse creators to actually employ video game designers, storytellers and world builders who, you know, have real experience in this space.
So on the flip side it is definitely possible to turn video games into metaverses, and in fact, we are already seeing the beginnings of this trend. Many modern video games are designed with a level of immersion and interactivity that makes them ideal candidates for inclusion in the metaverse.
The key to transforming a video game into a metaverse lies in expanding its scope and creating an ecosystem of interconnected experiences. This means that instead of simply playing through a linear story or completing a set of objectives, players should be able to interact with other players and create their own stories and experiences.
Here comes Minecraft once more. It has been able to seamlessly find that sweet spot between the static games world and the user generated concepts that we need in a metaverse. Even when it first launched I was comparing it more to Second Life and SmallWorlds than its PC game contemporaries. Originally designed as a sandbox game where players could build and explore virtual worlds, Minecraft has evolved into a metaverse-like experience with its own economy, social structures, and communities. Players can join together to build massive structures, trade resources, and create their own unique gameplay experiences. This is just too important to ignore in terms of discoverability and democratising. This is exactly where the dawn of web3 broke. This is how civilisations are made. Look at Yahaha—a prime contender for the grown-up Minecraft if there is such a thing!
Another example is Roblox, a platform that allows users to create and play their own games using simple building tools. Roblox has created a massive ecosystem of interconnected experiences, where players can jump between different games and socialise with other players in a virtual world. My beef here is always that this is such a kid-led movement that I just don’t feel as comfortable here as say Byte City or Breakroom.
As virtual reality and augmented reality technologies continue to improve, we can expect to see more and more video games evolve into metaverse-like experiences. Games like Half-Life: Alyx and No Man's Sky are already pushing the boundaries of what is possible in virtual reality, offering immersive and interactive worlds that feel like they could be part of a larger metaverse.
The Ideal Home Expedition
Now the theory is in place, how do we apply the logic to the dream? It’s good to look at solid examples of games and metaverses to fully understand the pros and cons of what it might be like to live there. In the example of Second Life, we can clearly see its potential to become a metaverse. Second Life, in case you have been living under a rock, is a virtual world where users can create their own avatars, interact with others, and create their own content. The world is vast, with thousands of virtual locations and communities. Users can create their own businesses, host events, and explore a wide range of virtual experiences. Second Life has been around for over 18 years and has a dedicated user base that has created a rich and vibrant ecosystem.
How about Fortnite? Although Fortnite is primarily known as a battle royale game, it has evolved into a metaverse-like experience with its own economy, social structures, and events. Fortnite's in-game events have attracted millions of players, with virtual concerts and other experiences that have blurred the lines between the physical and virtual worlds. Fortnite has also become a hub for social interaction, with players using the game as a platform for communication and collaboration.
The lack of user engagement and activity is one way to kill a metaverse. A metaverse requires a critical mass of users to be successful, and if there are not enough people participating, the experience could feel, well, crap. For example, if a metaverse were to be too complicated or challenging to use, or if there were too many technical issues preventing users from interacting with each other, it could deter people from participating. That low barrier to entry is desperately needed—people who don’t have wallets still need to get into a metaverse. For god’s sake stop tipping the balance of experience into simply making money. You really won’t win friends.
Diversity and inclusivity, oh wow. So many so-called metaverses claim to be inclusive and accessible, but trust me on this, they are far away from supportive experiences. Simply changing browser settings is not enough and for me anyway, it’s an instant red card. The metaverse must be welcoming and accommodating to people from all backgrounds, cultures, and abilities. If certain groups are excluded or feel marginalised, it could create a negative environment and deter users from participating.
Finally, a metaverse that is too commercialised or monetized could also be considered something less than fun as metaverses go. While it is reasonable for metaverse creators to monetise their platform, it is important to strike a balance between generating revenue and providing a good user experience. Web3 projects, such as Decentraland and The Sandbox are virtual worlds built on blockchain technology, where users can buy and sell virtual real estate, create their own content, and interact with others. These two in particular feel mainly brand-activated and cost-centred showrooms right now; though still in their early stages, they represent an interesting vision for what a metaverse mall could look like. If a metaverse becomes too focused on generating profits, it detracts from the overall user experience and turns users away.
For me the metaverse is a bit like looking at an atlas. There are differing cultural styles and aesthetics for our ever-changing mindsets. Of course it would be lovely to feel that interconnectedness but no one seems to want to do that on either side of the tech fence. Perhaps web3 games like Medieval Empires or Call of the Voyd, maybe even Bitcoin Miner will bring us closer than ever to the immersion we need in order to live that virtual realness.
There are already several virtual and game worlds that have the potential to exemplify the metaverse, and new projects are emerging all the time. The ultimate metaverse will likely be a combination of these existing worlds, as well as new experiences that have yet to be imagined.
For what it's worth, my ultimate gamified metaverse looks like a feast for the eyes and the mind! Purchasable land and apartments from Midgar (Final Fantasy VII), the open world crafting of Elder Scrolls Online or Fable, Animal Crossing inventories with tidy Farmville store designs, PVP a la Valorant or OS Runescape, Destiny 2’s PVE with a dollop of Warhammer 40k: Space Marine and how about the economy of EVE Online meets the skin model of League of Legends. What do you think? Can we make it? Please?
Video games have the potential to become powerful components of the metaverse, providing immersive and engaging experiences that allow users to create their own stories and build communities. As the technology continues to evolve, we can expect to see more and more video games transform into metaverse-like experiences, offering a glimpse into the future of virtual worlds.
Some hot takes could be:
Metaverses that suck are ones that fail to engage users, lack inclusivity, or are overly monetised.
A successful metaverse must prioritise user experience and community engagement to create a thriving virtual world.
Build something with a high level of interactivity, attention to detail, imaginative ideas, and a glimpse into the future of immersive virtual worlds then give it to your dwellers to dream and develop however they see fit.
These beautifully designed video game worlds are imperative to the development of the metaverse. Good design is invisible rather than planned, PR-ed and presented as some kind of campaign or dare I say it: week. Therefore, by drawing on these examples and incorporating them into the metaverse, developers can create a vibrant and engaging world that captures the imagination of users around the globe.