It’s 2030 and I am Netflix and chilling inside Fortnite! Thanks to this new Party Royale mode that just came out, I don’t even have to run around in the video game anymore, I can just lounge around on my couch. Wait what!?!
Let’s start from the top.
What is a ‘metaverse’? Is it not a super meta verse I spit when freestyle rapping?
Close, but no. Metaverse is a virtual shared space, or a “third space” which is digitally persistent (aka always exists, unlike my willingness to shower everyday in quarantine). It is also “live” and synchronized for participants across the world to have shared experiences together (like the recent Travis Scott concert). But these special experiences aren’t required. You could technically hang out by yourself sitting on your 3 pixel digital couch doing absolutely nothing inside the metaverse, forever.
A digital space where you can go anytime, to do anything you want.
(even in a quarantine…though in theory a metaverse could also have an “epidemic” and a “quarantine”…what do we do then? Metaverse inside a metaverse…metaverse inception?)
It goes beyond just a “game”. You can live entire lives in this physical space - including getting a job and being part of a fully functioning economy. This description might remind you of Second Life, or Grand Theft Auto, or even The Sims. They walked, so Fortnite, Roblox, and Animal Crossing could run.
Is this real? How does it work?
Yes this is a real thing, and it doesn’t quite exist like I describe it above but we are getting close. Fortnite, Roblox, and Animal Crossing are Metaverse version 0.01, in different ways. But first, hat tip to Chris Dixon for fortune telling in 2010 that “the next big thing will look like a toy”. He is right.
All three started as video games and have expanded into so much more. For this one, I am going to focus on Fortnite with a few examples from other games.
So let’s sum up the characteristics. Metaverse is:
- A digital shared space, that is
- Live and synchronous, and
- Allows for an almost unlimited range of possible activities, created
- By the users together, and has a
- Fully functioning economy
First, Fortnite started as a battle Royale game - drop in, load up, kill other people.
Then, they added Creative Mode. Players could hang out with their friends, and build and share their creative structures, maps, or mini-games. Think of each creative mode map as a single-purpose “neighborhood”. I go to neighborhood X for aiming practice. I go to neighborhood Y to practice building. I go to neighborhood Z for a fun 1v1 mini-game. Throughout these different neighborhoods, my digital identity stays persistent. [Shared Digital Space ✔️, Live and Synchronous ✔️, Built by the users✔️]
Roblox similarly provides a platform for creators to build new games on top of. The top 10 mini games on Roblox have been played nearly 20 billion times.
Then, Fortnite started layering in storylines with cinematic experiences, and live events such as the Marshmello concert, Quibi TV Show launch, and most recently the Travis Scott Concert. These experiences had nothing to do with the battle royale part of Fortnite, and everything to do with the metaverse part. Players can now spend more time in the game, just hanging out and doing others other than shooting each other.[Expanding the range of possible activities ✔️]
Now Fortnite is taking the next big step by launching Party Royale, a brand new island with no guns, so players can fish, dance, and hangout. Trust me, I am already planning Couch Potato #58 to be a newsletter inside Fortnite…
Fortnite isn’t the only one, students bummed about cancelled graduation used Animal Crossing to host their own graduation inside the game.
However, Fortnite currently does not have a virtual economy. This means you can’t create things, sell them, make money, and exchange goods and services in game…yet. Here’s are a few overly simplistic predictions for how Fortnite can take baby steps in the economy department:
- Let users create skins and sell them using V-Bucks in-game on Party Royale
- Let users charge “tickets” to their “neighborhoods”
To analogize, the game publisher is “God”. Provides the platform and a few basic rules (“science”). The rest of the metaverse is built by the players (“mankind”). There can be a core activity - Battle Royale for Fortnite, Gardening for Animal Crossing, Space Exploration for EVE Online, but there is no constraint on activities within the universe.
Hmmm…okay I kinda get it. So what’s next?
Getting people into this metaverse is a big challenge. It can only be a cool hangout spot where you live your second life only if everyone you know and care about is also in the world.
Battle Royale brought 8-30 year olds into the metaverse. What is going to be the big shiny thing that makes my mom send me a dreaded “Hey how do I get on Fortnite” text? As the universe of possible activities expands within the metaverse, different groups will join for different things. Over the next 18 months, metaverse aspirants will continue adding possible things to do inside the game to attract new audiences and make them stick. Will it work?
At the same time the barrier to entry into the metaverse needs to be very low. The easier it is to enter and exit the metaverse, the more time users will spend in it. This means it should be accessible on mobile, consoles, and desktop. Similarly, cross-platform play is critical so PS4, Xbox, and PC players all exist in the same world.
Fortnite, Roblox, Animal Crossing…there are many games aspiring to become something bigger. As we saw with Second Life, timing is everything. Is now the right time? The race is wide open.