I’ve been a gamer since I was three years old and played Ice Climber for the first time. I didn’t even know how to use the directional buttons, but I knew I wanted to clobber those white wooly monsters the first time I laid eyes on them.
35 years later, I’ve played every platform/console I could get hold of and many MMOs and MMORPGs, with World of Warcraft, Counter-strike (1.6.), and Destiny as some of the highlights.
Nowadays, I spend my time managing a digital product design firm and have a first-row seat to the best digital experiences in the world.
So with my gamer and product glasses on, I have to admit today’s proxies for the metaverse underwhelms me.
I have to admit today’s proxies for the metaverse underwhelms me.
The key to solving the metaverse proxies’ problems lies in the gaming industry and in particular, not getting in its way and instead serving it as a really good middle-layer.
Roaming aimlessly in a hot mess of glitchy UX and unskippable ads
I’ve visited several of 2022’s “big” metaverse platforms, including special events in Decentraland, The Sandbox, Spatial, etc., so far.
Although the after movies on LinkedIn have pumping electronic music, buzzwords superimposed, and avatars doing the latest social media dances, I can’t shake the feeling that everyone’s dancing around the platforms’s biggest problem...
… that it’s #!@%ing boring to spend any significant time in these places.
Take Metaverse Fashion Week as an example.
Despite that, a surprisingly high number of brands showed up; my impression of the event was that it was a hot mess of long loading times, crude UX, and glitches, only to offer me a virtual mall of unskippable ads. The other visitors I ran into were 80% of guest avatars (also known as “defaults”) that logged out as fast as they logged in. I would be surprised to see if the avg session duration was above 15 minutes per user (if anyone has data on this, I would love to see it!)
There’s just no getting around it; as hyped as all these platforms get by web3 enthusiasts, marketers, and crypto bros, in their 2022 states, platforms like Sandbox, Decentraland, Crypto Voxels, etc., are a far cry from the promise of the metaverse and have a very long way to go.
It looks a lot like the past
These platforms remind me of rebooted versions of Second Life, one of the first virtual worlds intended to simulate ordinary life in a virtual world. It has been around for almost 20 years. The last time I tried Second Life was probably 15 years ago when the Swedish government officially opened “Sweden’s Virtual Embassy” in Second Life. Aside from the extreme Scandinavian accents, tell me that doesn’t look like Decentraland.
Learning from Second Life and its remarkable userbase
In Charlie Warzel’s brilliant article - Lessons From 19 Years in the Metaverse - I was shocked to learn that Second Life still has about 600.000 monthly active users. That’s incredible for anything digital that is that old. Needless to say, it must provide value to these people for them to stick around.
In the article, Wagner elaborates, “when I say there are 600,000 monthly active users, that doesn’t mean they are glued to the platform. They may log in for an hour to Second Life but find they spend more time in VRChat. A lot of people use the chat platform Discord to organize with their friends, and they jump from one platform to another if there’s a specific event or party or something worth doing."
This quote presents an opportunity for today’s metaverse brands to, instead of being the destination, become the place to organize and facilitate entertainment in one place while offering an immersive virtual experience and a look and feel that its target audience identifies with.
Social pastime in search of the next piece of action
In my ideal world, today’s metaverse platforms should focus on being the flawless intermediary rather than the destination. That way, they unlock value for both the users - driving up engagement - and the builders - driving better content.
Taking a page from the gaming world, most games in the online category have in common the in-between social interactions. When I played MMORPGs and MMOs such as World of Warcraft or Destiny), my friends and I hung out in the town squares in the many cities within the games themselves.
These social arenas are created to meet new playing buddies, customize and dress avatars, trade goods, and supplies, upgrade gear and equipment, and find and strategize quests and missions.
For me, these moments represented the calm before the storm in expectation of reward in the form of AAA action in quests, raids, PVP (player vs. player), and other forms of gaming entertainment that the big studios had in mind for me.
These in-between social moments were terrific. I sometimes logged on just to see the world go by when I didn’t have time or energy to engage in any more significant action.
Today’s metaverse platforms resemble these in-between moments, with the significant exception that there is no exciting adrenaline rush type of action I can access when I’m ready.
The result is that these places feel like cheap virtual malls stuffed with branded digital goods I can’t use. The worst part is that I can’t escape in favor of doing something more meaningful or entertaining—except for disconnecting from the whole thing.
The Solution—Seamless AAA gaming integration
I think the metaverse will eventually be composed of many virtual worlds that seamlessly plug into each other. This interoperability is one of the biggest hurdles in getting to the vision. Luckily, some companies realize it and are banding together to work on the problem.
As we move toward the vision, I think the virtual world that focuses on open easy-to-build-on technical infrastructure, offers fast and standardized user experience patterns, and drives strong brand partnerships with AAA gaming companies will be in a powerful position.
This will allow them to drive user engagement while helping more third-party builders with speed to market. The result will be a positive feedback loop for themselves and their partners — similar to what development frameworks like Ruby on Rails, Angular, and React did for web developers and web2.
I think Decentraland is the virtual destination I’ve enjoyed the least so far. Therefor, let’s use it as an example for how a metaverse platform could be a better experience for players, builders, and brands.
Imagine that FIFA 2023 plugged straight into their world, along with other titles such as Fortnite, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Destiny, Farmland, etc., and being launchable from Decentraland.
As a user, I could enter Decentraland and transition seamlessly to either of these brand “microverses.” Rather than browsing Discord for my next dopamine fix, I would roam Decentraland to transition to my destination of choice.
Suppose I didn’t feel like doing anything more significant. In that case, I could spend time customizing my avatar or check out new areas of the world that have been added since my last visit.
This would give Decentraland a purpose and offer me a greater feeling of freedom.
Faster development cycles, focused on what matters
For game studios and entertainment builders, partnering up with Decentraland would enable them to allocate more dedicated resources to focus on their own microverse.
Instead of allocating resources to work on the in-between moments, they could focus on developing strategies, concepts, and implementations of how their own virtual world interacts with other in-between worlds.
Imagining new game mechanics
In addition to making it more resource-efficient, things get extra exciting thinking about new avenues for creative game dynamics design. Imagine story-driven games, like Destiny, being integrated with metaverse-connected quests. For example, a player might venture outside the game itself and into Decentraland for advancement, unlocking a hidden path, or finding legendary items that potentially don’t even exist within the game.
Seamless trials and demos
For more prominent franchises that earn their salt by shipping games, a setup like this could unlock value by enabling the franchise to offer an easier onboarding to new gamers by using “transition worlds” in Decentraland.
Say Destiny 3 would be gated with access only for those who bought the entire game; still, a smaller area of the “Destiny Decentraland microverse” could be ungated for players to learn about the game and access trial versions.
Onboarding through familiarity
Another upside of bringing AAA gaming closer is that it would offer a smoother onramp for the early majority of users through the familiarity of the franchises, user experience patterns, and entertainment value.
Suppose a player purchases the next Call of Duty (“COD”) game. Rather than navigating into the game via its menus and onboarding, they could get the option to start their onboarding in the COD x Decentraland microverse and, from there, transition into the actual game.
By playing the game, they would get onboarded into the new dynamics of traversing in and out of Decentraland.
For each interaction, transaction, creation, or customization, they would create more value for themselves in both worlds, strengthening their connection to both COD and Decentraland.
And when the game has been completed, the value created (high scores, items, achievements, trophies, etc.) could be stored and displayed in the COD x Decentraland microverse, creating more incentive for the player to stick around in Decentraland to see what they can do more in anticipation of their next big AAA-adventure.
We’re heading in the right direction
I think the smart people of today’s metaverse companies realize that the entertainment value is still too low and hopefully already have bigger partnerships with game companies lined up.
I also hope the cooldown of the crypto and NFT space (down 97% since January 2022) has created much-needed leeway for builders to prioritize the right things over only cash-grabbing tactics to satisfy investors.
A few years from now, I think the companies that relentlessly focused on interoperability, better and faster UX, and strong partner relationships with the gaming industry will be the ones coming out as the big winners.