The Metaverse so far

This has become a recurring topic in the newsletter, already appearing in eight issues. I’m currently writing a members’ Dispatch on the topic and instead of quoting too much of the same things right there and making that email too long, I thought I’d regroup everything from those eight issues in one place. Roughly in order of general strength of each piece and its value in understanding the topic.

The Metaverse: What It Is, Where to Find it, Who Will Build It, and Fortnite No.110

Excellent analysis by Matthew Ball on the potential shape, components and players of a possible Metaverse. Appropriately, he starts by putting all of it in context, reminding us of the memex-hypertext-web evolution, which took decades to come to fruition. In the same way, we can now see some moves, products, and businesses which could be signs or eventual pieces of a Metaverse but the actual thing is still a ways off. He then identifies “core attributes” of what an MV would look like, and what it is not. He also looks at “concurrency infrastructure”, perhaps the part we are furthest from having, as well as the “on-ramp” experiences available today. The most interesting early player is definitely the Epic / Unreal / Fortnite stack and Ball provides quite a bit of detail on what they are doing and their vision.

Idle thought: Reading this I started to wonder if a way to look at the web, XR, and the idea of a Metaverse, wouldn’t be in terms of synchronicity. Largely, the web is asynchronous, you can go to the same site at any time and see the same thing. The Metaverse, like Fortnite, would be synchronous, events happen at a certain data and time, people are online together at the same time, etc. XR could perhaps be seen as synchronous+ since the experience would be dependent on the time within the universe / game and on being somewhere in the “real world” at that time. (I know, not all XR would be like that, not all web is asynchronous, etc.)

Although the full vision for the Metaverse remains hard to define, seemingly fantastical, and decades away, the pieces have started to feel very real. And as always with this sort of change, its arc is as long and unpredictable as its end state is lucrative. […]

[I]n its full vision, the Metaverse becomes the gateway to most digital experiences, a key component of all physical ones, and the next great labor platform. […]

We don’t know exactly what the Metaverse will need, let alone which existing standards will transfer over, how, to what effects, when, or through which applications and groups. As a result, it’s important to consider how the Metaverse emerges, not just around which technological standard. […]

In fact, Fortnite’s Creative Mode, already feels like a proto-Metaverse. Here, a player loads their avatar — one specific to them and which is used in all Fortnite-related experiences — and lands in a game-like lobby and can choose from thousands of “doors” (i.e. space-time rifts) that send them to one of thousands of different worlds with up to 99 other players. […]

And in truth, it’s most likely the Metaverse emerges from a network of different platforms, bodies, and technologies working together (however reluctantly) and embracing interoperability. The Internet today is a product of a relatively messy process in which the open (mostly academic) internet developed in parallel with closed (mostly consumer-oriented) services that often looked to “rebuild” or “reset” open standards and protocols.

The Great Film Production Renaissance: Are You Ready? No.128

This one is a good take on a topic I’m putting more and more attention towards. I’m not sure if I should talk about Synthetic Reality, or pre-Metaverse, or something else but this growing intersection where you find gaming, especially gaming engines; special effects; tv and movies more generally; VR, AR, XR; Fortnite and its ilk; even spaces and architecture. In the piece the author considers the new “post” virus constraints and how they might affect an accelerated transition to game engines as virtual studios and world creation. The opportunities he lists around digital artefacts and megascans are especially worth a look.

Local side note: Being in Montréal, I find this view especially intriguing since all the industries involved are present and thriving (or they were, pre-Covid), with a well-known excellence in overachieving with small teams and budgets. The reality he describes seems like a perfect fit.

Editorial side note: I’m thinking about a publication / “intelligence unit” focused on that intersection and looking at the longterm path to some form of Metaverse which could emerge from many of those components. Reply if you’d like to know more when I’ve got something more fleshed-out to share, or if you have opinions and opportunities for discussion and collaboration.

With a little bit of imagination, it’s easy to see how 60–80% of all the TV shows and movies we watch (especially outdoor scenes, large rooms, or vistas through windows) will, in the very near future, actually be billions of digital triangles (Nanites as the folks at Unreal/Epic Games call them) that make up these 3D worlds, and the majority of all productions will be studio based or at the very least one key location that could double up for many different environments. […]

Filmmakers from around the world will no longer be confined by budget and geographic location access to shoot their stories. They no longer need massive crews to support their roaming villages. And they can make projects at a scale that would have shocked David Lean, all from the confines of a small gymnasium and an online network of global digital artists who can earn a decent living working away from the West’s major metropolises and their associated costs of living. […]

The larger stages will still be in demand, but expect to see a huge amount of productions needing a couple of 3,000–7,500 SQFT video backdrop stages instead. In the video below you can see how Disney+’s ‘The Mandalorian’ shot a good number of scenes (around 50% of the series) in a 1,500 SQFT video space.

Fortnite Is the Future, but Probably Not for the Reasons You Think No.67

Fascinating dive into the world of Fortnite, first debunking four hypes about the game, then taking stock of Epic and Fortnite’s situation and prospectives going forward. Already worth a read for that but it really gets interesting when Ball starts looking at the use of the game as a public square, the time spent there, and how it could be / is used as a platform. He then goes into what Epic founder Tim Sweeney is planning for the cloud, a marketplace, and his long time obsession with the “Metaverse.“ Think something like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One and a platform vision which might face off with Zuckerberg’s similar(ish) ideas for Oculus. (Also, the Unreal engine is very aptly named, these demos blew my mind a bit.)

To this end, Fortnite likely represents the largest persistent media event in human history. As of today, the game has likely had more than six consecutive months with at least one million concurrent active users – all of whom are participating in a largely shared and consistent experience that spanned multiple “seasons”, storylines, and events. […]

Fortnite wasn’t designed to be a Second Life-style experience, or even a digital “third place“; it became one organically. What’s more, it is drastically out-monetizing dedicated social squares such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram – even combined. […]

[T]he engine is increasingly used in online or AR-enhanced virtual tours, in architectural modeling, and so on. The company newest frontier is feature-film grade rendering – in its game engine. […]

Epic has also built up another great and particularly hard to establish advantage: some 200MM+ registered user accounts. Each of these accounts is equipped with individual and directly reachable email addresses, in many cases a clear social graph, as well as dual factor authentication via cell phone numbers, and, often, credit cards. […]

In its fullest form, the Metaverse experience would span most, if not all virtual words, be foundational to real-world AR experiences and interactions, and would serve as an equivalent “digital” reality where all “physical” humans would simultaneously co-exist. […]

“If you look at why people are paid to do things, it’s because they’re creating a good or delivering a service that’s valuable to somebody, there’s just as much potential for that in these virtual environments as there is in the real world. If, by playing a game or doing something in a virtual world, you’re making someone else’s life better, then you can be paid for that.”

Epic funnels ‘Fortnite’ cash into boosting games platform No.106

On of my favorite articles last year, or at least one that has come back to mind quite often, was Matthew Ball’s Fortnite Is the Future, but Probably Not for the Reasons You Think and Epic’s founder Tim Sweeney and his long time obsession with the “Metaverse.“ The piece above at the FT goes in that same direction, with the company’s investments in their tools, in multiple acquisitions, and in their hopes for enabling the next great hit based on their tech.

Purchases such as 3Lateral, Twinmotion and Quixel are helping Epic assemble a suite of low-cost tools for creating ultra-realistic digital characters and virtual worlds. […]

Kim Libreri, chief technology officer at Epic, said earlier this year that Unreal Engine’s tools would soon allow developers and film-makers to bridge the “uncanny valley”, making virtual people look totally natural and convincing.

AR Will Spark the Next Big Tech Platform—Call It Mirrorworld No.68

Tech “prediction” by Kevin Kelly bordering on the scifi and quickly glossing over the potential negative consequences (like the highlight below) but worth a read anyway for some interesting potentials he describes. Also fun to read keeping in mind last week’s Fortnite piece and the metaverse thinking it contains.

The mirrorworld will reflect not just what something looks like but its context, meaning, and function. We will interact with it, manipulate it, and experience it like we do the real world. […]

We are now at the dawn of the third platform, which will digitize the rest of the world. On this platform, all things and places will be machine-­readable, subject to the power of algorithms. […]

To recreate a map that is as big as the globe—in 3D, no less—you need to photograph all places and things from every possible angle, all the time, which means you need to have a planet full of cameras that are always on. […]

We will come to depend on the fact that every object contains its corresponding bits, almost as if every atom has its ghost, and every ghost its shell.

Fortnite and the Metaverse: Why Epic Games may build the next version of the Internet No.124

Nothing massively new but it’s at The Washington Post, which in itself is interesting if you are following the talk around the idea of the metaverse. There are some good quotes, including some by Matthew Ball who’s leading the way in reporting on the topic and whom I’ve linked to a few times.

“That involved everybody with their own proprietary systems agreeing to connect to everybody else’s systems. … This critically needs to happen in gaming. … We need to give up our attempts to each create our own private walled gardens and private monopoly and agree to work together and recognize we’re all far better off if we connect our systems and grow our social graphs together.”

Magic Leap CEO: We’re dead serious about the ‘Magicverse’ No.70

Lots of hand waving and vapour, lots of buzzwords, some ethics statements with a “lipstick on a pig” vibe, and the naming of an “open” Xverse after his own company. Not a fan so far, but worth keeping an eye on, if only for comprehensiveness alongside the Epic/Fornite Metaverse and Kelly’s techno optimist Mirrorworld linked in the last few issues. This all feels a bit like a rebooting, regrouping and rebranding of AR/MR/VR, like when big data turned into AI.

And Abovitz said it is important to lay an ethical foundation for this future now. It will include Presence, Persistence, Scale, Awareness, Interactivity, Respect, and Sentience. […]

Magicverse scales from room level, to building, city, country and world scale. Data, information and experiences within these environments are unlocked from screens and servers to persist at scale in contextually relevant physical environments. It supports individuals and enterprises across an exhaustive set of applications and use cases that naturally deserve to exist spatially in harmony with our physical environments. […]

The Magicverse is Magic Leap’s specific and ethically bounded version of a wider set of digital world ideas, that the company calls Xverses, which can be parallel efforts built by others.

Related → Very good 🧵 by Antti Oulasvirta, with “Nine reasons why I don’t believe in current VR/AR technology.”


Header image: Nate Hill, Digital Landscapes.

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