As I sit down to write this article, it’s midway through 2020. And with no end in sight to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, my day has consisted of the same activities as all others: sitting inside, social distancing, and working on my computer. And I’m not alone – coronavirus has changed how we use the internet, with folks now more than ever using the web as a way to connect with friends and family, entertain oneself, and even perform their job duties remotely. As each day passes, the line between “real life” and “virtual” activities is becoming increasingly blurred – leading me to become fascinated with a science fiction-born, yet increasingly real concept: the Metaverse.
An abstract concept coined by famed science fiction author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash, the Metaverse is perhaps most straightforwardly explained as the “next iteration” of the internet. Described by The Washington Post as, “a shared, virtual space that’s persistently online and active, even without people logging in,” the Metaverse spans both the digital and physical worlds, populated by “content” and “experiences” created and operated by a wide variety of contributors, including users themselves.
Like the internet we all know and love, underlying the Metaverse will be numerous protocols, pathways, and programming languages, accessible to users via a wide array of devices. Serving as a “gateway” to all digital experiences, the Metaverse will allow users to experience activities either solo or with a group, all housed within a world that’s populated by everyone you know in real life.
If you’re reading this and it sounds totally unrealistic, you’re actually right: the Metaverse simply does not exist today. But thanks to countless advancements in cloud computing, virtual reality, and more – accelerated by a growing demand for digital content and services spurred by COVID-19 – we’re now closer than ever before to achieving Stephenson’s vision for the Metaverse.
To Fortnite, and beyond!
To view an early glimpse of the Metaverse in action, look no further than one of 2020’s most popular games: Fortnite. Developed by Epic Games – who also creates the game’s underlying technology (Unreal Engine) – Fortnite exploded onto the scene thanks to the popularization of its free-to-play, 100-player battle royale game mode. But what’s most fascinating about the game from a Metaverse perspective is its status as the number one most popular social networking platform among teens, according to research from the National Research Group (NRG).
And it makes sense that teens are using the game in this way – Fortnite is accessible across almost all major gaming platform (smartphones, consoles, and PC), allows for tons of user customization and personalization (player skins and emotes), and the game is constantly made “fresh” thanks to scheduled updates and events taking place both in-game as well as in real-life. And Fortnite isn’t alone serving as a major social platform for today’s youth – according to a survey from fellow gaming giant Roblox, the COVID-19 pandemic has led hundreds of millions of kids and teens to adopt their online game platform and creation system as their go-to destination for socializing with friends.
Outside of gaming, numerous companies have also taken the first steps towards establishing their take on the Metaverse – a notable example being Facebook Horizon. And while it’s impossible to predict which of these platforms (if any) will be the first to establish and popularize its Metaverse ambitions, the platform itself is fairly irrelevant – rather, let’s instead focus on why you should care that it exists at all.
Why the Metaverse matters.
So now that established what the Metaverse is, and discussed how existing platforms like Fortnite and Facebook Horizons are increasingly becoming more Metaverse-like by the year, I’d like to reign in our discussion and focus on why the Metaverse matters (or will one day matter) to educational game studios like us. Simply put: the adoption of the Metaverse will radically change how content – inclusive of both commercial and educational games – is created, delivered to, and consumed by users.
And additionally, just as how the introduction of the web resulted in the creation of countless new jobs, products, and services, we should expect the introduction of the Metaverse to have similar effects – and what better way to learn these new skills than training programs and learning games designed by and for Metaverse participants?
While most of these ideas are simply speculation on my part, I invite you all to join me in continuing to learn more about the past, present and future of the Metaverse! For a more in-depth analysis (particularly of Epic Games’ Metaverse ambitions), definitely read ex-Amazon Studios executive and essayist Matthew Ball’s “The Metaverse: What It Is, Where to Find it, Who Will Build It, and Fortnite” blog article. And for even more insights, check out the below “The Metaverse is Coming” panel for a candid discussion among fellow Metaverse enthusiasts.
More game-based learning insights from the Filament Games blog:
Cloud Gaming in the Classroom – What Educators Need to Know
How Gaming’s Biggest Trends are Impacting Game-Based Learning
Assistive Technology and Game-Based Learning