Feb 02, 2023 | 5 min read
Gaming has been in a state of constant evolution since it first broke into the cultural mainstream in the 1980s with the rise of the video game arcade and the release of computers like the revolutionary Atari and Commodore 64 (where each game came on a small mountain of floppy disks). The 90s saw the development of full 3D graphics and, equally importantly, the first multiplayer games started their metamorphosis into the titans they’ve become today.
Multiplayer deathmatches in games Goldeneye brought the joy of 4-player gaming (and the perennial argument about screen peeking) into homes all across the world, helping transition gaming from a primarily individual hobby into a social experience that let us cooperate with, or demonstrate our digital superiority over, our friends and family.
The next major step was driven by the internet’s transformation into an everyday tool that you could just use with minimal fuss. Rather than one that required you to perform the special ritual of banning every member of the household from using the phone before listening to the sci-fi laser battle of the dial-up process.
Now, rather than just playing with friends sitting next to us on the sofa, we could take to the world wide web and game with people from almost anywhere on the planet. Its success is so massive that gaming made over $175bn in 2019 and is anticipated to more than double to over $400bn by 2025.
Part of the driving force behind this predicted explosion is the expected rise of the metaverse which promises to fundamentally change how we engage with our games and that more than half of gamers already see as the future of gaming.
So, what is a metaverse?
The “traditional” metaverse experience most closely resembles earlier online environments like Second Life and the now very venerable Habbo. These were worlds in which users could own virtual real estate and sculpt it according to their preferences, creating a digital space that they could call their own, where they can interact with others from around the world, both friends and strangers. However, this model is only the tip of a vast iceberg and modern interpretations of the metaverse have taken inspiration from all kinds of places.
If you were to talk to almost anyone who was born in the last 20 years and especially in the last 10, you’d hear how games like Roblox and Minecraft have transcended beyond simple entertainment. Instead, they’ve become the primary social hubs through which most of the younger generation keep in touch with their friends and express their creativity, something only became more prevalent during the pandemic lockdowns.
Furthermore, both titles have had an enormous impact on making gaming an increasingly inclusive hobby. Historically, gaming has been a bit of a boys club as anyone who’s had the misfortune to be in a Call of Duty lobby at some point in the 2010s will tell you (possibly with a slightly horrified look in their eyes).
The almost-universal appeal of Minecraft and Roblox has helped to steer gaming away from being quite so overwhelmingly male-dominated. Girls and women are increasingly playing major roles in shaping these community-based virtual worlds, particularly amongst Gen-Z 57% of whom said they “had an easier time expressing themselves in virtual worlds.”
This is why metaverses (like Heavenland) are poised to become something truly special in the not-to-distant future. While they’re not looking to revolutionize the digital world, they represent the natural next step in gaming’s evolution, growing from something that most gamers are already very familiar with and making it a more inclusive social experience.
Additionally, the success of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and the now-cemented popularity of delivering games as a service has amply demonstrated the enormous appetite amongst gamers for persistent worlds that react and grow with the player rather than the static realms that single-player games have historically offered.
While single-player games will never truly die as they’re still the best medium through which to provide story-driven content, it’s clear that the big-budget gaming landscape has pivoted towards providing social experiences best enjoyed with friends that encourage users to keep coming back day after day. The now ubiquitous battle-pass systems, present in most contemporary online multiplayer games, reward players with tangible benefits for the time they spend in-game and incentivize players to keep returning so they can unlock the next level of rewards. This is something that metaverse gaming is uniquely equipped to tap into. Rather than just offering players a single game to engage with, progress made in one game can have a direct impact on others within the same digital world.
Gameplay models like play-to-earn enable users to naturally accrue virtual resources with real-world value just by playing the game. These can then be traded for things within the metaverse itself, driving the internal economy and investing players in the wider digital ecosystem. The groundwork for this networking between games has already been laid by the big gaming companies. Though by no means as sophisticated as what metaverses will soon be capable of offering, platforms like Ubisoft Connect encourage players to engage with multiple Ubisoft titles by including items, skins and weapons that are accessible to users who play more than one game on the service.
All these trends make it clear that the next big thing in gaming is no longer in question. The future’s clear with the metaverse and virtual reality expected to see over $184bn invested in it by 2026. The only question left hanging is who’ll be the first to seize the low-hanging fruit and help gaming take the big leap into the interconnected world of the metaverse.