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Justin Nearing
Justin Nearing

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The Game Developers Guide to the Metaverse

It seems that overnight everyone started talking about the Metaverse. From Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to Mark Zuckerberg, to CryptoTwitter to blogs, everyone has grand visions for this thing they’re calling the “Metaverse.”

Ask them what the metaverse is, and you’ll likely get a different answer for each person you ask.

So, what is this Metaverse at its fundamental level?

The Metaverse is a Decentralized Network of Content

Let’s break that down.

Content is what you’d expect- text, images, video, audio, etc. From the videos uploaded to YouTube to the content you see on Twitter, it’s all content.

When that content has a common interface to connect with each other, it forms a network. Think of it as the comments on a YouTube video actually being Tweets.

But there’s a problem of ownership when your YouTube comments are Tweets- the platform owners jealously guard the content on their platforms. As such, there cannot be a single owner for the Metaverse- no single trusted party can be the definitive source of truth.

If only there was a verifiably secure, fully decentralized, distributed ledger that could act as the common interface for all this content. What’s that? This the literal use case of blockchains? How surprising we’re all of a sudden talking about the Metaverse!

From the lens of game development, this global content network allows for fundamental shifts in how games are developed.

From Game Creator to Game Curator

The most significant mental shift for understanding the Metaverse is to think of game “mods” as the starting point. The pattern today is for you to build a game from scratch, and allow the community to build content around your game.

With the Metaverse, you start with the community content, and build your game around the preexisting global content network.

When you make that shift, it means you stop being game creators, but game curators.

Instead of building a high tech sweatshop to grind out game assets, you have a marketplace to decide what content you want from the Metaverse.

This means partnerships with independent content creators whose business model revolves around building and selling assets for the Metaverse.

This means that as a game studio, you are focusing on building a porous walled garden- pulling assets from the Metaverse for use in the sandbox of your game.

Game Curation Changes Game Development

Carefully controlling how porous the garden is crucial. Too open, you lose control and quality suffers. Too restrictive, and you lose the network effect of the greater gaming “Metaverse.”

Therefore, content creation for your studio becomes a funnel, similar to your customer flow- many possible content creators, fewer creators that have contributed to your game, fewer that are considered core developers.

The developers of your game lie on a curve ranging from a random artist on the internet, to day-to-day core developer.

On the rando artist end of the range, it's a simple transactional relationship. They create content for the Metaverse, and the content is consumed for money.

The more successful the artist is on your platform, the more likely they will start creating art specifically for your platform.

You start moving up the development curve, and with it a symbiotic relationship between artist and platform. It’s a virtuous cycle where creators build content for your game as they are rewarded for the content they’ve built.

Become successful enough, it doesn’t take much to become indistinguishable from core developers.

DAOs Provide Structure to Decentralized Development

This decentralized development- this curve from least engaged to most engaged- can be expressed in a Decentralized Autonomous Organization.

DAO’s are shared digital communities that have their own currency and governance rules expressed in a blockchain.

The thing about these DAO Tokens- their currency- is that it puts a numerical value on your involvement within the community. The bigger the number, the more influential you are within that community. This is an oversimplification, and things like quadratic funding solves for the obvious problems of money equaling votes, but the basic principle stands.

If you award content creators with your DAO Token for the sales they make, it provides the backbone for the curve of game developers within your ecosystem. It provides incentive to content creators as the market rewards their success.

Similarly, governance of the organization is defined on the blockchain. It can define what decisions to make, and who is making those decisions. A successful content creator in your game, rewarded with the DAO tokens of your organization, gives them the ability to become involved in the direction of the game.

Combined with the fact that they have incentive to influence the game, and you have an incredible on-ramp for a game development community.

This is a radical departure from traditional game development. Decentralized game development, by way of decentralized content networks, blurs the lines between consumer and creator, player and developer.

Decentralized Disruption

Technological progress keeps equalizing the playing field in game development. Game engines are at their most powerful, and accessible. The amount of people able and willing to play games continues to grow.

But, there are still massive imbalances in where games are being made, and who are making them. Simply put, there are a lot of white men in game development.

Blockchains provides a massive leap forward in decentralized technology, and with it the opportunity for a more meritocratic development structure on a global scale.

Truth be told, this is one area that the games industry desperately needs disruption. Development shops do resemble high tech sweatshops. Gender and racial abuse are rife within the industry.

New rules can be written, by way of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, and new games can be explored through Decentralized Content Networks.

What is the Metaverse? A chance for us to do better.

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