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Should the Metaverse be Gamified?

Is gaming the lead way into the metaverse?

When discussing the metaverse it’s clear big brands and tech giants have a conundrum on their hands – exactly how do they get the public to engage with something which seems so fantastical? Some of the aspects of the metaverse being discussed currently are pulled directly from sci-fi novels and movies. 

How do the big corporations help the public visualise a decentralised digital space? Where ownership is everything and our physical lives merge with our online selves seamlessly? A place where we can replicate our homes in cyberspace, or live an entirely new life built around blockchain.

These ideas almost feel unbelievable in the same way that our smartphones once did when mobile phones could only log on to the internet using WAP and charged by the minute. Even the idea of paying for a coffee by tapping a watch on a card device seemed far-fetched until a few years ago.

The answer may lay within the industry which has been embracing metaverse concepts for years – videogames. Gaming already allows for virtual selves, digital currency, utilises both virtual and augmented reality, forms cooperation and instant messaging between individuals or within a large group. So, if gaming is leading the way to the metaverse, does the metaverse need to be initially gamified?

It’s clear that most instances of what we would call the metaverse are stemming from videogames. Not only do so many games feature aspects of an active metaverse, but they also steer the technologies, such as processing power and graphical interfacing. It’s no wonder that younger generations, the ones who dive headlong into games such as Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox, are embracing new experiences like Somnium Space, The Sandbox and Decentraland after seeing many familiarities.

VR Headset
Image credit: Shutterstock

Internal or External

Perhaps we need to veer away from the metaverse for a moment and look at intrinsic and extrinsic ideals. To put it simply, to act intrinsically can be reading a book for pleasure, whereas extrinsically would be reading a book in order to study for a test. It can be seen as internal and external goals or drives.

If the big tech players were to gamify the metaverse, they would be extrinsically affecting the audience, giving them a reason to be there. It’s an outside influence, similar to adding a ‘like’ system to social media. Users then seek out likes, or in this example, points, achievements or challenges overcome. Rather than interacting with the ‘product’ in a more organic way through discovery because discovery can be scary for some users.

An example of this is Roblox. Do users venture onto the Roblox platform to interact with other users within an experience, or do they come for the gaming aspects? One could argue that it works in stages; the player comes for the games, then interacts with various experiences and possibly makes friends, or discovers creativity, turning them into a user who splits their time differently.

This is a tactic used often within gaming; implementing goals to drive interaction. The launch of the Xbox 360 in 2005 introduced an Achievement system, which used points to reward players for exploring or meeting targets. This was then implemented for PlayStation 3, then on Steam for PC users. Players began chasing achievements and trophies, which urged them to explore areas or take on tougher challenges. It was partly pavlovian, realising serotonin when the message of a new trophy was displayed, but it also fed into our natural human need to explore and be rewarded.

Social Farming

To see how tech companies have incentivised users, let’s examine Farmville, a game that swept across Facebook for several years. A game that required little more effort than signing into the social website to grow some crops. Facebook didn’t program the game, nor did they design any aspect of it – that goes to Zynga – but they allowed its placement on their platform. They allowed it knowing that it would bring more people to their social space. There’s no way of knowing how impactful the game was on growing Facebook’s user base, but at the time seemingly everyone knew about Farmville.

Six months after release, when Farmville was hitting its stride, the game had 72.9 million active players, that was 20% of Facebook’s users at the time. These numbers only grew as the popularity of social media exploded. Between April 2009 and July 2011, Facebook’s user base grew from 200 million to 750 million, and Farmville was asking each player to message their friends and ask them to come and play.

At the time, it was an extension to social interactions – something to do with your mother or sibling while online. Mark Pincus, who was chief executive of Zynga at the time, remarked to the New York Times: “we thought of it as this new dimension in your social, not just a way to get games to people.”

The Farmville example shows how a game can guide users towards a new experience or technology. Many of the players who swarmed to Facebook back then were older demographics and while they were there after they’d harvested their crops, they could check in on the family, share a photo or do some shopping. As time passed, the games faded into the background but Facebook was still a place where users checked in every day. Now they weren’t being incentivised, they were simply engaging with a new technology – social media.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Digital connections

What could be a possible first step for consumers? Much like Farmville in our above example, users need to be given an entertaining reason to log in. In a recent interview, co-founder of The Sandbox, Sebastien Borget referred to the mega-corporations such as Google, Microsoft and Meta and their intentions for the metaverse. He said: “We don’t think those companies can build something truly fun that’s catered to the users because they’ve been so focused on their key business model and how to satisfy shareholders.”

Discovering a new technology should be fun. It’s the reason most of us downloaded a game on our first smartphone – so we could pinch, stretch, swipe, flick and really get to grips with the technology. Now those actions are used when browsing a web page or editing a photo. There needs to be a reason – something to cause excitement.

The ‘reasons’ don’t need to be games, they could be experiences like concerts, celebrity meet and greets, album listening parties or fashion shows. These events and practices are already occurring throughout metaverse aspiring videogames and as long as the activity rewards the player or features interactivity, it is likely users will attend. The question then becomes ‘how does the metaverse retain visitors?’ Through ownership.

That doesn’t necessarily mean purchasing NFTs or owning land where you build a mansion or storefront; but by guiding users through how they can own their metaverse existence and how it relates to those around them. The reason people stayed with Facebook after finishing their last game of Farmville was connection. They were connecting with family or friends, or perhaps a different game. They came for a reason and stayed because of connection. This is what the metaverse – whichever version we embrace – needs to achieve.

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