Presented by Polystream
Exploring emerging themes from VentureBeat’s Into The Metaverse event, Bruce Grove, CEO and co-founder of Polystream, and Chris Van Der Kuyl, Chairman at 4J Studios, shared a virtual coffee to continue the conversation about the infrastructures and industry standards required to deliver Metaverse-style interactive experiences.
Chris & Bruce kick things off with the big question — are we close to creating the metaverse?
I think we’re closer than ever to realizing it, but still have a lot to build. Traditionally we’ve seen the metaverse as a destination; stories that allow a viewer to place themselves inside a second world. Today, we’re already connecting everything together and spending more time inside this digital construct than outside of it, but we’re not just going to wake up one day and find it magically switched on.
We stopped talking about IoT when we realized we could, piece by piece, buy a camera, that connects to a smart plug, that connects to a thermostat, and talks to Alexa on all my devices. The next step is when my fridge figures out I’ve run out of milk, and calls the store to have it delivered without me worrying about it. Five years ago we’d laugh about that. Today, it’s so effortless.
Currently people are building individual metaverses; Minecraft, Manticore, Roblox, Fortnite. I believe we have to start creating tightly coupled interactive experiences where we can seamlessly move from researching my homework on Wikipedia, to talking with friends at a birthday party before going to watch a movie with a billion people all in the front row. That for me is the metaverse.
However, we’re not very good at understanding the costs of building and operating infrastructure that enables everyone to then use and build on top of it, which is what drives growth, and is an essential foundation piece to creating the metaverse, or the Oasis, or whatever we will call it. We know we will have got it right when we realize we’ve stopped talking about it as the metaverse. We’ll probably call it the “internet” still.
Chris Van Der Kuyl:
To take your hypothesis a step further, Bruce, we don’t really talk about the “internet” anymore because we just say we’re going online. It’s all assumed.
I’ve been in lots of conversations during the pandemic about what broadband data provision to domestic properties really means in the next couple of decades. Is the right to broadband as important as water? Yes, you’re gonna die if you don’t have clean water, but if the electricity was suddenly turned off, permanently, what you use to sustain human life in a modern environment, would be tough. Without a quality of Internet, how many of us now live, work, and play becomes a real challenge.
There’s already a humongous demand in gaming for power to power data centres. It’s insatiable, and you can’t grow that audience if you don’t have the right long-term strategy for providing electricity.
We can’t manage massive increases in capacity for a grid that’s already creaking. The purported quality of service where everyone gets internet is also utter rubbish. Every provider on the planet has algorithms at router level that start to count against you if you’re swallowing too much, choking you down when their video services need to come over the same pipe providing broadband. And if your game gets a bit jumpy… tough! Can’t let the TV sports viewers have dropped frames. If the metaverse is to be a utopia, we have to have emerging standards, where your service is as good as anyone else’s or where you can actually pay to get better service and we understand what better service means.
But what are these ‘emerging standards’? What infrastructure is needed to create, power, and underpin the metaverse?
These frankly ridiculous mechanisms and mindset that if you pay for sports, everything else gets deprioritized, never benefits the consumer. A minimum access threshold for everyone is needed, as one user shouldn’t be more important than another. It’s going to stop being about watching sports vs playing a game because I’m going to go inside Roblox or Minecraft to watch a contest. Who determines whether I should watch that through traditional channels or inside a game, or on a platform built from the ground up is the big key to unlocking the metaverse.
That’s something we want to see out of any standards coming through.
Chris Van Der Kuyl:
Say a game that 4J is working on becomes the spiritual successor to sandbox games being played today. Of course we would build into it the ability for people to create communities and share; a door to the metaverse. How you access that door, whether it’s on a PC, opening an app on a phone, or playing a games console, consumers don’t care. I need to make sure that as the owner of the environment, I open and have as many doors into it as possible.
The next challenge will be how to deal with the fact that connecting to the metaverse today is completely sedentary and lacks any concept of physical presence; it’s all psychological.
The best technology is when it starts to become so usable, it’s indistinguishable from magic. We’ll exit this decade in a place where a certain number of people will probably spend more of their lives in a metaverse type environment than they do in real life.
You already hear about people having staycations in Azeroth in World of Warcraft, taking a holiday from the real world by spending a week in that world as instantiation of what we’re talking about, but the magic will be when we do things in the metaverse we couldn’t possibly do in any other form.
What does all this mean for the future of metaverse-style interactive experiences?
Chris Van Der Kuyl:
The biggest challenge ahead is power.
We have amazing ideas, but don’t have the power rationing to go and spin up. Software ideas will end up with a per-person, per-minute analysis of how much power they cost. If you’ve got some mega GPU heavy graphics crazy game, it’s going to be a thousand times more costly than streaming Netflix. We can wax lyrical about great ideas and applications but there’s a massive stone sitting there ready for us to trip up and fall flat on our face. With the exponential increase in the demand, don’t forget there’s one thing that powers all of it.
I’ve been vocal with my opinions on filling data centres and I still see people falling into the trap of using compute inefficiently everywhere, instead of deploying compute only where and when it’s needed.
If COVID had happened 10 years ago we’d have struggled to shift to working remotely online so quickly. With everything we talk about building, we have to focus on elastic, scalable, future-proof infrastructure and stop pretending that it’s a one- or two-year problem. This is a checkpoint for everyone, and we need to start collaboration now so we can keep evolving with your mad ideas and be thinking about infrastructure that moves forward with us for many more decades of metaverse coffee chats to come.
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