With kids and adults staying at home, are virtual worlds ready for prime time? – TechCrunch


We have diligently followed the development of Virtual Worlds, also known as the “metaverse,” on TechCrunch.

Spending time in virtual gaming worlds has become more popular in recent years with the growth of platforms like Roblox and open world games like Fortnite, but it’s still not a common way to socialize outside of it. young adult population.

Three weeks ago, TechCrunch media columnist Eric Peckham published a detailed report which positioned virtual worlds as the next era of social media. In an eight-part series, he delved into the history of virtual worlds and why games are already social networks, why social networks want more games, what the next few years will look like for the industry and why isn’t it already running, how these virtual worlds will lead to healthier social relationships, what will be the future of virtual economies and which companies are ready to succeed in this new market.

With so much that has changed in the past three weeks alone, who would have thought that large swathes of the knowledge economy would suddenly find themselves fully interacting virtually? – I wanted to get a feel for what the growing popularity of virtual worlds looks like amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Eric and I got a call to discuss it and decided to share our conversation publicly.

Danny Crichton: So let’s talk about the timing a bit. You’ve written this eight-piece series on virtual worlds, and then all of a sudden, after posting, there’s this massive event – the novel coronavirus pandemic – forcing a large chunk of the human population to stay at home. and interact only online. What is happening now in space?

Eric peckham: I wrote my series on the multiverse because I was already seeing a resurgence of interest, both in terms of consumer demand for open-world MMO games and in terms of social media giants like Facebook and Snap trying integrate virtual worlds and social games into their platforms. Large companies are planning virtual worlds in an actionable way and not just a futuristic vision. Over the past two years, there has also been a lot of venture capital investment in a handful of startups focused on creating next-gen virtual worlds that people can spend time in, virtual worlds with complex societies shaped. by user contributions.

Speaking to founders and investors in the gaming space, there has been a huge increase in usage over the past few weeks as more people hang out at home playing games than this. either on the side of adults or on the side of children.

Most of these next-gen virtual worlds are still in private beta, but already popular platforms like Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite are being used a lot more than normal. Much of the people stuck at home escape through the virtual worlds of games.

You wrote all of this analysis before you knew the extent of the pandemic – how has the outlook changed for this industry?

This speeds up the timeline of virtual worlds being a mainstream place to hang out and socialize in everyday life. I think people will be home for several months, not just a few weeks, and that will change people’s outlook on socializing and working from home.

It’s a really powerful cultural change. More and more people beyond the gaming community are excited to spend time in virtual worlds and hang out there with their friends.

We have seen it most often with the younger generation of Internet users. The majority of 9-12 year olds are Minecraft and Roblox users who hang out with friends after school. We’ll see this spread to older demographics faster than before.

One of the complaints I’ve seen on Twitter is that even though we have one of the greatest global human lockdowns of all time, all VR headsets are pretty much gone. Is VR a key element of virtual worlds?

Well, you don’t need VR headsets to spend meaningful time with others in a virtual space. Hundreds of millions of people are already doing it through their mobile phones and through PCs and consoles.

It’s at the heart of the gaming industry: creating virtual worlds that people can spend time in, both pursuing the mission of whatever a game is designed for, but also interacting with others. Among the most popular mobile and PC games last year were massively multiplayer online games (MMOs).

Speaking of gambling, one facet of the story that struck me as particularly interesting was the fact that gambling was still not that high in terms of market penetration among the population.

Over two billion people play video games in a year. There is incredible market penetration in this direction. But, at least for the data I’ve seen for the United States, the percentage of the population who play games on any given day is still much lower than the percentage of the population who use social media on any given day.

The more games become virtual worlds for socializing and spending time beyond the simple mission of gaming, the more those who turn to virtual worlds as a social and entertainment outlet will have five free minutes to do something about their business. phone. Social networks fill these little moments in life. MMO games right now don’t because they are so gameplay focused, which takes time and uninterrupted focus. Roblox-style virtual worlds where you just hang out and explore with friends this time compete with Instagram more directly.

Movie chains like Regal and AMC have announced this week they are closing completely to wait for the end of the pandemic. Will it affect these companies in the virtual world?

I think they are separate parts of the media. Movie theater attendance has declined dramatically for years, and the way the industry has compensated for that is trying to turn theaters into these premium experiences and increase ticket prices. Children are just as likely, if not more, to play a game together on Friday nights as they are to go to the movies. Cinemas are less culturally relevant to young people than they once were.

We have seen a massive experience of working from home, which is a form of virtual world, or at least, a virtual workplace. When it comes to popularizing virtual worlds, will it come from the entertainment side or more productivity-oriented platforms?

This will come from the entertainment side and the young people using it to socialize, in part because there is less fear around cultural etiquette compared to people meeting in a professional setting who fear that a context of virtual world doesn’t feel so professional. Over time, as virtual worlds become ubiquitous in our social lives, they will also become more natural places to discuss business with people.

As more and more people work online and interact virtually, a big question is how to move beyond Zoom calling or the technology currently in the virtual conferencing market to something more like walking around and around. to chat with people in person. It’s hard to do without the ability to walk around a virtual space. You can’t have these unexpected small group or one-on-one interactions with people you don’t know if you’re just boxes in a Zoom call or other broadcast. It will be interesting to see what develops around virtual business conferences that arise from virtual world technology. I’ve seen a few teams explore this.

Last question here, but we envision a major economic recession, and so how does the landscape of people making money from virtual worlds change with the coronavirus?

the penultimate article in my series concerns virtual economies around virtual worlds. Every virtual world inherently has commerce, and people have already made money in the real world through games and early virtual worlds like Second Life.

The two people staying at home amid the coronavirus and the recession we seem to be entering are pressures that will cause more people to look online for ways to make money. This will only increase the activity of virtual economies around some of these worlds, whether these are formally integrated into the game or occur in a gray or black market around games (which is more common). .

Thanks, Eric.

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