Ready Player One: A Gen-Z Perspective
“The Metaverse”. Those two words alone spark some of the most polarising reactions in gaming. On the one hand, companies speak of the riches of interconnected worlds, revolutionary gaming experiences and promises of blockchain tech that provides true digital ownership to players. On the other, gamers speak of their concerns in this space, including: fears around exploitation of wealth, the environment and gaming as a whole. It is these polarised reactions that have provided me with a huge amount of trepidation in finding my first steps into the world of PR, and eventually my role as a PR assistant at Raptor.
As a frequent Twitter user, the recurring discourse on the negatives of web3 was strongly in my mind. Those I greatly admire in gaming spoke often of the dangers of blockchain. Fears of negative environmental impact for seemingly little to no utility became my most prominent concern. Indeed, I even discovered a Twitter poll in which a large volume of users voted that they would not hire individuals involved in web3 tech in any capacity. These worries played strongly in my mind, and I asked myself; “I’m only 18; will working with a few companies in web3 seriously limit my future career prospects?”. In all honesty, the very idea of writing this post gave me some trepidation but after speaking with the team, I decided to dive deeper and form my own opinion. It was time to find my place within the strongly contested attitudes on both sides of the Metaverse argument.
But first of all, what even is The Metaverse? It’s this question that drives confusion and division. The fact that the very definition of ‘The Metaverse’ cannot be agreed on speaks to the speculative and formative nature of this tech. I’ve been alive for less than two decades of gaming’s fifty-year history but the iterations in gaming tech within my life can be clearly defined. ‘Virtual reality’? That’s how we can immerse ourselves in new digital worlds. ‘The emergence of Live Service?’. That’s how games continue to provide multiplayer experiences through long-term content delivery. The ‘toys to life’ genre? Easy, that’s how physical figures provide value within a digital game. But ‘The Metaverse’; that’s a topic that I struggle to form a singular definition about. To me, The Metaverse is simply an umbrella term for player interconnectivity in gaming; no more, no less. Whilst it’s true many Metaverse experiences use NFTs and blockchain within their content, I do not believe this extra tech is essential in defining The Metaverse.
Ask general gamers what they think of interconnected multiplayer games such as Minecraft, Roblox or Fortnite, and you’ll find a favourable response. Define these games as Metaverse experiences and you’ll get a very different attitude. And it’s clear to see why… players often associate Metaverse with the negative connotations of blockchain gaming; generalising all emerging technology with distaste. For players, the game itself needs to be of the highest quality to garner attention: labels such as ‘play-to-earn’ and ‘web3’ will be of little interest when blockchain monetisation is at the forefront and gameplay is left as an afterthought.
Indeed, misunderstandings of blockchain gaming from proponents do little to aid its reputation. I often see LinkedIn posts mocked on Twitter in which business leaders discuss that gaming should simply be ‘a grind to earn NFTs’ and gamers against this philosophy simply ‘don’t understand the technology. There’s also a monumental misunderstanding of existing gaming technology; advocates of blockchain speak of shared worlds in which NFTs can be shared across games, platforms and genres. These misunderstandings of the sheer resources required to enact this interoperability damage the reputation of blockchain gaming. And rightly so, how can players access web3 gaming if the people behind this technology are publicly ridiculed for not understanding the foundations of gaming themselves.
It’s clear to see that the model of blockchain-first, gameplay-later games design doesn’t work and the repeated occurrence of the financial collapse of projects within the web3 space proves that gameplay needs to come first. And, indeed, even when blockchain gaming puts gaming to the forefront, we - as players - need to hold accountable whether the blockchain technology is used sustainably and non-exploitatively. It is undeniable that core cryptocurrencies take up huge amounts of energy with many NFT projects simply being used to show off the wealth of the owners. But categorising all blockchain gaming as environmentally damaging is incorrect. New blockchain technologies such as Solana are built with the environment at the forefront; each transaction costing less environmental impact than three google searches. (That’s 0.00000348062% of Ethereum’s impact). With clients such as Tiny Digital Factory using Solana within their upcoming mobile release Infinite Drive, it’s clear to see that developers are aware of what needs to be done to achieve player support. Tiny Digital Factory puts gameplay first with optional NFT support for players who wish to possess digital ownership of their cars. This optionality for web3 gaming is key; we’ve all seen the backlash to Ubisoft’s Quartz system. Blockchain may have a place in gaming but it can’t be a simple tick in a corporate checkbox. Developers need to allow players to choose blockchain within specific, tailor-made experiences.
There is huge potential within the play-to-earn mobile place but it’s key to understand that blockchain shouldn’t be forced on players. Players have a right to choose whether they want to accept this technology and games must come first.
In summary, by exploring the world of web3, I’ve found that my opinion sits centrist within the binary responses to this new technology. This opinion may be disappointing to read after my analysis but I believe there cannot be a blanket like or dislike to web3 gaming. There needs to be nuance on both sides of the argument. Approaching blockchain gaming does not mean that gaming as we know it has to end. The preservation of blockbuster single-player campaigns can still be present alongside mobile blockchain projects. There can be nuance across genres. Just as not all shooter games are good, not all blockchain games are destined to be bad. And, indeed, the very process of categorising blockchain gaming as a genre further shows the emerging nature of the technology and the separation between web2 and web3. Nevertheless, even if we consider blockchain to be a monetisation layer within gaming in general rather than its own genre, then the same conceit remains: each usage of blockchain technology must be judged on its own merits rather than with sweeping generalisations.
By breaking through the divide, as a lifelong gamer, I need to explore on a per-project basis whether a blockchain project puts gameplay to the forefront, providing genuine utility of web3 technology in a sustainable manner. If this is not the case, then blockchain gaming has no place in the industry but if developers provide a genuine use-case for blockchain then there is real potential.