1. Second Life
The O.G of metaverse platforms and augmented experiences is back for 2021, but actually, it never went away. And from the slightly dated avatars, to the craftsman-like precision of environmental objects and items in the virtual museums and locations, it is more of the movement than a way of life currently. That’s not to say that Linden Lab isn’t instrumental in the renaissance of virtual worlds within the metaverse, it’s just the appeal has switched to a sense of urgency where instant karma is obtainable. In other words, Second Life has become something more of a Yahoo chat room circa 1997. A/S/L anyone? Linden Labs has sold off anticipated video game Sansar to streamline its focus on Second Life’s Second Coming so I’m very much looking forward to picking up my avatar, Southrey Dragonash, from the Swedish Second Life Embassy, where I left her in 2010.
Like that scene in Jason and the Argonauts where the giant Talos comes to life and starts attacking Jason on the beach. Fortnite is equally as behemoth as this mechanised bronze man. However, Fortnite as a one true metaverse has a lot of growing up to do. And we have time. Fortnite’s main staple is the ability for young people to converge upon and play real-time battles using avatars with cartoonish, almost Disney-esque features. If this is what the metaverse is going to be, I’m not sure I want to be in it. As a grown-ass woman I am looking at the metaverse as a mirrorworld: a place where I can find myself, not a toad-faced astronaut. That said, I’m also a Marvel fan and Fortnite’s Marvel season created the biggest audiences of all time for Marvel content presenting a whopping 15.3 million concurrent players. Not bad, not bad at all. But I’m confused. If I could place Southrey Dragonash into Fortnite and have quality grown-up conversations and experiences without ever having to leave my desk: sign me up. But if I have to argue with a bunch of 13-year-olds I’m not feeling it if I’m completely honest. Given Hephaestus’ application of invention in the classical Greek metaverse, Fortnite has real potential as Talos, a big shiny behemoth of a world that needs a bit more invention (and more blacksmithing) to forge that indestructible giant.
Roblox has a simple methodology: it is a global platform that brings people together through play. One of the top questions in Google about Roblox is this: is Roblox a safe gaming platform for kids? Again, thinking about the number of Generation X/Y/Z-ers looking for that place to call home, I find it increasingly difficult to see myself in a platform belonging in the metaverse which is aimed primarily at children. That said, the numbers speak for themselves: if we want to be in a world of our very own, maybe Roblox isn’t the place for us when you consider that 33.4 million use it daily. The emphasis of people rather than children is something that I feel I really want Roblox to develop and explore further because it really does have a significant place in the metaverse and if we are looking at the metaverse as a collection of worlds (as Fortnite) it certainly does have a significant piece of the metaverse pie. If I think about the metaverse today, right now? Roblox is not the first place that I would go to in trying to find my metaverse people.
4. Avakin Life
I’ve been a massive fan of Avakin Life since it launched. I feel that this is the natural child of Second Life, and over the course of the last few years particularly, it has certainly grown up into an individual space and experience all of its own. I can’t recommend Avakin Life enough to folk interested in the opportunities that the metaverse offers; from e-commerce and creativity to experimentation and socially-driven activities. Alternatively, if you are simply looking for an expensive penthouse overlooking the harbour, you are 100% going to find it in Avakin Life. If your heart still yearns for the experience of PlayStation Home, circa 2012 you got it! In short, Avakin Life is my top metaverse space because it speaks volumes to me about how this mirrorworld of the metaverse will look today and in the future. Currently, it’s the best bet we have for being the ultimate home of social media, games, films and TV since Avakin Life is doing so much to converge this entertainment spectrum into something we can access more simplistically and without devices. Moreover, it speaks to the trueness of the metaverse in being one simple device. This is a truly collaborative world; and if I had one criticism it would be of the avatar design again, but really, who is nailing this in 2021?
5. High Fidelity Inc.
2021 has been, so far, without a doubt the year of Clubhouse. However, other companies have also found themselves in interesting positions where they can expedite real-time chat in meaningful ways. High Fidelity Inc is one of these, and it offers a seamless experience which can be plugged in as an API into any one of your metaverse programs, streams or social platforms. Personally, I believe that sound is its own metaverse (and I’ll talk about that another time) but, if we are at the heart, and that is to say, the beating heart of what it is we see the metaverse as being, then surely High Fidelity Inc is the electric hybrid limousine to transport us there. Other notable players include Hyper Connect, Holoplot and yes, the amazing return of Chat Roulette.
In a world where Gen X-ers Gen Ys and especially Gen Zs have little to no chance of being able to get on the property ladder either today or in the future; so it’s incredibly refreshing to think that there is an opportunity to own a virtual space that we can truly make our own. I don’t mean like Avakin Life where you have an opportunity to build your penthouse overlooking the harbour and enjoy a fashion show in the lobby, what I’m referring to is actual commoditised real estate that lives on services around the world, that you can access whether you’re in Los Angeles or Laos. Launched in 2015 Decentraland allows its users to create scenes and applications as well as exploring other locations. But the important point about Decentraland is that you can trade using Decentraland’s unique economy. Guess what? It’s fungible tokens. Fungible. These are called MANA and they act as the ‘game’s’ currency. As with any game currency, you need to manage your balance correctly, and you have to invest your tokens wisely in doing so you can help to grow your properties. What is fascinating about Decentraland is how quickly this has become the go to place for FT/NFT related experiences whether it’s art, artefacts or objets d’art, or whether indeed end-users simply want to walk around museums of other people’s creations. Something you do need to know about Decentraland is that you can buy land parcels which are used in the experience through other third-party exchanges such as OpenSea.io which bring the decentralized focus of Decentraland directly into an attainable view. As I always say: where there is utility there is value, and Decentraland is giving life the metaverse by virtue of its sheer feasibility.
7. The Sandbox
The Sandbox has positioned itself (as with Decentraland) as a non-games/games platform. There’s a sweet gameplay element that gives an edge of creativity. The Sandbox term is exquisitely derived from the child-like nature of playing in sand. Developing and destroying, creating and decaying, if we turn the mirror of the mirrorworld towards ourselves, that’s what we see, right? Oh and here comes the FT/NFT discussion again, The Sandbox has (like Decentraland) a uniqueness of commodity and value. So who’s all living in this metaverse? Well here’s a few notables to whet your appetites: Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, Galaxy Interactive, Alex Reece (early investor in Unity, Draft Kings and Lyft), Michael Witz (founder of Redemption Games), Edward Saatchi (founder of virtual beings company Fable) and Patricio Fuks (serial entrepreneur) as well as Uken Games as gaming partner, and heavy metal band Avenged Sevenfold. Avenged Sevenfold! Additionally The Sandbox is something of a game experience where users can monetise their own voxel gaming experiences and build out worlds which then can be traded, traced and sold on in the same way that Decentraland uses blockchain frameworks and technologies. And with my comparison at the beginning about The Sandbox being this sandbox experience of playing and making, I guess my only caveat on whether this can be successful at this time might depend upon engagement and retention. Sand, being something mutable and tangible, but ultimately tends towards nothing more than dust. Therefore, if you’re looking for an experience with a heck of a lot of clout then it’s up to the development of The Sandbox to ensure that contiguous user engagement of content and creation sustains the sandbox millionaires.
8. Microsoft Mesh
Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection and Microsoft Mesh is giving us a wonderful opportunity to do something similar. If you are looking for a metaverse that encapsulates real-time presence and shared experiences from anywhere on any device through mixed reality then this is the place for you. This here can be anywhere vibe is a growing feeling amongst the metaverse users who are either commuting back into cities or getting walking meetings underway from their home base and enterprise AR is part of the no device/device opt in/out. Powered by Microsoft Azure, it feels like a proving ground right now and Mesh is in a big research and development spike – that means anything can, and usually will happen in a world where there are no rules and technically there is no “world”. From Holoportation (yes, it’s a thing) to developing digital facsimiles of, well, us; Microsoft is really driving this feeling towards virtual collaboration across time zones and using everything from volumetric capture to natural motion principles. From where I’m sitting in 2021 mixed reality feels extra fresh, because we get to do just that: mix our realities. When this dreaded pandemic is over we can see people again, and keeping this one foot in reality yet sticking our head into other worlds seems like a completely natural progression in post-pandemic life. From mixed reality we are able to control the crazy, as strange as that sounds. Exciting, right?
In an age where it’s all virtual this, and MR that or catching gatcha creatures in your GPS modified triangulation zone, it’s a comfort to know that Minecraft is still a thing. A big thing. Is it a game? Maybe. But it is a lifestyle and that’s never really gonna change. There is no actual gamification in Minecraft, for a 3D sandbox game it does have some great opportunities for progression which makes this “game” particularly, a sort of outlier; a squarish peg in a roundish hole that kind of works. It still looks slick and it’s still a successful story of a group of game developers with a dream. The metaverse should be about user generated content and Minecraft offers procedural generated experiences that we players are effectively invited into, be a part of and actually grow the world using a map “seed” that is obtained from the system clock at the time of world creation. In a sense this feels like it is a visual blockchain where players effectively timestamp their experiences. Go Mojang! Featuring a variety of game tropes that we have come to know and love – multi user dungeons: check! Survival mode: check! Fun avatars: check, check! Let me repeat myself: this is completely user generated. And what’s even better, is that in this age of the mega corps, Microsoft as the new owners of Minecraft have been able to maintain the desire for the platform to keep the player front and centre of the entire experience. In their own words “Minecraft is one of the best buys of all time”. User experience, for me, is the main core value of the metaverse and it actually brings Minecraft back into view as an incredibly fresh experience for people coming to it for the first time.
10. Animal Crossing
When I think of the metaverse, I think about the possibility that there has to be some kind of gateway into a world that you can really call your very own. But how do you get there? A little bit like when Alice goes in through the Looking Glass, she first of all takes a little drink of this and a bite of that and then she has to go through a journey of figuring out who she is and what she can achieve by being in that space and in that experience or moment. Obviously, like a snowball that story intensifies massively for good and bad but just to bring it back to the metaverse we’re considering here, you would hope that Animal Crossing would provide that friendly, warming, comfortable and safe gateway. And it does in spades. Dipping your toe into the water slightly before you decide to go the whole hog and disappear into Avakin Life or The Sandbox? Animal Crossing has got you. Honestly, that is the experience of Animal Crossing and oh the feels: it’s like being part of the family and if you want to take the idea even further; it’s a family filled with love, fur, apples, cool parties and cute friends (including Kamala and Joe, no, really). No matter how hard it tries Animal Crossing is unable to be the malevolent spirit in the circuitry of the metaverse. That’s just not possible. What Animal Crossing has done over the course of the past year or so (Switch fans) is in making us think about ourselves in aspirational ways. From Gucci fashion shows, to trans-politics it’s all there for anybody to find but it’s all packaged up in a typical Japanese kawaii box of delights. No one gets hurt (that’s the rule!) and no one feels bad. Everybody supports and nurtures everybody in this wonderful ideology, and everyone feels loved. Animal Crossing is the perfect example of what the metaverse can do. Information, advice and guidance is one of the greatest things that we can receive from any platform and so if one platform can do all of those things then we are cooking with gas (hopefully on the beach, with some fish that we caught earlier in the day or bought from a passing trader that is coming to our village!) But I’m talking about everything from social acceptance to mental health issues. If we can find joy on a metaverse that allows us to be a nine-tailed fox, imagine what we can derive from having conversations about our own hopes and fears as human beings? I, for one, see the metaverse as being a great leveller, so why shouldn’t Animal Crossing promote these ideas of wider inclusivity and acceptance? So if you’re looking for a community that spends millions on digital goods, you’ve found it. I don’t need to close Animal Crossing off with a “time will tell” statement because we know that Animal Crossing is already doing this – did I mention this is one of the few metaverses you can effectively carry around in your pocket? Thank the fur-covered metaverse for Nintendo.
- Facebook Horizon
- EVE Online
- NVIDIA Omniverse