How would you define the metaverse?
To me, the metaverse is social, it’s immersive, it’s persistent, and it has user agency.
If I unpack that a bit more, “social” enables deep, meaningful experiences with other people and entities, either in your real-life identity, or in a persona you take on in the metaverse.
It’s “immersive” in that you’re not just playing one game or doing one thing over and over. It has what we call “emergent gameplay,” where the boundaries of the game are ideally set only by your imagination. You can engage with this virtual world however you want. For example, you can choose to be very competitive and fight all the time, or you can choose only to craft things.
“Persistent” means it’s always on. From a gameplay perspective, this means that you can drop in and drop out whenever you like. While you’re not in the virtual world, activity is still happening, and when you rejoin, you have to catch up.
And “agency” means you own your decisions.
To what degree does the metaverse depend on hardware?
For me, the metaverse has to be cross-platform, which means you can access it from a PC, a mobile phone, a console, and so forth. I find the idea that you have to wear a virtual-reality headset and be hardware dependent fundamentally at odds with something that’s going to be that immersive, where you can drop in and drop out any time, as a persistent world. And frankly, I think we’ve been underwhelmed by the adoption cycle of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) so far.
When you talk about the platform you’re playing on, we’re already seeing people play the same games on PCs, consoles, and mobiles and share their progression across those devices. In terms of connecting these different metaverses, I do think a degree of connection will exist. But the specific vision wherein you can wear a skin you purchase from Call of Duty in another video game like an Apex Legends, I think is going to be difficult to achieve because of both technical and commercial interoperability challenges.
The idea that you have these virtual worlds build on very different technology and infrastructure, where you can wave a wand and suddenly have an open standard where all of your assets work seamlessly across them—I’d say we’re very far from it.
Why do you think the metaverse is here to stay?
The total addressable market for interactive entertainment is increasing dramatically, especially with the growth of mobile gaming, so our industry now has close to three billion players globally with some type of connected device.
Pair that with the change in societal attitudes towards gaming and digital experiences more broadly. Ten years ago, gaming was still very niche, the common stereotype being teenagers in their parents’ basements. Now you’re at the point where everyone engages in digital experiences in some way, shape, or form.
COVID-19 was a big accelerator of this, but I view it as a secular trend that’s only accelerated over time. If you look at our King mobile-gaming business, the audience skews female and is far less likely to self-identify as video gamers in the traditional sense of the word. For the audience that closely identifies as gamers today, it’s going to be about providing immersive, persistent, high-end experiences that are also very social and increasingly connected.
The question is how to get even newer segments of players to join existing gamers while maintaining that high production value with even more types of emergent game play. Gaming is already incredibly social, and you have continuous innovation of social features. But the true social unlock hasn’t really happened yet, and I think as you try to appeal to people who don’t self-identify as gamers, deeper social features are going to be required to convince them to spend more time in the metaverse.
For the younger population, it’s all about trust and safety, which is going to be a big part of it. And behind all that, you still have data-privacy regulations that are constantly changing, and consumer protection that also need to be strengthened in a persistent, digital world.
How will user-generated content help drive monetization?
Firstly, gaming and interactive entertainment is still under-monetized relative to other forms of entertainment, both digital and physical. Within gaming, I think it’s a continuous spectrum, and market economics will determine monetization potential. For blockbuster, high-production-value AAA experiences like Call of Duty, I think you’ll always be able to attain very high rates. And a very basic, no-code, user-generated content experience will have its own going rate as well, and then there’s going to be a full spectrum in between the two.
But I do expect user-generated content to be a big part of the metaverse going forward, and it goes back to what I said about agency. If you choose to spend your time in the virtual world crafting items and expecting some type of return, you’ll probably get compensated. Whereas if your approach to the metaverse is one of consumption, and you want to enjoy things and participate in exclusive experiences, you’re probably a net payer.
I think as it unfolds, you need both those populations existing in the metaverse, so the user-generated economy will become a bigger part of it. At the same time, I think there will always be a need for high-end, professionally produced content that you wouldn’t get with fully user-generated content.