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A16z’s Matthew Ball and James Gwertzman discuss how to unlock the metaverse


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There’s been a lot of breathless speculation about how transformative the metaverse might be. This morning, we heard from two leaders who are good at explaining what it means and how disruptive it is: Matthew Ball, CEO of Epyllion and author of Metaverse; and James Gwertzman, partner at A16z.

They talked about what technologies were needed to unleash the potential of the metaverse, which many describe as the next version of the internet.

Be a part of us Next Summit Game in 2022 previewed online, Gwertzman said he became interested in the game more than 20 years ago because of the way he saw it fostering innovation at the intersection of art and technology. He made games for years and eventually started Playfab, to create backend infrastructure services for games as they become multiplayer services. He’s learned the deep server knowledge and life experiences needed to make those games successful. Microsoft acquired the company in 2018, and Gwertzman had some insight into how the game works. He recently turned to investing and joined Andreessen Horowitz, the company that has raised 600 million dollarsn for the game fund and $4.5 billion for the crypto fund.

“This whole thing has given me an interesting perspective on what we are starting to call the metaverse,” he said. “If the metaverse is really a place where thousands or millions of people can come together, it doesn’t look like a multiplayer game at all. And in fact, I happen to believe it’s going to be game developers and game creators building the metaverse because we’re the ones who really have the knowledge, the experience of what it takes to make the metaverse. put all those players into a virtual 3D environment with safety and (anti-trolling) to make sure everyone has a good time.”

Microsoft offers PlayFab and Azure to game companies using the cloud.
Microsoft offers PlayFab and Azure to game companies using the cloud.

Ball asked how we can move from today’s multiplayer games to having networks of much higher scale to having hundreds or thousands of players in the same space at the same time, right away. even as technologies like broadband, computing power, and hard drive capacity evolve at a linear rate.

Gwertzman agrees that one of the biggest boundaries around multiplayer games today is the number of players that can be together in a single environment. With Fortnite, that number is 100. So when Epic Games held a Travis Scott concert, which drew tens of millions of people, the concert was split into groups of 100, all interconnected on a single platform. servers, with hundreds of thousands of servers for Ball to speak. How do you get the real scale?

“That’s where you start to run into really serious scaling problems,” says Gwertzman. “Traffic is not linear growth. That’s really an exponential growth because each new player you add has to have more sets of notifications passed back and forth to keep everyone updated. “

One of the starting points, says Gwertzman, is to start with simpler games.

Matthew Ball explains the importance of the metaverse.
Matthew Ball explains the importance of the metaverse.

“One of the big architectural changes we’re looking at is how much logic we move out of your local machine and all the way to the cloud, where you can keep it all in one machine. server or in a cluster of servers,” says Gwertzman. “You don’t need to update a lot of messages back and forth. That’s a little trick. Another tip is to design your experience. You just don’t have multiple players in the same physical space at the same time. “

He notes that Hadean recently raised $30 million to build metaverse infrastructure from Epic Games and others, and Hadean is trying to solve this problem. Impossible to improve is another that is trying an approach where they split the world spatially so that there aren’t many players in the same place. (Leaders from both companies are also speaking at GamesBeat Summit Next).

“I think one of the exciting innovations we’re going to need to really create this supermarket is to think about new ways to divide traffic around and create a sense of real space,” Gwertzman said. speak.

Ball says the battle royale design minimizes network problems by shrinking play space and eliminating players when it happens. By the time it becomes a small circle, perhaps five players can be left and a smaller net load.

Gwertzman said he’s reminded of a quote by John Lasseter, formerly of Pixar, where he said art challenges technology and technology inspires art.

“You have to start thinking of hacks, tricks, and workarounds to try to create experiences,” says Gwertzman. “Or you go back to your technologists and say I really want to do this, and current technology doesn’t support it. Let’s innovate. “

He added, “I think there are going to be some really neat things we can do with the metaverse that will be really inspiring. And it will force us to confront some of these really interesting technological problems.”

Fortnite has a new Ferrari car.
Fortnite has a new Ferrari car.

Ball said he enjoys that tech leaders like Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney have been talking about tackling these issues for decades. So he asks why are so many veterans talking about the metaverse now?

“When you start to see this cultural shift, where you suddenly realize that the concept of being in a game space is no longer just a game, and these technologies are being used for more than just a game. more,” said Gwertzman. “Now we are also becoming more comfortable with what spaces are. I don’t think technology has suddenly crossed some threshold and now we can do things that we couldn’t do before. I think we’re becoming more comfortable with these spaces now. And I also think it sounds really exciting new, I think we’re starting to realize some of the limitations of some of the online platforms we have – Facebook is notoriously criticized for the way it chooses and choose which message shows you criticism or polarization, and we don’t get the full bandwidth of online interactions. “

“One of the benefits of moving to a more 3D environment is that you actually have a greater sense of presence. And I don’t mean without VR glasses and the most immersive virtual reality experience. Just the idea that you are actually in one place with other people. And they are not just anonymous voices. They are not just these strings of text. These people are like humans.”

He said virtual spaces like World of Warcraft have the potential to create lasting bonds between players and that makes them comfortable participating in online economies.

Ball hopes that the transition to the metaverse can alleviate some of the problems we face today. But the question is how to solve it. Twitter recently changed its policy towards what it considers adversarial behavior. While not specifically malicious, people can be harassed through what gamers have long known as “grief”. This places a moral obligation on the creators of these worlds to manage such behavior, Ball said.

Programmers make cool stuff in the Overwolf community.
Programmers make cool stuff in the Overwolf community.

“Whenever you bring people together, you start to run into these exact problems,” says Gwertzman.

He says he’s optimistic because game designers have learned to motivate and reward certain behaviors relative to others over time.

“Some of the multiplayer worlds are actually pretty friendly places and don’t really suffer from the kind of grief and trolling in other environments,” says Gwertzman. “Much of it has to do with the many social norms that have grown up around these particular games. It can be as simple as a game designer influencing or rewarding early players for helping other players when one player joins. “

Some of these tools will be automated to look for negative behaviors, and others will be designed to reward people with good behavior. That’s important because online behavior – as we’ve seen with COVID – can lead to a loss of empathy and people can develop more difficult aspects. That doesn’t work in the real world.

“How do we actually encourage players or users to learn to behave healthier with each other?” Gwertzman said. “There is a lot of research on so-called third spaces, pubs or hair salons, which are neither the workplace nor the home. You get this mixing pot of people with very different views and social status. “

What you don’t want is for people to split into their own echo chambers, he said. Ball believes that all of these forces – technical capabilities, socialization, cultural impact, investment and economic effects – mean that we will have something that evolves similar to the metaverse, for even if it’s 5 to 15 years from now.

When asked what he thinks will unfold, Gwertzman said blockchain got off to a rough start with speculative behavior and frenzied hype. But he’s optimistic it’s about long-term innovation in the space as decentralization will be crucial as we strive to own our own identities online and control our data.

“If you look at games, every game is basically a complete, separate, isolated, walled garden,” he said. “Who I am in Fortnite is a completely different person than I am in Red Dead Redemption. That’s because these games are isolated from each other. And one of the things I’m excited about is (how) we can give users more control over their own identity. “

Stream games like Google
The world of Red Dead Redemption 2.

Your reputation can travel with you from place to place, as can your friends list. Games will start to overlap more and more. And a world built for one game can be reused in other games. People who enjoy user-generated and modified content can reuse those places for a new experience. The creative economy will come into the game on its own.

“That will really be a big driver of the metaverse and everyone will be expected to create and contribute, not just a passive observer,” Gwertzman said.

Gwertzman notes that we’ve had years of learning to build communities like Roblox or a battle royale game, and that people who grow up learning those will have ways to build upon platforms that are more fun or engaging. more social.

“Children who have these experiences will have to be innovative and creative,” he said. “They want authenticity, they don’t want to perfectly curate the Instagram experience. They want me to be the real me, the real me. And create the kind of space that we’re actually willing to spend time in. “

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