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Nexon chief executive officer Owen Mahoney wants to put a sanity check on all the buzz around the metaverse. In particular, he wants to cut through the hype to get answers about the practicalities of the technology. And Mahoney argues that if the metaverse concept is going to turn into something real, it needs to avoid the vague promises of other recent trendy investments like virtual reality.
“The problem is that, as with many previous waves, so much of the hype around the metaverse lacks even the most rudimentary description of the intended user experience in any detail that can help the creative designer,” writes Mahoney. “This is a big problem: for masses of consumers to spend time in an entertainment experience, it actually needs to be entertaining. Without clear answers, we certainly can’t hope to convince anyone to come to our Virtual World. No visitors, no business — we don’t get the luxury of being vague or glib.”
None of this is to say that Nexon does not believe in the potential of the metaverse. The difference is that Mahoney wants to put specific creative solutions and virtual worlds first instead of working backward from some nebulous definition of metaverse.
In his blog post, Mahoney says that a compelling virtual world needs a few key elements. These could include challenges for players to overcome, live social interactions, persistent progression, personal relationships, a dynamic in-game economy, smart limitations that push player creativity, and a strong lore.
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“And fun really matters,” said Mahoney. “If a simulated online experience is not fun, why would anyone stay in it? Fun matters more than tech, more than the platform, more than graphics and sound. If it’s not fun, the Virtual World is a ghost town.”
Metaverse talk is cheap — the talent to actually build it is not
For Mahoney, the key hurdle to building a successful metaverse has little to do with technology. Instead, it comes down to finding the people who have the creative spark to make it happen.
“The greatest scarcity in the entertainment business is not money or technology, it is developers who are a combination of highly creative and highly capable,” said the Nexon boss. “In 1440 Gutenberg invented the printing press, a technology that unlocked humans’ ability to disseminate stories and ideas at a mass scale. But it was writers — the creators of the ‘software’ — that altered the course not just of entertainment but of history.”
And while cloud, virtual reality, and social platforms are all in a place to power a metaverse-style virtual world, it’s going to require a specific creative vision to make that a reality.
“Writers figured out the creative problem of what was important to put on the page, and how to write it in an engaging way for maximum impact,” writes Mahoney. “Today, the internet and associated technologies are enabling humans to collect simultaneously in a mass, high-def simulated reality. Technology has provided us with today’s equivalent of the printing press. Creators must now make experiences worth consuming. The better we meet the creative challenge, the more profound will be the impact.”
Nexon continues to run its online, connected role-playing adventure Maple Story. It is also building a new virtual world with Swedish studio Embark.