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This article was contributed by Noah Shin.
Full disclosure: I am a graduate student finishing his studies in media and communications. I consider myself pro-internet, but I have no personal affiliations with any tech company, and I do not own any cryptocurrencies. I believe it is critical for the public to make sense of the newly digitized era through extensive independent research and ethical considerations.
The year was 2021; Webster Dictionary had added a slew of Gen-Z-related words and phrases like digital nomad, NFTs, blockchain, cryptocurrency, augmented reality, and my new personal favorite dubbed by Mark Zuckerberg, the metaverse. The translation? The internet is evolving to a stage that is more immersive, intuitive, and one step closer to completely immersive virtual reality experiences. Zuckerberg may make Meta the first big tech corporation to invest $10 billion in a virtual universe, but we are beginning to see indications that other major corporations will soon follow suit.
Technology is encroaching on a new era where the different forms of technological communications merge into one seamless experience, from work meetings to social life to workouts to conference calls. In a study by Pew Research, 90% of U.S. adults say the internet has been essential for them during the coronavirus outbreak. Screen time is at a record high, so a massive shift to a more immersive online presence seems almost inevitable. Online activity has accelerated during the global pandemic when digital technology has served as a lifeline for many Americans and corporations, whether that’s seeking new job opportunities or Zoom meetings for teleworkers. Moreover, digital tools and the hiring of young technologically savvy workers are becoming points of emphasis in every sector, from finance to health care, and manufacturing.
So what does this mean? The public is witnessing an internet evolution greater than the innovations from the DotCom era or Social Media era, or perhaps even greater than the internet itself. Consumers are approaching a time of digital immersion, stamped by the approval of big tech giants and corporations everywhere. Now, most of us have begrudgingly conceded that the internet is a powerful tool and even deserves to have a monetary value attached (hello, cryptocurrency). For everyday American consumers, it is necessary to be aware of this digital immersion and how it affects our daily lives — from job opportunities to educational art and science curricula.
Technology companies look to incorporate video game elements
In his keynote presentation on Facebook company’s rebranding to Meta, CEO Mark Zuckerberg states: “If you ask people today what they thought the metaverse was…people that follow the space would say it’s about gaming, and that’s because gaming provides many of the most immersive experiences, and it is the biggest entertainment industry by far.”
The gaming industry certainly dominates the entertainment industry. On January 17, 2019, tech-streaming giant Netflix company announced its biggest consumer company rival in a letter to shareholders, “We earn consumer screen time, both mobile and television, away from a very broad set of competitors…We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO…There are thousands of competitors in this highly-fragmented market vying to entertain consumers.” Since June 2020, Fortnite has surpassed over 350 million registered users, and gamers logged 3.2 billion hours in the game in April 2020 alone. Assuming people live until they’re 79, that is the equivalent of 4,624 human lifetimes.
Online video games, console games, and mobile games have billions of downloads and continue to emerge as one of the most prevalent media forms in our society. Most console and role-playing games (RPG) already incorporate versions of their metaverse into their gaming structure. Game companies like Roblox, Epic Games’ Fortnite, and Grand Theft Auto already have metaverse-like platforms which depend on their communities for their business model. In-game purchases of character skins and other game assets are the majority slice of a game company’s ad revenue, especially free-to-play games. Open world games continue to stand at the forefront because it opens a virtual reality space where users can interact with the computer-generated environment and the ecosystem of users.
Online communication fosters positive interaction. Online games are highly social, and communication among friends and online players promotes teamwork and delegation for different game roles to succeed. Gamers are not in the monolithic category; there is no rigid or fixed type of uniformity when discussing role-playing games. That psychology of online communication among users is what tech companies are looking to imitate. Another instance of this gaming integration includes child and toy elements into gaming frameworks. By integrating child-like effects into their technology like friendly-looking avatars, cartoon guns, and harmless games, these factor into a fun, interactive experience — something game developers understand and what tech companies look to enact into their metaverse structures.
Fortnite numbers are statistics any company would salivate for, and we are beginning to see these corporations follow suit. Google, Microsoft, Apple, and hundreds of startups continue testing virtual and augmented reality products, from glasses to deals with game companies. Large tech corporations are investing in-game platforms in hopes of a more lucrative business model. Nike has quietly filed trademarks in preparations of selling virtual apparel, which apparel consumers can don via their virtual avatars. The Los Angeles Staples Center was given $700 million to change its name to Crypto.com Arena by the Singapore-based cryptocurrency exchange app. Adidas partners with NFT gorillas Bored Ape Yacht Club and other NFT communities, and the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) has publicly announced its work into their version of a virtual communication ecosystem with economic, cultural, tourism, and civic services, provisionally dubbed Metaverse Seoul.
Digital assets will skyrocket in value
The point is: Virtual communities make these companies successful, and if big corporations and governments are working to create virtual realms, it’s more than likely that Facebook’s metaverse will thrive and remain sustainable, so long as they continue to be community-centric. As tech frontiers shift their focus to building virtual worlds, further attention turns to its byproducts. This includes the entire spectrum of digital assets. I have a personal bias towards the role between game companies and implementing photo capture modes within their console systems or art developed to what is now known as virtual photography. As video games evolve to hyper-realistic models, the lure to capture the game world’s beauty and emotion follow a newly implemented innovation that might interest audiences outside the gaming genre.
Virtual photography shows its value by presenting a form of memorabilia while showing still imagery can exist in a new, exciting digital medium. Console games with photo-op modes offer new innovative compositional tools, options to incorporate aspects like painting and illustration, graphic design, and other artistic tools. There is a practical use here that can aid workflow and design processes while offering engaging, interactive material.
Within current gaming audiences, where teen and gen-z consumers are the primary markets, game developers tend to focus on an important aspect: fun and entertainment so users can spend as much time within the virtual world. Role-playing games seek to extend the gamers’ experiences past the general story mode.
Redefining digital art
Virtual photography is just one of the many examples of branding the new modern digital artist, and it changes the perception of branding digital artwork. Type “media jobs” on the LinkedIn job board, and you’ll see a million different titles. Digital communications manager, social media strategist, graphic design manager, NFT creatives, multimedia specialists, et cetera.
Technological intuitiveness and a certain amount of media fluidity are becoming necessary to navigate the world of industry professionals. I can recall a time I was teaching a summer tech camp in Palo Alto, California, where students were given curricula in the forms of vlogging, 3D building, audio engineering, and design. Maybe the most surprising classes were the video game-oriented classes, where teachers taught students the fundamentals of Roblox, an online video game platform and game creation system. Most importantly, the camp taught students the fundamentals of building, coding, and design, all through playing a video game. While this is a relatively new trend, educational institutions are seemingly embracing the educational aspects of gaming.
The tech metaverses will prove valuable for its educational purposes. Virtual realms can aid in institutions teaching logic and problem solving than many school curriculums. Puzzle games, select real-time strategy games, and select simulation games fall into this educational category. Games with gameplay elements that require users to utilize creativity are called Sandbox Games. Minecraft (2011) and The Sims franchise are building task games with no true end objective. Educational platforms seek new ways to integrate the arts with the sciences, and gaming turns out to be one of the most innovative aspects of progressive curricula.
It’s no surprise that digital immersion is expanding at an exponential rate, and many video game corporations have used similar business models for years. These games generate a mass ecosystem of game users by following most entertainment structures. The most successful games create open-world gaming environments with interactive possibilities while maintaining a compelling narrative with goals and objectives and minimal constraints. If tech companies like Facebook look to follow suit, maintaining an integral, loyal community must remain at the forefront of their mission.