If you’ve been listening to companies like Epic Games yammer about the “metaverse” over the last year and wondered whether it’s all just a lot of simple tricks and nonsense, then you might want to read up, and who better to offer that reading than someone who actually built and ran one? That someone would be MMO developer Raph Koster, and on the dev blog for the unnamed MMORPG sandbox he and other Playable Worlds devs are building, he’s penned a piece trying to disambiguate the term – and going all the way back to 1978 to do it.
“Online worlds lead to multiverses which lead to metaverses,” he begins. “And just about no one has actual metaverses to offer right now.” Things that are not metaverses include Fortnite, which he says is actually a social or creative world; MMORPGs, which fall under the game world category; and even LegendMUD, which offered multiple activities that were merely “extras” when you were tired of murderhoboing. No, he doesn’t use that term. Koster would would never.
“The next step up from this would be a multiverse. Pretty much all graphical online worlds have a single visual theme, you see. Merely hopping between shards of the same game? That’s just load balancing your playerbase, not building a multiverse. In a real multiverse, there are multiple different worlds connected in a network, which do not have a shared theme or ruleset. This lets you hop between very different worlds, with completely different types of experiences. […] The dream of the future is a metaverse. A metaverse is a multiverse which interoperates more with the real world. In most conceptions, it includes significant elements of augmented reality – such as walking around a real city and seeing virtual things. It includes shopping at actual stores via VR interfaces. If you attend classes, it might be a class that has mixed attendance between virtual attendees and physical ones. You might perform a job solely in virtual space, and get paid real money. It blends the real and the virtual. It can still include worlds that are games, and worlds that are social, and worlds that are creative. But it also includes worlds that are digital copies of the real world (called ‘mirror worlds’), including stuff that doesn’t even look like worlds.”
Of course, at this point you’re wondering whether Playable Worlds is building a multiverse. While he doesn’t say, he promises to dive more deeply in a future blog, and he leaves the reader with a pretty heavy tease: “The name of the company is a hint.”