VR, NFTs, And The Metaverse Didn’t Take Over Video Games, Neither Will AI
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A new technology has come out, securing billions in funding, and is set to disrupt the entire video game industry.
The latest technology to make that case is AI, the buzzword of 2023, originally rooted in projects like ChatGPT and Midjourney, but now extending to…literally every company saying they’re going to be using AI in some capacity, however nonsensical.
And yet I have been around too long and been down this road too many times to believe the hype this time. Sure, AI can do some cool things, but the exact same language I’m hearing here is what we’ve heard about a wide variety of other tech, essentially all of which as not panned out as promised.
Yes, a VR market currently exists. No, it is not large compared to the wider industry, and no, we are not about to switch to VR as the main way to play games. Once heralded of the future of games when the Oculus Rift first came out in 2016, it was predicted the VR market would scale to hundreds of billions of dollars and be the primary way we played games within 5, 10 years. We are getting real close to year 10 here, and now we’re debating whether Meta is going to just tank its VR ambitions and if PSVR 2 is actually going to outsell PSVR 1.
Sure, there are VR enthusiasts, and tens of millions of VR headsets have been sold. I own two of them, and yet they have sat in my closet for years now after maybe a few dozen hours of gamplay, compared to the few thousand hours I’ve sunk into my PC and consoles. VR did not “fail” per se, but it did not live up to its extraordinary hype, and will not, any time soon.
Once upon a time a bunch of crypto bros and VCs who know very little about video games pitched the idea that NFTs, unique digital items that can be sold within a game, would be the next great form of microtransaction and be a huge revenue source for the gaming industry going forward.
And then they kept talking, saying things like you would have the ability to transfer these items between games, something every developer said was extremely stupid. The industry still went ahead and dipped its toe into this concept with things like Ubisoft Ghost Recon NFTs and got zapped immediately. Square Enix’s president is routinely mocked for being the only major gaming figure besides Dr. Disrespect still pitching NFTs and blockchain games. Everyone else has abandoned the concept.
Actual blockchain games exist, but they are outrageously terrible, just deeply awful games that sure, could have generated some money at the height of this craze for players, but that quickly went away (hi Axie Infinity) and all that’s left is relative garbage like the Bored Ape game that is fleecing players into shelling out thousands of dollars for “sewer passes” and other nonsense. Everyone else in the actual gaming industry has fled the blockchain.
I don’t even really need to write this section, because Ed Zitron wrote it for me with a stellar Business Insider article you need to read. The collapse of the Metaverse is deeply obvious given that no one even wants to say the word in 2023 that everyone in tech was screaming the last few years.
There were really just two ideas of the Metaverse. First was Mark Zuckerberg’s, which he heralded as the future of humanity to the point where he renamed his entire company (which I’m guessing he now regrets). But his idea was married to VR, which as we’ve established, is far from mainstream adoption. He also decided to use the worst VR experience on the planet, Horizon Worlds, as the flagship for the concept, a product so bad even Meta employees had to be forced to log into it by their bosses. Now, users are plummeting and guess what he’s turning to? AI.
The second Metaverse was, surprise, tied to the second thing, web3, NFTs and the blockchain. This was the version where you read about Macy’s and Disney and whoever buying up virtual real estate in extremely empty meta-dysoptias like Decentraland or The Sandbox, “games” which had lower concurrent playercounts than roughly the first 300 titles on Steam. This was nothing. It was always nothing, and actual video games did this better, creating virtual worlds and communities with millions of players well before anyone in tech thought they had invented this idea and given it a name they stole from Neal Stephenson.
So yes, you will pardon me if I am skeptical of this idea that AI is going to come in and hit the gaming industry like a meteor. Yes, I am actually impressed with the tech more than I was with the last three things on this list. And yet at the same time, these largely predictive, far from “intelligent” AIs are clearly being overhyped. No, I do not believe game concept artists will be replaced by Midjourney. No, I do not believe narrative teams will be replaced by ChatGPT. No, I do not believe a company heralded as “the ChatGPT of AAA games” is going to let you design your own Fortnite in seconds.
Are there aspects of AI that may be used in game development? Sure, and it’s probably more useful than the other tech on this list. But this idea that AI is going to completely rewrite the rules of game development and how we interact with games is simply not going to happen, and anyone believing the next GTA is going to come out of a predictive text or (stolen) art generator is deeply out of touch with the reality of the industry. But that, of course, is nothing new.