For those of us who play a lot of games, we know how the business model has changed over the past decade. While previously, most (if not all) game publishers charged a certain amount for a game, that is less common today. Instead, many publishers offer a game for free and charge for items within the game. Now, thanks to an interview with BBC Click, Meta CTO Andrew Bosworth has said that the company wants to make your metaverse life works almost exactly the same as these free-to-play videogames.
What is Free-to-Play?
For those who are not a regular part of the gaming world, a free-to-play game is one that is made free to the public but provides a ton of in-app purchases. There have been a ton of games in this category, ranging from Fortnite to Pokemon GO. These games rely on the purchase of items within the game to either progress through the game quicker (Pokemon GO) or to stylize and set your character apart from the others in the game (Fortnite).
For those that make purchases a way to the endgame (or progression quicker), some make it optional, while others make it nearly a requirement. Those games where you almost need to purchase in-game items in order to play the game are referred to as pay-to-win rather than free-to-play. They tend to be looked upon unfavorably (such as with Star Wars: Battlefront II before its change).
On the other hand, games that offer stylistic add-ons for characters are looked upon favorably. In fact, these games bring in an absolute ton of money. Fortnite, for example, relies almost entirely on skins and items for its business model. The game made $9 billion in its first year, heavily because of skins and items. Another game in the category, League of Legends, earned around $2 billion annually from 2015 to 2022, again heavily relying on skins and items.
Two tiers of the Metaverse
Generally, in a game like Fortnite or League of Legends, the purchased items do not change the actual gameplay. Instead, they are merely aesthetic additions to the gameplay. However, based on the business model of the Metaverse under Facebook's parent company Meta, it will bring a two-tiered experience model to the world.
While Meta has said that their Metaverse will be a leveling field for the human experience, this interview suggests something else. In fact, it sounds as if the upper management saw the Amazon Original Upload and thought, "What a great idea!" Unfortunately, the premise of the show was supposed to lead to the response, "Oh, that's terrible!"
The difference comes from the purpose of the Metaverse versus the purpose of League of Legends. In the game, the purpose is to fight, so aesthetics is a bonus. However, in the Metaverse, the purpose is interaction, and aesthetics are a primary aspect of the experience. If the idea is to own virtual land and create a virtual life upon it, then building a virtual home with virtual furnishings is fundamental. As such, being able to purchase the services of a virtual architect or virtual interior decorator is going to create a different experience for those who are willing to pay Meta and its partners for these services.
So, while many people have responded to the concept of the Metaverse with skepticism because of the dystopian nature of the technology, now there's a more realistic reason to be concerned. Meta (aka Facebook) has long been a target of fear from internet users. The company is not known for treating its users and their data with respect. In the new venture, Meta intends to not only be in charge of your data sharing, but also making itself a global government in a virtual world, complete with utter control over the world's economy.
If users are already skeptical of sharing their data with Facebook, how does the company plan to get people to share their virtual lives and physical money with them? Only time will tell.