Original title: " a16z analyst's in-depth article: What are the new opportunities for game infrastructure in the metaverse era? 》
Original compilation: GameLook
Imagine, you downloaded a The super popular parkour game, the characters in the game get new skills immediately. After a few minutes of tutorials, climbing walls and jumping over obstacles, you're ready for bigger challenges. You teleport yourself into one of your favorite games, GTA: Metaverse, quickly flipping over car hoods and jumping from rooftop to rooftop, following a route set by another player. Wait a minute... what's that glowing object under the mailbox? A super-evolved charizard, you take a poke ball out of your backpack, grab it, and go on...
This gameplay scenario is not the same today Possible, but likely to happen in the future. Composability and interoperability will be realized in games, and they will revolutionize the way games are built and experienced. Composability refers to recycling, reusing and reorganizing basic building blocks, and interoperability refers to a Components in one game can be used in another game.
Game developers build products faster because they don't have to start from scratch every time. When they can try new things and take new risks, they will create more innovative games, and more developers will join because the barriers to entry for game development will be lower. What new "meta-experiences" will be included in the essence of a game, as mentioned in the article, which can be played across multiple games.
Of course, any discussion related to "meta experience" cannot avoid a concept that has been talked about many times: the metaverse. In fact, many people see the Metaverse as a complex game, but its potential is higher than we think. At the end of the day, the Metaverse will represent everything we will do to interact and communicate with other people online in the future. On the basis of game technology and game production process, only game creators are the key to unlocking the potential of the Metaverse.
Why Game Creator? No other industry has as much experience building massively online worlds in which thousands (sometimes tens of millions) of online participants interact with each other, often in real time. Now games are not just about "playing", they can also "trade", "build", "live broadcast" or "buy things". Metaverse has added more actions, such as "work" or "fall in love". Just as microservices and cloud computing started a wave of innovation in the tech industry, I believe the next generation of gaming technology will usher in a new generation of game innovation and creativity.
Many games now support UGC, allowing players to create their own extended versions of existing games. Some games, like Roblox and Fortnite, have been so malleable that they've called themselves the Metaverse. However, the current generation of game technology is still largely built for stand-alone games and can only help us get so far.
The gaming revolution will require comprehensive innovation across the technology stack, from production pipelines and creative tools, to game engines and multiplayer networks, to data analytics and online services . Recently, a16z analyst James Gwertzman wrote about his vision for the game's transformative phase and detailed analysis of the areas of innovation needed to usher in a new era.
Here is the full content compiled by Gamelook:
For a long time, games have been primarily a single, fixed experience. Developers build, release, and start working on sequels. Players buy, experience, and then switch games after exhausting the content. Usually, a traditional game can only provide 10-20 hours of gameplay experience.
We are now in the game-as-a-service (GaaS) era. Developers continue to update games after they are released. Many games also have metaverse-style UGC functions. Things like virtual concerts and educational content. Roblox and Minecraft even launched in-game marketplaces where player-creators can get paid for their creations.
Importantly, however, these games remain (purposefully) isolated from each other, and while their respective worlds may be immersive, they are closed ecosystem, nothing can be transferred between each other, including resources, skills, content or friends.
So how can we go beyond these legacy walled gardens and unlock the potential of the Metaverse? As composability and interoperability become important concepts for metaverse games, we need to rethink how we handle the following areas:
Identity. In the metaverse, players need a single identity that can be used across many games on multiple gaming platforms. Today's platforms insist that players have corresponding user profiles. For each new game, players must The tedious task of rebuilding your profile and reputation from scratch.
Friends. Likewise, today's games maintain separate friend lists, and at best use accounts on social platforms like Facebook as a source of friends. Ideally, your network of friends will follow you from game to game, making it easier to find people to play with and share competitive leaderboard information.
Personal items. Currently, items you acquire in one game cannot be transferred or used in another, and for good reason. Allowing players to bring modern assault rifles into a medieval game might temporarily satisfy but quickly ruin the game, but, within reasonable limits, swapping some items between games can open up new ideas and improvisations play.
How to play. Today's games are closely related to gameplay. For example, the whole fun of the "platform game" category like "Super Mario: Odyssey" is to achieve control of the virtual world. But by opening up the game and allowing elements to "mix," it's easier for players to have new experiences and explore their own stories.
I see these changes happening at three very clear levels of game development: technical (game engine), creative (content production) and experiential ( online operations). For each level, there are obvious opportunities for innovation, which I'll get to later.
Note: Making a game is a process that requires many steps Complex process, even more so than any other art form, is highly non-linear and requires frequent loops and iterations, because no matter how interesting something looks on paper, you can't be sure until you actually experience it Really fun. In this sense, game development is more akin to choreographing a new dance, where the real work is repeated in the studio with the dancers.
The following expandable section outlines the game production process and may be helpful for readers who are not familiar with the entire process of game development.
Most modern game development At its core is the game engine, which powers the player experience and makes it easier for teams to create new games. Popular engines like Unity or Unreal Engine provide common functionality that can be reused across multiple games, allowing game creators to build something unique to their games, saving time and money and upgrading the playing field, Let small teams compete with big studios.
Still, the fundamental role of a game engine relative to the rest of a game hasn't really changed over the past 20 years. Although the engine has increased the number of services they provide, from graphics rendering and audio return visits to multiplayer gameplay and social services, as well as post-launch data analysis and in-game advertising, most of the engines are still released in the form of a code base, each game All fully packaged.
However, when thinking about the metaverse, the engine takes on a more important role. In order to break down the walls that separate games or experiences, it's likely that the game will be packaged and run inside the engine, not otherwise. In this expanded view, engines become platforms, and the communication between these engines will largely define what I think of as a shared metaverse.
Take "Roblox" as an example. The Roblox platform provides key services like Unity or Unreal Engine, including graphics rendering, audio playback, physics, and multiplayer gameplay. However, it also offers other unique services, like player avatars and identities that can be shared within its game genre; expanded social services, including shared friends lists; rich security features to help keep the community safe, and help players create new games tools and resource library.
However, Roblox is still not enough as a metaverse, because it is a walled garden. While there is limited sharing between games on the Roblox platform, there is no sharing or interoperability between Roblox and other game engines or game platforms.
In order to fully unlock the Metaverse, game engine developers must innovate in terms of interoperability and composability, improve multiplayer gameplay services and automated testing services.
In order to unlock the Metaverse and To bring about the kind of experience described at the beginning of this article, these virtual worlds will require unprecedented levels of cooperation and interoperability. While it is possible for a single corporation to control the common platform that powers the global metaverse, that is neither desirable nor possible. Instead, decentralized game engine platforms are more likely to emerge.
Of course, when it comes to decentralized technology, we have to mention Web3, which refers to a series of technologies based on blockchain and using smart protocols, Decentralized ownership by putting control of key networks and services in the hands of users or developers. In particular, concepts such as composability and interoperability in web3 help to solve some of the core issues facing the evolution to the Metaverse, notably identity and private property, and a lot of research and development is going into the core Web3 infrastructure .
That being said, while I think Web3 will be a key part of refactoring game engines, it's not a panacea.
One of the most obvious uses of Web3 technology in the metaverse is to allow users to buy and own items in it, such as a piece of virtual real estate or clothing for digital bodies clothing. Since transactions written to the blockchain are a public record, purchasing items in the form of NFTs makes it possible to theoretically own an item and use it on multiple Metaverse platforms.
However, I don't think this can happen until the following issues are fixed:
Single user identity, which players can use to move between virtual worlds or games with a single coherent identity, necessary for matchmaking, content attribution, and blocking malicious accounts. One service that is trying to solve this problem is Hello, a multi-stakeholder collaboration seeking a user-centric vision of identity to transform individual identities, largely based on Web2's centralized identities. There are others using web3 decentralized identity, such as Spruce, which allows users to control their digital identities through wallet keys. Meanwhile, Sismo is a modular protocol that uses zero-knowledge proofs to enable decentralized identity management.
Unified content format so content can be shared between engines. These days, each engine has its own dedicated format, which is necessary for performance. However, in order to exchange content between engines, there needs to be standard open formats, like Pixar's Universal Scene Description (USD) for film, and Nvidia's Omniverse. However, all content types require standards.
Cloud content storage so that content needed by a game can be located and accessed by others. Today, the content a game needs is usually either packaged into the game as a release version, or downloaded over the network (which can be accelerated through a CDN). For content to be shared across worlds, there needs to be a standard way to query and retrieve that content.
Shared payment mechanism, so that metaverse owners have economic incentives to circulate resources between different metaverses. Digital resource sales are one of the main ways platform holders are compensated, especially in free-to-play models, so to incentivize platform owners to deregulate, resource owners can pay a “corkage fee” for using their resources on the platform ". Or, if the resource in question is famous, the Metaverse might be willing to pay the resource owner to bring its resource into their world.
Standardized functionality so that a metaverse knows how to use a particular item. If I want to bring my expensive sword into your game and use it to kill monsters, your game needs to know it's a sword and not just a pretty sticky thing. One way to solve this problem is to try to create a taxonomy of standard object interfaces that each metaverse can choose to support or not support, categories can include weapons, vehicles, clothing or furniture.
Coordinate look and feel so content assets can transform their look and feel to match the universe they need to go into. For example, if I have a high-tech sports car and I want to use it in a steampunk themed world, the car needs to be converted to steam engine drive to enter the world, which may require my resources to know how to do it , or allow the coming Metaverse worlds to provide an optional look and feel.
One area of concern is the The importance of multiplayer gameplay and social functions, and now more and more people have become online game players, because games with social functions are much more profitable than stand-alone games. Since the Metaverse is by definition fully social, it will face various problems unique to the online experience. Social games must be mindful of harassment and incivility, they are also more likely to lose players to DDoS attacks, and often must run servers in data centers around the world to minimize player latency and provide the best possible player experience.
Given the importance of multiplayer to modern games, we still lack a fully competitive solution. Engines like Unreal Engine or Roblox, and solutions like Photon or PlayFab provide these basics, but there are loopholes like advanced matching that developers need to work out themselves.
Innovations in multiplayer game systems must include:
Serverless multiplayer gameplay, development Developers can implement authoritative game logic and automatically host and scale it in the cloud without having to worry about running the actual game server.
Advanced matchmaking, helping players quickly find opponents of the same level to play, introducing AI tools to help determine player skills and rankings. In the Metaverse, this is especially important as matches become wider.
Anti-harassment and address incivility tools to help identify and repel malicious players. Any company that hosts the metaverse needs to worry about this, because netizens won't be spending unsafe space anymore, especially since they can jump to another world with no loss.
Guilds or Clans, which help players get together with other people, whether to compete with other groups or simply for a more socially shared experience. The Metaverse is also filled with opportunities for players to team up with other players to pursue common goals, creating opportunities for services like creating or hosting guilds, and syncing with external community tools like Discord.
When publishing any online game, test Both are a costly bottleneck, as small groups of playtesters have to constantly go through to make sure everything works as expected and there are no glitches or bugs.
Games that skip this step are at risk. For example, the highly anticipated "Cyberpunk 2077" was criticized by players for its hasty release with a large number of game bugs. However, since the Metaverse is an "open world" game with no set path, testing can be prohibitively expensive.
One way to alleviate this bottleneck problem is to develop automated testing tools, such as AI characters that can play games like players, which can be used to find game bugs and find faults . Another advantage of this technology is that it can make credible AI players, which can not only replace real players who are accidentally disconnected, but also make the early matching of multiplayer games smoother and avoid players waiting for a long time.
Innovations in automated testing services may include:
Automatically train new characters by observing how real players interact with the game world. One of the benefits of this approach is that the character gets smarter and smarter, and the longer the Metaverse runs, the more believable it becomes.
Automatically identify glitches or bugs, and add deep links that jump directly to the bug, so that human testers can re-find the problem and fix it.
Replace real players with AI characters, so that when a player disconnects due to accident, the impact on other players' game experience will not be so severe. This feature also brings up some interesting questions, such as whether players can "list" to the AI at any time, or even "train" their own substitutes to play on their own behalf. Will "AI Assistant" be a new category in the tournament?
With 3D rendering technology Getting stronger and stronger, the amount of digital content required to create a game continues to grow. For example, the latest racing game "Forza Horizon 5", which is the largest Forza series game ever downloaded, requires more than 100G of hard disk space, while the previous generation only needed 60G. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The initial "source art files" created by artists may be many times larger. The growth in the number of assets is mainly due to the increasing size and quality of these virtual worlds, which have a high level of detail and higher fidelity.
Considering the Metaverse again, the demand for high-quality digital content will continue to increase as more and more experiences move from the real world to the digital world.
This has happened in film and television. The recent Disney+ TV series The Mandalorian ushered in a new era by shooting on "virtual sets" running in Unreal Engine. This was revolutionary in that it cut production time and costs while increasing the scale and quality of the final product, and more and more TV movies will be shot this way in the future.
Also, unlike physical film sets, which are usually torn down after shooting, due to the high cost of full-preservation storage, digital film sets can be easily stored, for future use. In fact, therefore, it makes sense to throw more money at it and build a fully realistic world that can be repurposed later to make a full interactive experience. Hopefully in the future, we'll see these worlds made available to other creators to create new content within these fictional real-life scenarios, furthering the evolution of the Metaverse.
Consider again how content is created, which is increasingly being created by artists distributed around the world. One of the lasting effects of the COVID-19 outbreak has been the long-term push for remote R&D, with teams spread across the world and often working from home. The benefits of telecommuting are clear: the ability to hire talent anywhere, but the costs are enormous, including creative collaboration, synchronization The massive resources required to build a modern game and the challenges of maintaining IP security.
With these challenges in mind, I see three major areas of innovation in digital content production: AI-assisted content creation tools, cloud resource management, authoring and publishing systems, and collaborative content output.
Today, virtually all digital content Both are created manually, adding to the time and cost required to launch a modern game. Some games have experimented with "programmatic content generation," generating new dungeons or worlds algorithmically, but building these algorithms themselves can be very difficult.
However, a new wave of AI-assisted tools is coming, which can help artists and non-artists create content faster and at a higher quality, Reduce content production costs and democratize game production tasks.
This is especially important for the Metaverse because almost anyone can be a creator, but not everyone can create world-class art. By art, I mean the entire category of digital assets, including virtual worlds, interactive characters, music and sound effects, and more.
Innovations in AI-assisted content creation will include conversion tools that turn images, videos, or other real-world artifacts into digital assets, such as 3D models, textures, and animation. Examples include Kinetix, which creates animations from video, Luma Labs, which creates 3D models from images, and COLMAP, which creates 3D spaces from still photos.
The Creative Assistant, who takes direction from the artist, will also be innovating and constantly creating new resources. For example, suppose it is possible to generate a 3D model from a hand-drawn sketch. Both Inworld.ai and Charisma.ai use AI to create characters that players can interact with, and DALL-E can generate images from natural language input.
An important aspect of using AI-assisted content creation as part of game creation is reproducibility. Since creators must often go back and make changes, simply storing the output of an AI tool is not enough. Game creators must store the entire set of instructions that created that asset so that artists can go back and make changes later, or duplicate the asset and modify it for a new purpose.
The game studio is in One of the biggest challenges one has to face when making a modern game is managing all the content needed to create a compelling experience. Today, this remains an open problem with no standardized solution; each studio has to cobble together its own.
To explain the difficulty of this problem, consider the amount of data involved. A large game may require millions of files of different types, including textures, models, characters, animations, levels, visual effects, sound effects, recorded dialogue, and music.
Each of these files will be changed repeatedly during the production process, so it is necessary to keep a copy of these changes in case the creator needs to go back to an earlier version . Today, artists often meet this need by simply renaming files (eg, forest-ogre-2.2.1), which leads to a proliferation of files. Due to the nature of these files, this can take up a lot of storage space, as they are often large, difficult to compress, and each version must be stored separately. This differs from source code, which can store changes for each release itself. This is because for many content files, such as artwork, changing even a small part of the image can change the entire file.
Also, these files do not exist in isolation, they are part of an overall process, often called the content pipeline, which describes how all these individual content files Combined to create a playable game. During this process, the "source art" files created by the artist are converted through a series of intermediate files and assembled into "game resources", which are then used by the game engine.
Today's content creation pipelines are not very intelligent and are often unaware of the dependencies that exist between resources. For example, the pipeline usually doesn't know the specific texture of the 3D basket held by a farmer character within the level. Therefore, whenever any resource is changed, the entire pipeline must be rebuilt to ensure all changes are cleaned up and merged. This is a time-consuming process that can take hours or more, slowing down creative iterations.
The demands of the Metaverse will compound these problems and create some new ones. For example, the Metaverse will be bigger than the biggest games today, so all the content storage issues will exist now. Additionally, the "always on" nature of the Metaverse means that new content needs to be streamed directly into the game engine, it is not possible to "stop" the Metaverse to create new versions, the Metaverse needs to be able to update itself dynamically. To achieve composability goals, remote and distributed creators need to access source assets, create their own derivatives, and then share them with others.
Meeting these needs of the Metaverse will create two major opportunities for innovation. First, artists needed a Github-like, easy-to-use resource management system that would give them the same level of version control and collaboration tools as developers. Such a system would need to integrate with all popular authoring tools such as Photoshop, Blender, and Sound Forge, and Mudstack is an example of a company focusing on this space.
Second, there is a lot of work to be done to automate the content pipeline, which can modernize and standardize the art pipeline. This includes exporting source assets to intermediate formats and converting those intermediate formats into game assets. The smart pipeline will be aware of dependency graphs and be able to do incremental builds so that when assets change only those files with downstream dependencies are reworked, drastically reducing the time it takes to see new content in-game .
Although modern game studios have distributed , collaborative features, but many of the professional tools used in the game production process are still centralized, single-creator tools. For example, both Unity and Unreal Engine level editors support only one planner editing one level at a time by default, which slows down the creative process because teams cannot work in parallel on the same world.
On the other hand, both Minecraft and Roblox support collaborative editing, which is one of the reasons for the popularity of both platforms, although they Both lack other specialized features. Once you see a group of kids building a city together in Minecraft, it's impossible to imagine them building it any other way. I believe collaboration will be an important feature of the Metaverse, allowing creators to build and test their creations together online.
Overall, the collaboration on game development will be real-time in nearly all aspects of the game-making process. To unlock the Metaverse, some evolutions of the writing style include:
Real-time collaborative world building, so multiple level planners or "world builders" can simultaneously edit the same physical environment and see each other's changes in real-time with full version control and change tracking. Ideally, level designers should be able to switch seamlessly between play and edit for the fastest possible iterations. Some studios are experimenting with this with proprietary tools, such as Ubisoft's AnvilNext game engine, while Unreal Engine has experimented with real-time collaboration as a beta feature originally built to support TV and film production .
Real-time content review and approval so teams can experience and discuss their work together, group discussions have always been a key part of the creative process. For a long time, movies have had a "daily" session, where the production team can review their daily work together. Most game studios have a large room with a large screen for group discussions. But tools for remote R&D are much weaker. Screen sharing in tools like Zoom isn’t high-fidelity enough to accurately scrutinize the digital world. One solution for games could be “spectator mode,” where Entire teams can log in and watch through the perspective of a single player. Another goal was to improve the quality of screen sharing, trading less compression for higher fidelity, including faster frame rates, stereo sound, more accurate color matching, and the ability to pause and annotate. Such tools should also integrate with task tracking and assignments, a problem companies attempting to address include frame.io and sohonet.
Real-time world adjustments, so planners can adjust any of the thousands of parameters that define a modern game or virtual world and experience the results instantly. This tuning process is critical to creating a fun, balanced experience, but often these numbers are hidden in spreadsheets or configuration files that are difficult to edit and cannot be adjusted in real time. Some game studios have experimented with using Google Sheets for this purpose, allowing changes made to configuration values to be immediately pushed to the game servers to update how the game behaves, but the Metaverse needed something more powerful. A side benefit of this feature is that these same parameters can also be modified for live events or new content updates, making it easier for non-programmers to author new content. For example, a designer could create a special event dungeon and stock it with monsters that are harder to defeat than usual, but drop really nice rewards.
A virtual game studio that exists entirely in the cloud, where game creator team members (artists, programmers, designers, etc.) Log in on any device (including low-end PCs or tablets), and have access to high-end game development platforms and complete game resource libraries. Remote desktop tools like Parsec help here, but it's not just remote desktop capabilities, but creative tool licensing and resource management capabilities as well.
The Last of Metaverse One layer of reorganization involves creating the necessary tools and services to actually operate the Metaverse itself, which is arguably the hardest part. Building an immersive world is one thing, but running a world 24/7 with millions of players around the world is quite another.
Developers must deal with:
The social challenges of running any large autonomous region, which can be filled with residents who don't always get along and disputes that need to be adjudicated.
The economic challenges of effectively running a central bank, including its ability to create new money and monitor the sources and sinks of money to control inflation and deflation.
The monetization challenge of running a modern commerce website, with potentially thousands or even millions of items sold, and the need for promotions, offers and marketing tools worldwide.
Learn about the challenges of analyzing events happening in real time in the wide world so they can be alerted quickly to problems before they escalate out of control.
The challenge of communicating with their digital users individually or in groups, since the Metaverse is (in principle) global.
Create regularly updated content challenges to keep their Metaverse constantly growing and upgrading.
To meet all of these challenges, gaming companies need well-equipped teams with access to extensive back-end infrastructure and the necessary dashboards and tools to Ability to operate these services at scale. Two areas particularly suitable for innovation are online operations services and in-game commerce.
Online services is a field that is still in its infancy and commerce tools like PlayFab, Dive, Beamable and Lootlocker are only part of a complete online operation solution. As a result, most games still have to do their own online services stack. Ideal solutions include: real-time event calendar with the ability to plan events, predict events, create event templates, or clone previous events; personalization, including player segmentation, targeted promotions and offers; messaging, including push notifications, email, and games inbox, and translation tools to communicate with users in their local language; notification authoring tools, which allow non-programmers to author in-game pop-ups and notifications; and tests that simulate upcoming events or new content updates, including A mechanism for rolling back changes in case of problems.
More mature but still in need of innovation is in-game commerce, considering close to 80% of digital game revenue comes from free-to-play items or other in-game Trading, remarkably, is no better solution for the Metaverse than in-game economic management.
Existing solutions only solve part of the problem. Ideal solution needs to include item catalog, including arbitrary metadata for each item; app store interface for real money sales; offers and promotions, including limited time offers and targeted promotions; reporting and analytics, targeted reports and graphs ; UGC, where games can sell their own player-created content and give back a percentage of the revenue to those players; advanced economic systems, such as item crafting (combining two items to create a third), auction house (where players can sell each other items), transactions and gifting; and full integration with the web3 world and the blockchain.
In this article, I Having shared my thoughts on how new technologies have transformed the way new technologies have opened up composability and interoperability between games, I hope others in the gaming community share my excitement for the future potential and that they will be inspired to join me in building and launching this game. The new type of company needed to revolutionize the field experience.
This coming wave of change will not only provide opportunities for new software tools and Move from a single studio to specialization across new levels.
In fact, I think that in the future, we will see greater specialization in the game production process, and I also think that we will see:
A world builder focused on creating playable worlds, whether realistic or magical, full of creatures and characters that fit the world. Consider an extremely detailed version of the Wild West for Red Dead Redemption. Instead of investing so much in this world for one game, why not repurpose the world to host many games? Why not keep investing in the world and let it grow and develop, shaping itself over time to the needs of these games?
Storymakers, who create compelling interactive narratives in these worlds, filled with storylines, puzzles and quests for players to discover and enjoy.
Experience creators who build playable experiences across worlds with a focus on gameplay, reward mechanics, and operational schemes. Creators who can bridge the real and virtual worlds will be especially valuable in the coming years as more and more companies try to bring parts of their existing businesses into the Metaverse.
Platform Builders who provide the underlying technology that the experts above use in their work.
Gaming is already the largest sector of the entertainment industry and it will grow even further as more and more sectors of the economy move online and into the metaverse . And we haven't even mentioned some of the other exciting new developments on the horizon, like Apple's new AR headset or Meta's recently announced new VR prototype...
There has never been a better time to be a creator.