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Minecraft: The first metaverse to be exploited by the corporate world?

This may not fit the Zuckerberg model but there are other reasons that place Minecraft within the metaverse paradigm.

In Minecraft, players explore a blocky, procedurally generated, three-dimensional world with virtually infinite terrain. Image by The Community - Pop Culture Geek from Los Angeles, CA, USA - E3 2011 - box-headed Minecraft men. (CC BY 2.0)
In Minecraft, players explore a blocky, procedurally generated, three-dimensional world with virtually infinite terrain. Image by The Community - Pop Culture Geek from Los Angeles, CA, USA - E3 2011 - box-headed Minecraft men. (CC BY 2.0)

Futurists have been promising the development of a metaverse for decades now. The metaverse, according to those in favor of the technology, is a revolutionary digital space that both mirrors and expands upon the possibilities of the physical world. In the metaverse, users can shop their favorite stores, attend live events and socialize with friends, but they can also play virtual games or fly. For detractors, the metaverse simply provides another space to sell commodities.

There are many examples of fantastical metaverses in fiction. Perhaps the most famous metaverse is the Matrix, in the Wachowskis’ film franchise of the same name, in which all humans are unknowingly interacting with a fake virtual world at all times. A more benevolent example of the metaverse is described in the novel Ready Player One, where users are strongly incentivized to engage with the OASIS because it offers more excitement and opportunity than their regular lives. TRON, Total Recall, Source Code, Neuromancer and Snow Crash each offer more glimpses at what the metaverse might be.

The type of technology to allow humans to plug themselves into a virtual space is some way away. While computer graphics have advanced, the human brain continues to be adept at deciphering the difference between reality and virtual reality. Virtual reality tools consist entirely of goggles with screens, which are incompatible with the physiological systems for balance. Frequently, virtual reality users succumb to vertigo while utilizing virtual reality, as their brain is unable to square the conflicting messages between their eyes and their inner ear. 

The promise of the metaverse is alluring to corporations. Afraid of missing a cutting-edge marketing opportunity, like so many businesses did before the dot-com boom or the at the advent of social media, large companies are seeking either to create their own metaverse or develop locations in existing metaverses, like Decentraland. The adoption such metaverses remains low, with the most estimates suggesting roughly 8000 active daily users in Decentraland. There are signs that some business leaders are becoming frustrated with the rate of return with metaverse marketing. To enter the metaverse is a natural progression of the capitalist dynamic.

One more promising solution for businesses is Minecraft. The platform stands among the top-five most popular video games of all time and Minecraft maintains hundreds of millions of daily active players, who participate in building worlds, trading resources, socializing, and partaking in fantastical adventures.

Minecraft is a proto-metaverse and many businesses are seeking the benefits of metaverse marketing.

Is Minecraft a metaverse?

Minecraft remains a two-dimensional game, which contrasts with every previous depiction of the metaverse in which users interact with a three-dimensional virtual world. This may not fit the Mark Zuckerberg Meta model but there are other reasons that place Minecraft within the metaverse paradigm. These reasons include:

Minecraft Is Decentralized

Though Microsoft owns Minecraft and Mojang makes it, anyone can use Minecraft server hosting to create their own Minecraft virtual world. Therefore, anyone can make a new metaverse where they control the rules. This is excellent for corporations, who can create honeypots that attract users with unique in-game prospects, and individuals, who can experiment with non-commercial virtual opportunities.

Minecraft is low tech

The metaverse dream pitched in fiction is a virtual space that is indistinguishable from reality, but various aspects of the technological vision make this unlikely, at least for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, Minecraft’s graphics are low-fidelity, capable of running on almost any computing hardware — which is a significant factor in its popularity around the world. Minecraft metaverses are backwards compatible, meaning that older worlds are not erased with every update. 

Minecraft and creativity 

Flexing creative muscles is essentially the primary objective in Minecraft, where users are incentivized to experiment and build anything they can imagine. This is in direct contrast to other metaverses, where allowing users to build is a secondary concern to commerce. Because users have total control over their Minecraft worlds, users experience higher levels of engagement and immersion. In the future, Microsoft or Mojang might increase opportunities for microtransactions to drive marketing options for corporate users.

Minecraft is open

Since Minecraft is a simple game, it is easy for users to hack. This provides users with the relative freedom to build the worlds of their imaginations, and this allows companies to develop new assets within the metaverses, such as special skins, custom devices and so on.

Whether it is a good thing or not that corporations are entering the metaverse is a point of debate, what is certain is that businesses are seeking to exploit the virtual worlds of Minecraft as a springboard towards the new forms of metaverses that will unfold.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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