July 27, 2021
This week in Protocol Gaming, your weekly guide to the business of video games: Mark Zuckerberg stakes out his claim to the metaverse, fallout from the Activision Blizzard lawsuit intensifies, and Mortal Kombat hits a major milestone.
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Mark Zuckerberg has long publicly flirted with the metaverse, but now he's all in. "Our overarching goal across all of these initiatives is to help bring the metaverse to life," the Facebook CEO told employees in an address last month.
Then, in a wide-ranging interview last week with Platformer's Casey Newton, Zuckerberg expanded on the topic, saying over the next five years he hopes people stop thinking of Facebook as a social media company and start seeing it "as a metaverse company." On Monday, the company formed the Metaverse Product Group, with a number of executives taking on roles in the new organization.
Facebook's investment is the latest acknowledgment that there is something bigger, better and more lucrative than the internet we know today, even if we can't all even agree on what it looks like. Now, there's an ongoing race between tech and gaming companies to claim spots on the ground floor. (As for what the metaverse actually is, a good starting point is venture capitalist Matthew Ball's fantastic series of essays on the topic.)
The game industry arrived to the metaverse early. Fortnite creator Epic Games and Roblox have both proclaimed desires to turn fast-growing digital worlds into the early building blocks of a next-generation internet. They're just the latest in a long line of game companies to draw inspiration from Neal Stephenson's seminal futurist concept.
It's clear why Facebook wants its piece of the metaverse. A huge component of whatever shape the internet takes next involves social interaction. Just like gaming companies, social media firms are great at incentivizing humans into predictable behaviors, and monetizing that attention is how modern gaming and tech empires have been built. That's where VR and AR come in.
Zuckerberg is aware Facebook can't "own" the metaverse. The exec was quick to acknowledge in his interview that full interoperability is a commonly understood pillar of the metaverse. Anything less and you risk sliding into dystopian territory.
We don't know Zuckerberg's true intentions, and he has a history of sugar-coating capitalist subjugation with euphemisms like "connecting the world." Perhaps Facebook sees the metaverse as a matter of survival, or simply an idea worth investing in because the payoff could be enormous. But what we know is that the game industry, and Sweeney in particular, is intent on fighting tooth and nail to ensure the Big Tech's dominance doesn't squeeze it out of whatever comes next.
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Before Detective Pikachu, video game shows and movies had a reputation of being … well, terrible. Now, they're all the rage. A combination of successful TV series and solid box office results for Tomb Raider and Sonic the Hedgehog have created an appetite for both animated and live-action adaptations.
A new Pokémon series is now in the works at Netflix, according to The Hollywood Reporter, and a slew of sequels to big-screen hits are in the works. Arguably the biggest projects are coming from Sony: Tom Holland as Nathan Drake in the Uncharted film adaptation, and Pedro Pascal as Joel in an HBO series adaptation of The Last of Us. Both are slated for 2022.
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