November 2, 2021
This week in Protocol Gaming, your weekly guide to the business of video games: Meta plants its metaverse flag, Roblox suffers a massive and debilitating outage and Tencent's TiMi announces a bold new direction for its biggest moneymaker.
The flag-planting keynote delivered by Meta, née Facebook, last week was a major turning point for the metaverse movement, and one we'll remember for years to come. The social networking giant shed its trappings as a stodgy tech firm and instead embraced a new identity marked by a fusion of next-gen computing, optical hardware, futuristic gaming and all the social and commerce components threaded in between.
It's starting with a rebrand, from Facebook to Meta. But CEO Mark Zuckerberg made clear, underneath the euphemisms, that his ambitions are to own as much as possible of what he sees as the newest frontier poised to replace the smartphone as our primary mode of communication, play, work and online expression.
Meta has a bold vision, but it doesn't exist yet. Many of the biggest advancements in technology have happened by accident, through a confluence of luck, good timing and unforeseen consequences. Meta itself is a benefactor of this historic happenstance, having ridden an early wave as a college dating site. But now the company wants to architect a future where it stays dominant, and in very public fashion, too.
Oculus is evidence that money alone can't usher in new paradigms. The earliest sign that Zuckerberg and his leadership team were plotting for a post-mobile future was the Oculus acquisition in 2014. But in the years since, VR has failed to take off with mainstream consumers, despite Meta's massive financial investments in the space.
Game makers like Epic and Roblox already have the most important metaverse ingredient. Meta is banking on using its resources, technical talent and years of work on augmented and virtual reality to create the fundamental building blocks of the metaverse ahead of the competition. But what Meta lacks is precisely what the metaverse needs and what gaming companies offer in spades: a reason for people to spend their time there.
In many ways, the Meta name change was a savvy optics play at a moment of intense regulatory and public scrutiny. But we should, and have to, take Zuckerberg seriously when he says the company will invest billions of dollars to steer his corporate ship toward this new future. His keynote address was awash in utopian ideals, but many of the underlying motives are designed to enrich the company regardless of whether we come remotely close to the world Zuckerberg illustrated.
Ultimately it is up to us to decide whether to accept or reject his proposal, or simply pick another game to play. After last Thursday, it's all but certain there will be many metaverses to choose from long before any one platform wins out.
Think about the massive amounts of data going through all of our smart devices today. And not just between the devices but also up to the cloud and across the networks — all that bandwidth is increasingly brought to us through 5G. This powerful combination of new capability and speed leads to massive innovation.
TiMi has started making a name for itself. The company, a subsidiary of Tencent known best for developing mobile hits for both the Chinese and Western markets, announced this week it's expanding its trademark property Honor of Kings into a multi-platform, open-world action RPG. The game, one of the most lucrative on the planet with more than 100 million players and $10 billion in lifetime revenue, could soon find all-new audiences outside the mobile-centric Asia market.
It's part of a broader effort from TiMi, which now has a heavy studio presence in the U.S., to break out of the mobile industry and expand aggressively into the console and PC markets. Given Tencent's track record so far and the success of TiMi's Pokémon Unite, which is both a console and mobile hit, the reimagined Honor of Kings won't be the last big-budget game announcement from the studio.
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