The Universal Backlot: The Tools Of The Metaverse | Jon Peddie

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Jon Peddie recently hosted a talk for our GamesBeat Summit 2023 event about the Universal backlot, a metaphor borrowed from the movies about the tools for making the metaverse.

Peddie, the founder of Jon Peddie Research, has specialized in computer graphics analysis and advice for decades and is the author of a three-book series on the history of the GPU, or graphics processing unit.

He started by defining the metaverse as “anything you want it to be.” Omid Rahmat helped create the deck but he wasn’t able to make the talk.

“And I’m not being facetious trying to define and label something some single entity as the metaverse is never going to work,” he said. “First of all, in a perfect metaverse, there’s only one metaphor, and everyone who has space in it will have the option to roam freely, exchange virtual goods, manage transactions, communicate and interact freely with everyone else. That’s the ideal.”

But that means that you have to have standards and interoperability, he said. And while there are standards and attempts at forging some unified, holistic approach, it’s unlikely we will really ever get to one metaverse, Peddie said.

“Just as there are many any standards like jpg, png, Tiff, etc., — the data interchange formats for image files,” he said. “There are likely to be many standardized versions of the metaverse as well. So collaboration is only going to be possible when there’s a clear sense of ownership. That means that for a guy with a TIFF file, who wants to share that with someone who wants to use it as a JPEG file, for your purposes that can degrade or create a red flag.”

It’s a red flag because, in a virtual world, once someone figures out how to get to your bits and bytes together, then they have the ability to change those bits and bytes and replicate them and do different things with them, Peddie said.

“That’s the vulnerability that we all have to face. So that leads to some consideration in any metaverse digital content creation strategy,” he said. “How do I lock down my ownership rights? We haven’t worked that out yet, other than to have a lawyer write a big document. So my guess is that most companies will stick to proprietary measures. And as a result, interoperability will have barriers to be navigated. Not insurmountable, but definitely negotiable. And standards mean that everyone agrees to interchange formats for the digital content. Not necessarily openness.”

Showing a complex bubble chart of the universe of metaverse digital content creation tools, Peddie said, “Here’s the real reason why the metaverse can exist as anything but an idea or a blanket name for a bunch of technologies. Digital Content is a very, very complex and segmented world. The model of the universe of tools could very easily be adapted to the arts and production departments of every Marvel movie as an example.”

If you sit through the credits of a Marvel film, it’s incredible how many people are involved in creating those things and then it just goes on and on and on forever, it seems, he said.

“What you can take away from that is that it’s very difficult to go big on content creation,” he said. “Just the enormity of managing of all the different disciplines and domain experts is overwhelming. Therefore your first strategy is to identify your niche and stick to the very close stick to it very close as you evolve.”

He noted that all of these functions are at the service of applications, which is essentially why he didn’t give a definition of the metaverse — there’s too much to talk about.

“For a fashion brand, the metaverse only has meaning as it can be applied to selling clothes, or shoes or apparel,” Peddie said. “For a manufacturing company say like Siemens, it’s about digital twins, which provide models of its [factory] operation, so they can be analyzed to create meaningful changes on factory floor or in the production to different apps.”

So the measure of the metaverse content creation in these two examples is going to be very different and require very unique skill sets for the creators.

Further, in gaming, requirements for content are even more because of the tight integration with the fast-moving interaction.

“That in turn determines the kind of 3D modeling tools they’re going to be using in each instance, even if at their core, they share the same similarities,” Peddie said.


How do you define the metaverse?

What strategies should companies pursue? The more the metaverse creates demands on content creators, the more serious it becomes, regardless of the seriousness of the application.

“For instance, I don’t believe that if you’re a graphic designer, you can get by just on Photoshop,” he said. “You are inherently connected to a host of different applications and they have to come together. They have to bolt together in some way to create metaverse assets. One area that I think is not adjusted enough is a cloud-based workflow.”

During the pandemic, remote workflows became a standard practice for many developers. And so cloud-based workflows where collaborations could work across vast distances and different time zones and everything became really beneficial.

“Zoom was a perfect example of that working. So adjusting to cloud-based workflow is a significant transition for creators who often work alone or rely on close proximity to or collaboration with other people. And that’s not how the metaverse is going to work,” Peddie said.

“I doesn’t believe that we have enough of a grasp of users of the metaverse either,” he said. “That may be why we read so much about what is the metaverse is, is the metaverse dead, am I going to get rich? Can I build a house there? Everybody’s got some comment about whether it’s Web3D with blockchain. Who knows?”

The best approach

User-generated content will be a big part of the metaverse.

The best approach is to always remain committed to the notion that a user is a user, no matter how they enter the world you create, he said.

Users are not going to use applications or venture into virtual worlds, just because it matters. They only go there if they think it’s useful and engaging,” he said.

“It’s that simple,” Peddie said. “Maybe expectations will be different, partially because of the hype surrounding the metaverse. But the fundamental demand is users will make a metaverse is no different from any other 3D application. And let’s not forget, it is not entirely natural or intuitive for anyone to engage in 3D. Maybe the real world is 3d. But that has no relationship to the virtual world.”

Peddie wonders why so many metaverse applications insist on having people move around rooms and act as if they’re in the real world.

“In the same space at the same time with those constraints, that just seems counterintuitive, for a way to navigate a virtual world,” he said. “The virtual world can remove all those tedious requirements. Like having to walk someplace to get there. Instantaneously, you can pop there. Beam me up.”

Then there is user-generated content.

“One aspect of digital content creation in the metaverse that shouldn’t be overlooked is the empowering of users to create their own content. Again, the virtual world is not the real world,” he said.

User engagement is driven as much by the ability of the user to create and add their own content, as it is by the users’ ability to interact with existing content.

For consumers, the virtual world has to take in something out of the real world and give them some fantasy with virtual digital content. For business, however, it’s just the opposite.

“The metaverse represents an opportunity to experiment on real-world problems and assess the outcomes and improve the real world. I would not discount the creativity of the business metaverse. But I would also say that it requires a great deal of collaboration with stakeholders, as the margins of error are very real in the real world have consequences that just don’t exist in consumer metaverse,” he said.

Take, for example, designing an airplane. You have to get that perfect if you want to use it in the real world.

As for the future, Peddie believes the future of digital content creation will involve the use of AI.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer. What does that mean?” he asked.

It doesn’t necessarily mean we will live with robots or have AI buddies who help us do our homework.

“Being creative doesn’t correlate with super intelligence,” he said. “We have built very powerful technologies that people never fully use even if they have full access to those functions. Take for example spreadsheets. The modern spreadsheet is an amazing application. But there aren’t many people who know how to use all this power and take advantage of all those capabilities. And that will be the same thing for AI.”

It has amazing potential and it’s going to be available to all of us as we integrate it into content creation process. It good and bad user experiences and usability as people learn to use it.

“The great potential for all creators is that powerful AI helper can make up for weaknesses and expertise and the knowledge that’s great,” he said. “It may empower and help broaden the skills of creators in ways that are purely manual.”

For example, if you wanted to know something, you go look it up, figure it out. AI may be able to help you get through that process. It helps you do your job, rather than take your job, he said.

If there is a big strategy shift coming, it’s about how to best to integrate AI tools into your workflow for the metaverse. There isn’t a book on how to do that now.

“For the future of content creation in the metaverse, it has the overarching theme that the strategy has to be the creation of effective workflows. And whatever workflow you choose will include AI tools,” he said.

He noted that the metaverse will be a massive asset class of digital content that has yet to be created. Whether it’s interoperable or standardized will depend on the self-interest of those creating the tools and platforms and how they want it to be widespread. Peddie said that he doesn’t see it happening quickly.

The future Adobe and Unity companies of the world will create the tools to deliver those goods and enable distributed workflows and applications that host content creation tools. Big companies will try to dominate this space. The best protection for your own intellectual property, Peddie said, is to create your own tools and your own Universal backlot. Those are your assets.

“To continue with the movie metaphor, build your own Universal backlot,” he said. “In the metaverse, your creativity is a valuable data point. It can be turned into digital content. Stock up on core data and create output and don’t worry about the end goal of the metaverse.”

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