Where does the 2D moving image fit into the new worlds opened up by the metaverse?
A couple of years ago, I wrote that all current technology trends converge on the metaverse. I still think that's right - more right than ever - but as people start to think about metaverse-y concepts, there are a lot of questions, doubts and areas of quite deeply embedded reluctance.
Some of the resistance to the metaverse is because people are worried about their jobs. That's understandable. What about video? If you take most people's present-day definitions of the metaverse, you'll settle on the idea that video has almost no role to play in it at all. That's because the metaverse is like a giant, interconnected and persistent game in which the assets are either 3D animated models or procedurally generated: which means they're built by an algorithm.
If that characterisation is correct, then, yes, the future's bleak for the video industry. But it's not right, for several reasons.
The first is that while the metaverse will be everywhere, it will not replace our physical world. Based on what people read and hear about the metaverse, you'd think that on some pre-determined date in the future, we will flick a big and important-looking switch, and step into a virtual world, never to be seen on solid ground again. That's a fundamental mistake. The physical world isn't going away, and if we want to, we will still be able to live in a log cabin beside a lake and catch our own food - although I only find the former part of that lifestyle attractive. You could say that the metaverse is a new domain, but entering it will be a choice and will not obliterate the framework of reality we've been in for our entire lives.
So let's look at the role that video will play within a functioning metaverse and how video will be indispensable in creating a metaverse.
New ‘verse, same content
Let's start with a fully-immersive example. One of the things you'll be able to do in the metaverse is buy property. A car, a house, and the furniture to put in it. It's not real: it's virtual, but in a convincing immersive virtual world, you and everyone else might consider these valuable. There are precedents for this in some existing games that certainly aren't metaverses but are digital, shared spaces. Almost certainly, you'll want a TV in your virtual house, and you'll need content to watch. So, where does that come from? The same place as all your other content. TV channels, Netflix, Amazon Prime and the like. Just because you spend time in a virtual world doesn't mean you won't be interested in the sort of content you've always been interested in. And, of course, that content needs to be made by pretty much the same people that make it now.
That's an important lesson about the metaverse: it's not all completely strange. In fact, you'll need constant references to reality to "anchor" you and to stop the impression that you're hallucinating. Of course, there will be wild and weird content, too, much of it in the form of virtual experiences and artistic "performances", but the mainstay is likely to be "conventional" content for a long time.
So it's reasonable to think of the metaverse not as an existential threat to conventional video, but as an additional outlet for it, alongside native metaverse content.
You might think the above example - a virtual TV in a virtual house - is a bit niche, but it's just one example of how being inside the metaverse will not stem the demand for conventional video. It's just that you'll be able to watch giant virtual video screens with all your friends and family, even if you're in London and they're in New Zealand.
In fact, these use cases are already quite old, although still perfectly valid. Once creators have a real metaverse to play with, their imaginations will run riot, and we'll have a vast repertoire of video applications. If anything, we need to prepare for this new demand level.
Next, there's a technology which is not only very closely related to the metaverse but which merges with it at the edges. It's Virtual Production. This is where you combine the capabilities of video game engines, giant precision LED screens and real life, to shoot live action in front of virtual scenery. Anything involving real actors and often actual scenery in front of computer-generated backgrounds will need workflows that are superficially similar to non-virtual productions. The output is a large number of precious video files, all of which must be associated with metadata and then sent through a post-production pipeline or workflow. Again, don't despair. Your "conventional" skills will be needed for some years".
Finally, there's a sense that video will be crucial for creating a viable metaverse and keeping it fresh and relevant. This technique is nothing short of amazing, and we'll talk about it next time.