Skip to navigationSkip to content

In the metaverse, every part of life will be a game

One day we'll "level up" in life like we do in video games.

Image copyright: Brandon Celi
This story was published on our The Forecast newsletter, A look at emerging industries and trends around the corner.
  • Adario Strange
By Adario Strange

Media & entertainment reporter based in New York

Published
Image copyright: Brandon Celi

In video games like Call of Duty, Fortnite, and Grand Theft Auto, players are incentivized to embark upon all sorts of missions and complete various tasks in the hopes of accumulating experience points (XP). In-game actions like walking through cities, driving cars to specific destinations, and solving puzzles are rewarded with XP, which doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the player will win the game, but can be exchanged for better weapons, different avatars, new powers, and other in-game prizes.

Here’s a prediction for what the hazy idea of the “metaverse” will look like in practice: These same gaming dynamics will envelop the real world of brick and mortar homes, highways, pedestrian sidewalks, and retail outlets currently operating in a largely disconnected and inefficient system. People will earn points by carrying out simple tasks—every errand will have the potential to become a mission, every store will have new levels to unlock. Even a visit to the park could come with challenges and the potential to earn points.

This future depends on a daisy chain of disparate technologies—spatial computing (virtual reality, or VR, and augmented reality, or AR), cloud computing supported by high-speed wireless access, and blockchain technology. But the first hints of the public’s willingness to engage in such a dynamic has been illustrated via Pokemon Go, a mobile AR game that results in real-world meetings as players “hunt” virtual characters hidden in cities around the globe. And, as cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum gain traction on Wall Street and among the public, it’s not far fetched to imagine legions of consumers wandering through cities in search of free crypto-based points offered by various brands, sports leagues, film and TV franchises, and municipal initiatives.

Call them Life Experience Points (LXP)—a universal currency in a world where everything is (or has the potential to be) a game.


A brief history of loyalty for sale

  • 18th century: To inspire return business, some merchants gave customers free copper tokens that could later be redeemed at the same store for additional items. Later, such tokens began to be replaced with trading stamps.
  • 1981: One of the earliest loyalty point programs started in 1981 when American Airlines introduced its frequent-flier program.
  • 2016: Pokemon Go launches, an experiment in augmented reality by Nintendo, Niantic, and the Pokemon Company.
  • 2018: Axie Infinity uses cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to let gamers create and collect non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in the form of monsters that battle against each other.

Science fiction’s cheatsheet

Image copyright: Keiichi Matsuda
A screenshot from the film Hyper-Reality by Keiichi Matsuda.

Keiichi Matsuda’s 2016 short film Hyper-Reality gave the world a glimpse of what such a metaverse future might look like. In his version, AR advertisements bombard the consumer with dozens of promotions and reminders every second of the day, all displayed through his smart glasses as he walks the city streets.

Like Matsuda’s film, the history of advertising in meatspace and online is a reminder that when commerce intersects with daily life, things can get messy quickly. So while the future of commerce may involve an endless hunt for LXP riches, the key to avoiding a dystopian landscape of virtual spam will be in knowing that this is all coming, and preparing a way to rein it in, now.


 🔮 Predictions

Sci-fi aside, how could this LXP scenario play out in the near future? Look to Google—specifically Google Maps. People are accustomed to using Google Maps to drive or walk to a particular destination using their smartphones. However, in 2019, Google launched Google Maps Live View, which adds AR navigation directions to a user’s screen.

A smartphone showing Google Maps Live View.
Image copyright: Google Maps

Currently, the tool only overlays virtual objects like arrows and map pins over a user’s real world surroundings to help guide them to their destination. The feature, which works in conjunction with Google’s deep well of Street View data, can also recognize street signs and buildings to help push the user along through AR visual prompts. So far, the feature is primarily meant to direct users to locations and businesses they’re searching for. But the next obvious step is for Google to include promotional add-ons to its Google Maps Live View.

Imagine looking for the best sushi restaurant in Chicago. Today, the user can type “sushi restaurant” into Google Maps and receive a list of suggestions, after which they can tap a selection and get directions to its location. But many users aren’t aware that the Google Maps Live View feature is available today in most cities that have decent Google Street View coverage. Tapping the Live View button in the app puts the user in AR mode, immediately providing 3D virtual directions that guide the user toward their destination onscreen. It’s not a stretch to imagine discounts appearing on screen as a user passes by other sushi places, or for their choice to be gamified. Perhaps the user earns points by visiting every restaurant on a publication’s top 10 list, for example—and an AR-powered app like Google Live View could guide them.


What’s crypto got to do with it?

The AR element of this picture is already fairly sophisticated and rapidly becoming more usable thanks to high-speed wireless rollouts and cloud computing. It’s less clear whether these life-as-a-game interactions will include cryptocurrency. Past loyalty programs have already shown that consumers are willing to engage in siloed value propositions based on a single brand experience.

But in order to transcend the boundaries of single institutions (like Starbucks or Roblox or Disney), you need a unifying token. The idea would be to earn points in one place and be able to spend them in another. That may come in the form of a current blockchain project, or perhaps through a government-sponsored digital currency.

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are already paving the path toward the acceptance of virtual tokens as proof of ownership, value, and exchange. The pain point will be aggregating the various blockchain projects into an agreed upon single layer of exchange.


Keep learning


SOUND OFF

The idea of gaining points as you go through everyday life sounds…

Amazing. I’m ready to level up.

Dystopian. No, thank you.

Profitable. I will get those coins.

In last week’s poll about the next 10 years of innovation, 27% of respondents said fintech was the industry most ready for disruption. We’ll be watching that space for sure.


Have a good week,

—Adario Strange, media and entertainment reporter (prepping for the multiverse of immersive madness)


One 🎮 thing

“[The philosopher John] Dewey thinks that [for] every art form there’s something in life that we do and the art form crystallizes and extracts it and unifies it… Painting crystallizes and purifies the experience of seeing. We tell stories to each other about our day and fiction crystallizes and purifies that… Games crystallize and purify the pleasure in acting… In games, for once in your life, you know exactly what you’re doing and you know exactly that you can do it. And then you have just the right amount of ability to do it. It’s a feeling of concentrated, crystallized action. For me, solving puzzles, or balancing over in a rock climb, or seeing a trap ahead in chess, this is ecstasy. And it’s an ecstasy I get once in a while in my non-game life. But game designers have sculpted these little action universes so that we can step into them and just have this ecstasy over and over again.” —C. Thi Nguyen on the Ezra Klein Show
Already have an account? Log In

This story is exclusive to
Quartz members.

Become a member today for less than $1/week:
  • Unlock all of our member-only emails.
  • Your membership makes Quartz accessible to all.
  • Support journalism on a mission to make business better.
Monthly membership$10 / month
Annual membership$99.99 / year