Prior to Mark Zuckerberg’s public use of the term “metaverse,” Timoni West was already thinking and talking about spatial computing and mixed reality. The graphics engine developed by West’s company, Unity Software, is widely used in the video game industry (while the company also serves the film, animation, and architecture industries). Among West’s responsibilities as Unity’s VP of AR and VR is ensuring that developers have access to the tools and integrations they need to build the mixed-reality experiences they envision.. Real-time 3D tools from Unity are likely to play an important role in game development in the metaverse.
The current push in industry is toward spatial computing, and I asked West to help me better understand how Unity is responding to that push.
An edited version of this interview is available
According to Fast Company, AR glasses that are fashionable enough to wear into the metaverse may not be available for some time. The starting gun has fired, and it appears that investors are pouring money into the venture. Is the current fervour and excitement worth anything?
Timoni West (speech impediment): One of my favourite pastimes is going back in time and reading about how technology was viewed in the past. And they’re always right. Regardless of how optimistic they were, they were almost always correct. “Will the Information Superhighway be the death of retailing?” is one of my favourite examples of this. There will be times in the future when you can use a networked computer and a virtual assistant to make purchases. Indeed, this is how it went down: However, the way they envisioned it was like a bizarre pastiche of already-existing patterns atop brand-new technological advancement. And, of course, online shopping has undergone a radical transformation. There are no virtual aisles to navigate. You can simply type in a search term and see what comes up.
As a result, I believe that we are currently trying to imagine what we can do with this genuinely exciting technology. “Web3” and “immersive” seem to be getting a lot of attention lately. The problem is that we’re applying it in a way in which we’re assuming that we’ll take this approach and it will be like this or that, but it won’t be. It’s going to be something totally new. It’s extremely difficult to forecast. In my opinion, this is where we are right now.
When it comes to meeting in virtual spaces, this is a good example of it. What we do now will be completely different in 20 years, as illustrated perfectly by this example.
When we’re on Zoom calls, we’re both confined to a box. We don’t give a fuck, it’s just part of our daily routine. Even though they’re making video calls from a bar, in Blade Runner, the characters still stop by a payphone to make the call. They were exactly right that we were going to do this, but they were exactly wrong about how we were going to do it.
I believe that the metaverse will be like the internet, with protocols that allow users to move between virtual worlds in the same way that they move between websites. My concern is that the people who will be funding this development are not aligned with this vision.
THE INTERNET TOOK US THROUGH EXACTLY WHAT WE’RE GOING TO DO NOW
I believe we’ll go through the same thing as the internet. Do you recall receiving AOL discs in the mail back in the early ’90s? And when you do, you’re in a private garden. Here’s a chat for you. Here is your e-mail address, please check it. You can’t get to the internet any other way than through this, can you? That’s something I think we’ll do again. That’s what I think is going to happen: As all of the companies put all of their resources into getting their particular stronghold and making sure they can generate revenue, it will get too big for any one company and it will explode out.
In my opinion, today’s society expects everything to be accessible. It doesn’t matter how convenient it is; they’re going to be irritated, and they won’t want the world to work that way.
Just one company’s version of the metaverse isn’t enough for me to pay $600 for some mixed reality wearable that gets me into this world. In fact, you don’t want that, and that’s fine. Innovation, design, and user experience are all flourishing at the moment, as are new types of apps.
Having this economic shift in the way people consume content, rather than apps, is interesting. As a result, subscription-based services were implemented. Adobe Creative Cloud, for example, is a subscription, but Netflix, Hulu and Disney Plus are also subscription services. Similarly, Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision and Sony’s acquisition of Bungie in the video game industry are examples of this trend. Both companies are working hard to develop their streaming services in order to amass a substantial collection of media content. In other words, it’s the same approach we’ve seen in movies and TV shows.
However, this holds true for a large number of VR experiences as well. People who create VR games, apps, and other experiences will be affected by this. For example, how does an open metaverse work when half of the non-gaming activities, such as fun places to visit or any other social VR-specific locations are unavailable? That kind of app doesn’t seem to fit in today’s world of streaming content. Is it possible that they’ll always be separate services, and you’ll have to pay a monthly fee to access them like you do with Zoom? No, I have no answer, but I think it’s a good question.
Is it possible to bundle a wide range of services into subscription services? How many XR services can be used in conjunction with a streaming strategy?
That’s exactly right. In a world where we want an open metaverse, how does that work?
A long list of subscriptions that cost a lot of money doesn’t sound like it’s going to work out very well.
When and where will our virtual encounter take place? If you don’t pay for this one, you won’t get that one either. It’s neat to see a big middle area where new players can enter and do some really interesting work that ties the various players in the space together.
We’ve been discussing it a lot amongst ourselves. I can’t tell you what Unity’s official position is, and I don’t want us to speak about it before we’ve had a chance to do so. There could be a few different points where these two paths cross.
First and foremost, we can’t ignore the potential economic impact on our developer community because this directly affects them. We also can’t ignore the fact that many of our users want to use it or Unity as a tool for that. Of course, there’s also the question of whether or not this new ecosystem can help us become players in it. Despite the lack of clarity, we would be fools not to discuss and think about this issue.
Computers in mixed reality, where your UX can be scattered throughout the world before you, will be very different from what we do now, with small screens.
One thing that excites me right now is the amount of money being invested in technology that can track your movements and makes you feel as if you’re in a completely new world, one dominated by digital object-centric systems. It’s unnecessary, in my opinion, because it moves computers away from flat surfaces and toward media where users can quickly become at ease. It’s like a teenager’s growth period, moving from computers that can only be used by a few people or that require a lot of instruction to learn how to use, to computers that are more humane and accessible to a wider range of people. To put it another way, we’re still in the awkward “everything costs a lot of money and works poorly” [stage]. But if we wait another 20 years and invest a reasonable amount of money, I think we’ll be in the next era of computing.