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October 11th, 2021 | by Sooyoung Choe

A Step Toward The OASIS (2/5): Content

What makes something “mainstream”? Do you remember when and how you first started using “mainstream” social media such as Facebook, YouTube, KakaoTalk, etc? Perhaps a random acquaintance invited you, or your school or company instructed you to use the platform. Or you might have accessed it via the link your friend shared with the message “This is awesome”. All these are the case of accessing the platform after it has already become mainstream.

There are people who like trying out a new service -not a platform yet, just a service- before others and introducing its value. Such so-called early adopters or influencers try this and that out of curiosity and then move on to other kinds of stuff. When they decide to stick to a specific service, that one is likely to evolve into a mainstream platform. But what makes early adopters “stick to” a service?

It doesn’t matter much that the entity that launched the new service is an existing major platform. Early adopters don’t stick to a service simply because they don’t want to bother to sign up with a new one. If that was the case, there wouldn’t have been a situation in which Naver lost the lead in the mobile messenger market to KakaoTalk and Google lost the lead in the social network service to Facebook. However, these things happened. Recently, Facebook announced a new policy that users must link their Facebook account to use its VR service “Oculus”. Will this policy help make their upcoming service ”Facebook Horizon” go mainstream? It seems plausible given the overwhelming number of members Facebook has but it seems uncertain looking back on the history of the emergence of new major platforms.

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Facebook Horizon

Experts seem to predict with two models how certain platforms become mainstream. One is the emergence of overwhelmingly great content or experiences, which makes people realize that “the metaverse platform makes such a new experience possible!” The assumption is that people who have had such an experience will continue to seek it out, and if a particular platform is able to provide it consistently, that platform will become mainstream. The other is to provide a way for the users to play. The platform provides tools for the users to easily create new experiences and allows them to share it with their acquaintances. The assumption is that contents won’t be amazing enough to overwhelm the people it’s shared with but good enough to make the platform mainstream by gathering people who mimic it while thinking “I kind of want to try it”. The first model is a theme park model like Netflix, Disneyland/Universal Studios. The second model is a shopping mall (Starfield) or a convention center (COEX) model such as YouTube.

Which model did the OASIS in the novel Ready Player One belong to?

The early OASIS

When the OASIS had first been launched, it contained only a few hundred planets for users to explore, all created by GSS programmers and artists.
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The novel describes that OASIS has started out as a service similar to regular MMO games. The users were able to level up their characters, discover rare items, perform quests, and explore hundreds of planets provided by GSS (the fictional company that developed OASIS). The problems with these services, which are familiar to us, arise when the narrative and level prepared by the developer reach the end. What can users do after reaching the maximum level of their characters? No matter how stunning the experience is, it will eventually come to an end. This is especially the case if the story is mainly created by a specific author or is a journey of a specific protagonist, unless AI constantly produces the narrative on behalf of writers or designs levels on behalf of artists and developers.

”Half-Life: Alyx” (Alyx) was one of the best XR content of 2020. It provided literally overwhelming experience and recorded sales that no other XR content reached. (According to the market research company SuperdataAlyx generated $86 million in sales that year, which exceeds the sum of all the VR games’ 2019 revenue.) However, the length of experience Alyx provided is roughly equivalent to a TV series (12~15 hours). Once the user has seen Alyx’s ending, they have no reason to reconnect to Alyx as most TV series viewers do. My Alyx access record also hasn’t been updated since July. ILMxLab’s upcoming Star Wars XR content Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge won’t be much different either. It certainly will provide an amazing experience, but even those who are overwhelmed by it won’t come back to it after a month. Even if the most successful console game developer Naughty Dog releases XR content, the situation won’t be that different.

In order for this kind of model to be sustainable in business, the contents that are as successful as Alyx must be supplied continuously according to the user’s experience cycle. This is only possible if the company continues to infuse huge amounts of money into the business, as Netflix did from the beginning of its original content business. It is very expensive and difficult to become mainstream in this way. (Of course, someone might be able to do it in the XR field, just like Netflix did in the video content business, but it seems very unlikely that such a company exists.)

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HALF-LIFE: ALYX

The OASIS that has become mainstream — open-source reality

But OASIS didn’t follow this path to become mainstream. The novel depicts the moment how OASIS became mainstream:

Gregarious Simulation System (GSS) elevated the MMO concept to an entirely new level. The OASIS didn’t limit its users to just one planet, or even a dozen…Users could also alter the content of the virtual worlds inside the OASIS, or create entirely new ones.
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OASIS provided a tool for users to create their own virtual worlds similar to the quality initially provided by developers. At that point, OASIS resembled sandbox games such as Minecraft and Roblox, rather than MMORPGs such as Lineage or Black Desert. Although sandbox games might not provide stunning experiences, they have a longer lifespan as a “platform,” where content is continuously provided. They also have the power to make the user “stick to” them. For this reason, the founders of OASIS referred to their service as an “open-source reality”.

Halliday and Morrow referred to the OASIS as an “open-source reality,” a malleable online universe that anyone could access via the Internet, using their existing home computer or videogame console.
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Three conditions must be met for open-source reality to be actively utilized by users. First, the tool must be easy to learn, and at the same time, the quality of the resulting product must be excellent. If the tool provided as open-source can only be used by programmers with professional training, the amount of content produced cannot increase significantly. However, if the resulting product of an easy-to-learn tool is of much lower quality than the initial product provided by the developer, users will eventually turn away from it. Lastly, such a tool must be provided at a low cost. Looking back, the era of YouTube has explosively grown alongside digital camera and video editing software, which are much cheaper than professional movie/broadcast equipment and satisfy both conditions of user convenience and high result quality.

The reason we start talking about the advent of the Metaverse era now is because such easy, cheap, and high-quality content authoring tools are emerging. First of all, commercial game engines such as Unreal Engine and Unity, used to create AAA games, are being provided free of charge to individual developers. If one can handle Unreal Engine or Unity, she can create the highest quality XR content possible with current technology while meeting two criteria: price and quality. However, considering the difficulty of the “smartphone camera-editing app”, it’s too optimistic to assume that the majority of non-professionals will use these game engines. We need an easier and more intuitive tool.

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There has been a movement to provide easier tools - possibly because of the influence of the novel - since the early stage of the XR fad. These include software like Google Tilt Brush, Poly and Blocks, Facebook Quill, Adobe Medium, MS Maquette, and TvoriAnimVR. These are applications based on a game engine, allowing users to create XR content as if drawing, sculpting, or playing with dolls in the XR environment without coding. The quality of 3D models, animations, and games produced with these tools, however, was far from that of experts. Nonetheless, over the past few years, the functions have continued to advance well enough to be used by experts. The prime example is Sony’s Dreams Universe (Dreams), an app for PlayStation. In July, Sony released a music video solely created with Dreams along with its making-of video. The quality of the result is unbelievable. Those who see it without knowing the context will have no other choice but to think that it was made with professional CGI software and game engines.

Dreams is also a tool with many limitations as of now. The content created with Dreams only allows 2~4 locally connected players to experience the content at the same time and it does not support multiplayer via the internet. Also, it’s only for PlayStation. If Sony optimizes Dreams compatibility for PC/mobile and upgrades it to enable online multiplayer in the near future, however, Dreams could have similar popularity as Minecraft and Roblox. Since Dreams has already started supporting XR devices, it may quickly threaten social XR platforms such as VR Chat and Altspace VR.

To keep pace with these changes, existing platforms have started to provide content creation tools allowing users to create their own content within the content. After Fortnite Creative Mode and Zepeto Studio were established, Rec Room and SomniumSpace also announced that they would soon provide creative functionality. Perhaps the competition for the leadership of the Metaverse platform will depend on which platform provides the easiest and highest quality content creation tool.

IP as an asset — Flicksyncs

Have you ever seen how children play with their toys? Most children do situational play, during which the theme is referenced from books, video content, and games that they have seen before. Adults aren’t that different. Even if they don’t obviously characterize themselves, as with cosplay, most people use their content creation tools of choice to reproduce an amazing Instagram composition they saw, or awesome scenes from music videos or TV series. The same goes for creating space. People prefer to recreate a celebrity’s mansion, a famous sculpture, or historic sites rather than designing a house that cannot be found anywhere else. Even in the open-source reality, existing IP is expected to occupy an important position due to this user characteristic.

When GSS got wind of the (film) WarGames simulation inside the First Gate, the company quickly patented the idea and began to buy up the rights to old movies and TV shows and convert them into immersive interactive games that they dubbed Flicksyncs. Flicksyncs became widely popular. There turned out to be a huge market for games that allowed people to play a leading role in one of their favorite old movies or TV series.
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The novel introduces Flicksyncs as an example of a very popular service in the OASIS. It is a service that allows users to become the main character in an existing movie and perform the same action as the lead.

I noticed my reflection in the game’s screen. It wasn’t my avatar’s face I saw there. It was Matthew Broderick’s face… Then I knew where I was. And who I was… I was in the movie…Halliday had copied every last detail from the film and re-created it as an interactive simulation...
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“Hi, David!” he said, his eyes on my game. I recognized this kid from the movie. His name was Howie. In the film, Matthew Broderick’s character hands his Galaga game off to Howie when he rushes off to school… I began to understand… I was actually required to do a lot more than simply recite dialogue. I also had to perform all the actions that Broderick’s character performed in the film, in the correct way and at the correct moment.
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This service doesn’t exist because it is not yet possible to provide the same level of graphics as live-action video in an interactive form. However, when it becomes technically possible, it will definitely be launched.

However, even if it is technically possible, these services will inevitably be impossible if the copyright is not resolved. The novel doesn’t take copyright issues seriously, and depicts the IP as open-source. A real-life OASIS would need to acquire all content IP rights in advance for this to happen, but this is practically impossible.

This is why industry experts are both excited and concerned about VR Chat, the most popular social VR app. VR Chat allows users to bring in famous animated characters to create avatars and decorate spaces without copyright permission. Although this is the point that attracts people to VR Chat, if it gets more popular and known that this place is profitable, the IP holders will inevitably demand royalties from VR Chat or file a copyright infringement lawsuit.

IP as an Asset — The Lion King (2019) & The Movies

What seems more realistically feasible than services such as Flicksyncs, which has a high risk of copyright infringement and high technical difficulty, is that content IP holders provide part of their IPs in the form of assets to the Metaverse platform and users use them to create their own content.

Re-creations of the Tyrell (A fictional company in the Blade Runner) Building were among the most common structures in the OASIS. Copies of it existed on hundreds of different planets, spread throughout all twenty-seven sectors. This was because the code for the building was included as a free built-in templated in the OASIS World-Builder construction software.
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Disney’s The Lion King remake gave us a glimpse of this possibility. Perhaps it was the realization of Flicksyncs from Disney’s point of view – recreate the photorealistic version of The Lion King (1994) environment and characters with advanced technology, and eventually recreate the film by making the characters to do the same action. Anyone who has seen the movie would agree that this attempt was a failure in emotional terms. However, the story may differ in terms of IP assets. The Lion King (2019) director Jon Favreau interviewed that the process of making the film was just like building a multylayer VR flmmaking game. His team built the virtual “Lion King” environment and characters using the game engine and went into virtual reality via HMD. In the virtual space, the director took on the role of the director and the cinematographer took on the role of cinematographer as if shooting in a real location.

What if this “filmmaking game” created by Jon’s team is provided to general users? The users will be able to create numerous stories that are different from the original movie with the characters and environments, and filmmaking tools. Or they might not bother to make a story out of these and simply take a photo with the animated characters and record the place they visited turning the place into a popular “virtual tourist attraction”.

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@ Medium (Rlab)

About 15 years ago, a film production game was released for PC - The Movies, by game developer Lionhead Studios, which no longer exists. Players could experience the filmmaking process inside a Hollywood studio and upload the movie they produced in the game to video platforms such as YouTube. Although the game didn’t gain much popularity and was largely forgotten because the quality of the movie produced was not good enough to be distributed, there is a possibility to revive 0its concept through the Metaverse platform.

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THE MOVIES (Game)

The quality of the assets in asset stores operated by commercial game engine companies is sufficient for AAA games and professional movie/drama production (and it’s already in use). If content IP holders provide their designs such as stage sets, costumes, props, characters, etc., as assets, the user can create new work that resembles the quality as well as design of their favorite content. As this user content begins to circulate and earn money with its popularity, more people will jump into the production. When this happens, the Metaverse platform that provides IP assets, content creation tools, and an environment to play with these will become mainstream.

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Quixel: a website selling photorealistic CGI assets

Ep02. What content is needed to create OASIS?

Written by Sooyoung Choe

Original article: ixi (Nov 9, 2020)

Translator: Sohee Kim

Copyeditor: Alex Broadwell

Cover: Mina Hyeon

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