Square Up

Game studio’s deal with Qualcomm could spark new interest in extended reality

The metaverse remains a nebulous concept, with plenty of debate about what it means, what it will be, and when we’ll get there. However, one reoccurring observation is that “sandbox” online games such as Fortnite and Roblox are emblematic of the metaverse concept, allowing people to create and build their own virtual experiences and to redeem virtual currencies for in-game items.

This apparent symbiosis between the metaverse and games is something that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella agreed with during a recent interview with the Financial Times. He observed, “Take what’s happening with the metaverse. What is the metaverse? Metaverse is essentially about creating games… It is about being able to put people, places, things a physics engine and then having all the people, places, things in the physics engine relate to each other.” He noted that games are the way in which most people are most familiar with this concept at present.

Whether or not this is definitively true remains to be seen, but I certainly expect games to have a major role to play in the future of online connected experiences (which may or may not in time lead us to the metaverse). And in many ways, gaming appears to be inextricably linked to the emerging technologies that will underpin the transition to a more spatial version of the Internet, such as virtual reality (VR).

For example, much of the early interest in VR has come from gamers, people who are willing to spend on new forms of technology for the best possible digital experience. Our end-user research has consistently found that gaming has been a major source of early interest in VR and the most used form of content by a distance.

However, there’s been relatively little movement by major game studios in response to this interest in VR so far. Lots of the most successful titles in VR have come from smaller developers that have subsequently been acquired by bigger companies — Beat Saber, from Beat Games, which has since been bought by Meta, is the most obvious example of this.

There have been some exceptions to this rule. Valve’s title, Half-Life: Alyx, is a headline star here, having launched for PC VR gamers early in 2020 to widespread critical acclaim. But most other efforts from major studios have been reworkings or rereleases of previous successes, such as Capcom’s Resident Evil 4, which originally launched in 2005 and made its way to the Oculus Quest 2 at the end of 2021.

For some time, the question has been: when will more game developers engage with the world of extended reality (XR)? The Game Developers Conference (GDC), which is currently taking place in San Francisco, may have some answers.

One new partnership that caught my eye is a deal between Qualcomm, whose Snapdragon Spaces platform is designed to accelerate the development of the XR ecosystem, and games developer Square Enix, which is best known for franchises including Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. The two will work together on bringing new gaming experiences to emerging devices like augmented reality glasses.

While little further detail is known at present, the potential for a developer with the rich heritage of Square Enix to bring games to new frontiers is hugely exciting for XR enthusiasts and gamers. High-quality gaming content can be instrumental in selling devices and attracting new users to the fold, and I’m intrigued to see if this partnership could be a catalyst for a new wave of interest in virtual and augmented reality.

What’s more, Qualcomm also announced a $100 million Snapdragon Metaverse Fund, which is designed to help developers and companies in building new XR experiences; it will support gaming as well as apps and services in health and wellness, media, entertainment, education and business. Applications will open in June and should help to spur a new group of developers and communities to consider the potential of XR.

Whether you’re a metaverse enthusiast or sceptic, it’s a big statement of intent from Qualcomm, and added to the Square Enix deal, it’s some of the news from GDC I’m most excited about. I have no doubt we’ll see XR hardware improve significantly over the next year or two and having great content to pair these devices with will be hugely important.

The final form of the metaverse remains hugely uncertain, but I believe games may have big role to play in building it. With top-tier developers getting on board, the metaverse project could be about to level up.