I've spent the last couple of days playing a Minecraft clone called Biomes, a game made by Global Illumination, a tiny gaming studio.
OpenAI acquired them five days ago.
Biomes is a browser-based, sandbox MMORPG. No downloads, simple Discord login (and an invite code), and you're in. As I'm writing this, there's 6 active players on the server—the most I've seen was around 15.
I have a feeling this game is going to go viral—and that OpenAI is making a push to disrupt the $23 billion MMORPG market, the $65.5b metaverse market, and perhaps, even dabble with crypto and NFTs.
Biomes is laser-focused on social
The team that built Biomes previously worked on everything from Instagram and Facebook to YouTube and Google—these guys know their social.
One of the first quests you get in the game involves getting a shiny new camera—that you need to use to snap a selfie with Billy, the friendly construction guy.
Minutes later, you're frantically taking selfies with random people you meet around the center of the map—and following them. And, by following, I mean, literally, following their profiles, like you would on a social network.
You're also taking pics of random stuff—I took a nice picture of the Moon yesterday; got two likes!
Biomes has brilliant retention mechanics
Unlike Minecraft, Biomes comes with NPCs that give you quests—and tell you about the world.
The story being with the Muck—a blight that made the world into a grim wasteland, corrupting plants and creatures. Your mission, as a new member of The Collective, the in-game community, is to battle against the Muck.
The first couple of quests you're on, give you your first way to do this: a robot. Place it anywhere in the world, and the purple-gray wasteland around it becomes a lush forest.
Essentially, you're claiming a square plot of land only you can build and mine on, and one that is safe from all creature attacks.
Here's the catch tho: the robot has a battery. If the battery goes to zero, you lose your plot—and other players can freely pillage or claim everything on it.
The battery is refiled with in-game currency.
To get in-game currency—called Bling—you actually need to play the game, from doing quests and mining for resources, to crafting stuff and then selling everything you can to NPC traders, or other players.
The retention incentive is near-damn perfect.
What Metaverses & MMORPGs struggle with—and how OpenAI plans to solve it
Metaverses like Decentraland and the Sandbox are powered by their native cryptocurrency tokens that have hundreds of millions in market cap—and yet, those virtual worlds are empty wastelands with mere hundreds of active players.
Once you've been there once or twice, there's really no reason to come back to any of those worlds: there's simply no content.
And by content, I mean other people—one of the main reasons MMORPGs die is not due to a lack of paid players ("whales"), but of free ones, as they're the ones that ultimately provide the experience of a real, virtual, engaging world to the people actually willing to part with their money in return for in-game cosmetics, currencies, equipment, and other stuff. Free players are there to provide enemies in a PvP game, sidekicks during quests, participants in the in-game economy, and perhaps most importantly, people that you make social connections with.
And this is something Biomes already does incredibly well—not only it's super-easy to connect with real people, but you even get instant emotional connection to NPCs: EVERYBODY loves Billy.
I suspect it has a lot to do with the game's visual aesthetic—these NPCs are extremely basic, and there's no AI powering their actions and dialogue in the background... yet.
Here's my wild guess: OpenAI will turn Biomes into a colossal training and testing ground for AI NPCs. We've already seen early version of these in games like Skyrim, with API's cobbled together to create amazing dialogue... but I think that OpenAI is going to push this further.
Not a sidekick you hire. Not a random likeable dude or a gal that joins your quest—but a true, autonomous NPC, indistinguishable from a human.
Not just a couple of NPCs like that, but millions of them.
And that is something AAA companies like Activision Blizzard, Riot Games, and heck, even Amazon, would probably pay a decent chunk of change for.
That's also what could make Biomes into the next Minecraft—and the first web3 game designed at the intersection of decentralized, player-driven economies, and autonomous AI.
The Metaverse, NFTs, and Crypto?
Now, look. I know it could be wishful thinking, and I'll be the first to admit I'm most likely wrong. Being so long in web3 made me incredibly biased, so take my wild guess not with a grain of salt, but a block of it—pun intended.
Biomes runs in the browser. It's open-source. It has an in-game currency. It has digital real estate. In my humble opinion, it's design is light-years ahead of metaverses like Sandbox or Decentraland.
The web3 culture and ethos is already there, in many, many, many ways.
I'm not exactly sure what OpenAIs plans are, but to my blockchain-ridden brain, rolling with an ERC20 token, and integrating a decent L2 (I hear Base is popular these days) for NFTs would be almost a natural way to go about it. The game is built on technologies like Next.js, Typescript, WebAssembly, and React, and is perfect for blockchain integration—I could easily imagine a tool like thirdweb being used to do this in a jiffy.
Again, I'm shooting for the Moon here, and I'm most likely wrong, but really had to write this down, in the off chance that I'm not—so one day, I can be like "See!? Told ya!"
I'm not sure if the plan is to sunset the game, use it to experiment and simply train AI, or actually forge it into a brilliant metaverse platform.
Because that's what I think it is.
Biomes is not a game.
It's a metaverse.