Gabe Newell, the Killer App, and the Metaverse

Did you catch Geoff Keighley’s interview with Gabe Newell and Erik Johnson from Valve? The fact that they covered a very large number of virtual reality topics wasn’t so surprising. The interview was recorded at this year’s E3, the event where Valve revealed their partnership with HTC to manufacture the Vive (a head-mounted display as part of a new virtual reality platform).

There were a number of notable responses from Gabe concerning Valve and virtual reality. One Reddit user, gotta_ban_them_all, slaved five hours on a full transcript of the podcast.

Gabe Newell, image courtesy of Kotaku

Gabe Newell, image courtesy of Kotaku

At one point, Gabe talks about how there isn’t a yet a killer app for VR. But they believe that they’ve set the stage with hardware that is “good enough” where someone else will be able to put something out there, and people will recognize that as what people should be doing with VR.

This is similar to what John Carmack said in the Future of VR panel at Oculus Connect 2014. “It would be sad if Oculus made the killer app.” He and Palmer go onto say that not only would they be disappointed, but really, they think that scenario is unlikely.

Gabe continues…

So we’re right now, as a bunch of people in the industry are looking at VR saying, where are the sort of through lines that we can really capitalize? We may look back and say, “Ha, ha. You remember that first demo we did and people were just like oh my God, that was the anti-game.” We had completely managed to miss all of the interesting opportunities and find the one terrible, utterly uninteresting thing to do in VR.

After that, he related a story that resonated with me. Why? Because I use the exact same story on my corporate bio when I talk about VR as a major inflection point. However, I use it to illustrate that even though we know it is going to be something big, we’re not quite sure where it is going to go (beyond games). Picture the world of the early 80’s when you read this quote from Gabe Newell…

It’s like early on with with PCs, everybody always would say “and then you’ll keep your kitchen recipes on your PC.” Right? People sorta got a bit of tunnel vision on that and it was the stupidest idea ever, right? I have never in my life said I’ll keep my recipes on my PC.

As we look forward, the model of the Metaverse as a giant MMORPG is a go-to answer when someone asks for the ultimate use-case in VR. But once such a world is placed in front of us, are we really going to find it that appealing? Is this what we really want VR to be? Is there something more?

Some may look at yet another quote from Gabe during the interview and say that points to a Metaverse effort.

That’s really why we’re doing what we’re doing with Source 2. It is to make it possible for thousands of people or millions of people to all be generating this shared entertaining universe.

However, in this context, he was talking about an extension of what is happening today with people providing value in existing game universes, such as mods, maps, models, and other forms of community content.

Gabe Newell and Valve are in a great position to take advantage of virtual reality. But it doesn’t seem that Gabe is going down the road of creating a Metaverse.

At least, not until someone else demonstrates how.

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