Jon Radoff has been developing software since the 1990s, with much of this time focused on gaming. As the CEO of Beamable, he led teams that made video games based on Game of Thrones, Star Trek, Walking Dead and other franchises. During this time, he also wrote the book Game On: Energize Your Business with Social Media Games. Now as the CEO of Beamable, he is investing his time exploring and explaining the Metaverse as it comes into existence. Wanting to learn more about his career and how the Metaverse will shape the future, I was able to interview Radoff for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: I last talked to you years ago about Game of Thrones Ascent. It has been so long that the article I wrote no longer exists online. So, how have you been?
Jon Radoff: Amazing! Game of Thrones was an awesome universe to work with. I made so many friends and learned so much about storytelling and game-making. One of the best experiences of my life… and it opened up the opportunity to work with Star Trek, which was transformative for me. Ultimately though—as much as I love making games—my background includes online games, to enterprise technology to ad networks, so I had a unique combination of experience that equips me to help millions of game-makers adapt to the new world of live, evolving games we have now. So, I made the decision to create Beamable along with Trapper, who I ran GamerDNA with in the past—as well as Ali El Rhermoul, who led our platform team back at Disruptor Beam.
Yanes: In 2013, social-network gaming was relatively new. What do you know think of this genre of gaming?
Radoff: Back in 2013, so-called “social games” were usually not very social. They just happened to run on social networks like Facebook. I wanted to bring immersive storytelling and real relationships to the experience of these games. We succeeded at that because our games became a place where countless players met and became lifelong friends, and some even got married.
Today, real socialization has become essential to almost every. Even single-player games have social features, even if it is via the communities they build around the game. It is no longer about social networks—it is now about communities, cooperation, competition, modding, camaraderie, etc.
Yanes: Given the public’s general negative opinion of social media, do you see social-network gaming as being dragged down by its connection to social media in general?
Radoff: I think the market has largely moved on from social media as a framework for games. Today, it is more the games themselves that have absorbed the rich social functionality—and community platforms like Discord that have taken over as the place for game communities, guilds, development teams, etc.
Yanes: What do you think have been the biggest gaming disappoints in the last decade? From toxic workplaces to buggy games to VR tech not yet living up to its promises, is there a gaming industry failure that shocked you?
Radoff: Game making is a tough industry to succeed in, so nothing shocks me. If you’re working in the industry and haven’t been shocked yet, just wait. I think we need to remind ourselves of Amara’s Law – “we overestimate the impact of technology in the short-term and underestimate the effect in the long run.” Things like VR and AR are totally transformative but have just taken longer than people hoped. And I think just about everyone underestimated how toxic an anonymous community of players can frequently become, and the industry continues to grapple with how to build positive communities that are open and inclusive to every person who wants to play. I’m optimistic that the arc of history will bend towards lower online toxicity, but I’m not holding my breath.
Yanes: Your latest professional focus is the Metaverse. How do you explain this to people who are not tech-literate?
Radoff: The metaverse is the next generation of the internet. It’s easier to think of it as a set of trends rather than a feature checklist. The internet is getting more real-time; it is growing more playful and immersive; it putting more power back in the hands of creators and teams. From a technology standpoint, what I see happening is that games will lead the way into the metaverse—and it will be the game technology stacks (3D, real-time, persistent, cloud-based) that are used for a wide range of these applications in the future.
Yanes: Of all the tech trends currently picking up steam, what is it about the Metaverse that captures your imagination?
Radoff: It’s the evolution of the internet that I always imagined when I first got involved in multiplayer online gaming. Getting here required a ton of technology to be created—and will still need more. But it also needed a couple generations of people who grew up with the internet and have become comfortable with virtual worlds, virtual assets and digital identity.
Yanes: What are some clear ways you think gaming is the foundational to the Metaverse?
Radoff: If you breakdown the modern game technology stack, it consists of design tools for creating media, graphics and 3D models at the top-most layer; right beneath that, a 3D engine for real-time rendering and scripting; and finally, a cloud-based infrastructure layer that supports persistent identity, world state and economy. All the future metaverse applications ranging from social experiences to live music to various forms of telepresence will all be built on this technology stack—which means if you’re involved in game development today, you’re also skilling up in the technologies that the entire metaverse will be built around.
Beyond that, the metaverse will benefit from all the design expertise that game developers have learned over the last several decades. Not simply the basic stuff like scores and leaderboards—but creating aspiration, emotional engagement, nonlinear storytelling, and worldbuilding.
Yanes: From a technical perspective, how do you think the Metaverse will change game development? Is this going to create a greater workload for coders, or is just a different type of development?
Radoff: If you look at something like Roblox—which calls itself a metaverse—look at simple they’ve made it to create a live, online game experiences—and then earn a living from your creation.
Right now, it still extremely hard to make something outside of a fully-integrated platform like Roblox. You’d need to do a ton of coding and worry about scalability, deployment, etc. But the technologies are coming that will dramatically decrease the workload for coders because most of the underlying infrastructure will become commoditized and modularized. Cloud-based infrastructure will “just work” – the coders will be working on the more unusual pieces that give an experience its truly unique attributes, and there will be an explosion of work available for artists, storytellers and designers.
Yanes: The Metaverse – at least Facebook’s version – is already receiving a lot of criticism. What issues concern you the most about the Metaverse?
Radoff: I’d rather not see something like Ready Player One, where one company controls everything—otherwise we’ll see barriers to innovation, fewer choices for the general public, and diminished economic independence for creators. It is important for the metaverse to be highly decentralized. The work I’m doing at Beamable is to make sure that game-makers today—and metaverse experience-crafters tomorrow—have the freedom to own their destinies.
Yanes: There are already dozens of articles linking cryptocurrencies to the Metaverse. What are specific ways you see these two technologies overlapping?
Radoff: I think it’s helpful to take a step back from “cryptocurrencies” and look to their key enabling technology, which is blockchain. Blockchain enables smart contracts, which allows financial components to interoperate in a decentralized manner—no institution is need as a middleman. The advantage of that is you now see very small teams building their own components which can interoperate directly with each other: for example, marketplaces for people to trade their virtual property on, or digital wallets that serve as your inventory system and identity. In the past, if you wanted to create a game with a complex economy, you’d have needed to build all that yourself. Now, we’re going to see a lot more experimentation as small teams are empowered to dream bigger.
That said, blockchain isn’t required for every aspect of the metaverse. We’ll see plenty of experiences in the metaverse that don’t require them. But blockchain will help accelerate the trend towards decentralization and a metaverse that’s more equitable for creators.
Yanes: Looking forward to the next decade, what are some major developments you want to see take place in the Metaverse?
Radoff: I think the big challenge of the coming decade can be summed up as “improve the ergonomics.” VR headsets are too heavy and clunky, and most people would prefer something as lightweight as sunglasses. Blockchain projects are way too cumbersome and confusing for widespread consumer adoption. Gesture and speech recognition is still in an uncanny-valley of frustration and repetition. Building experiences for the metaverse is too technical and confusing and requires too many pieces that weren’t designed to work together.
Solving those ergonomics problems requires a great deal of fundamental work in everything from battery technology, to software design, to artificial intelligence. This will be the work of millions of people. But once these problems get solved, that’s when the metaverse will become truly accessible to billions of people. Then—watch out! There will be undreampt-of applications that only happen as a result of mass adoption.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Radoff: I’m really focused on the ergonomics problem. Our target market at Beamable is the new generation of game-makers who want to be great artists, great designers, great storytellers. If you’re a game-maker, I want it to be as easy to pursue your ideas as it is in something like Roblox—but with the freedom to do whatever you want, wherever you want. And if we can master this for game-makers, then we’ll be ready to bring the rest of the world along who will be creating whole new types of experiences on top of the game technology stack.