May 01, 2021 at 12:31AM

The metaverse has its latest nightlife hotspot for gaming enthusiasts, as a new Atari-themed casino is opening its doors in the digital space.

The casino will be the third such gambling establishment operated by the DAO Decentral Games, which purchases land in virtual worlds like Decentraland so it can run digital businesses. With its latest creation, it brings in brand assets from Atari, hoping to attract nostalgic gamers to its concerts of the metaverse, to come and play with a wide range of digital tokens at their disposal.

Decentral Games — which previously built a number of games for Decentraland on a white-label basis before expanding under its own brand — has been actively building its presence with a series of distinct and nostalgic virtual properties, like its fully digital replica of the iconic Amnesia nightclub in Ibiza.

More than a place to game, Decentral Games’ ambition is to build virtual casinos that, like their real-world counterparts, also feature attractions and entertainment to draw potential customers. To celebrate the launch of the Atari Casino, for example, the company hired DJ Dillon Francis for a concert with 3,700 worldwide attendees.

“Lots of industries — entertainment, fashion — have been jumping on the bandwagon, perhaps because they’ve been impacted by COVID. They realize that they can connect with their customers in this new way,” said Decentral Games CMO Lee Lin Liew. “It’s a new norm and a new market fit for us.”

Increasingly, digital real estate in the metaverse is becoming a starting ground for an ever-widening range of properties to provide environments that aren’t just engaging, but are immersive enough to become digital places for consumers to hang out, as opposed to quick pass-throughs in which to transact.

“Think back to the ’70s and early ’80s, when people like Ted Nelson were articulating a vision for the metaverse,” Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick told GamesBeat. “Alan Kay, who was at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and then became chief scientist at Atari, had this project called Vivarium in the early 1980s that was the beginnings of the idea of a living, breathing simulation where you would have both the ability of user-generated content and professionally produced content, and that you would have this extremely rich simulation experience where you could live and play and potentially even work.”

The technology wasn’t ready to house the idea yet, he noted, but that is changing with advances to augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), creating simulated experiences at a price point that is becoming increasingly accessible to regular consumers.

Kotick believes the world is getting close to building a metaverse that would have sounded like science fiction just a few years ago, pushed by the power of what is going to happen with AR and VR technology and broadband upgrades over the next decade.

“We’re going to get to a place where that original vision that Neal Stephenson had in Snow Crash or what you see in Ready Player One is going to start to materialize as something that is very real,” he said. “I think we’re rapidly progressing toward that as a legitimate mass-market experience.”

An experience that will have to tie together a lot of emerging technologies to get off the ground, according to experts. AR and VR are crucial, as Kotick noted, but the metaverse as it is conceived by its most avid boosters will also require extended reality (XR), 5G, Edge computing, artificial intelligence (AI), low power consumption, high-processing power chips (like Apple’s M series), new internet satellite networks, real-time game engines, GPU … the tech specs list is long, and can get intimidating — particularly for an innovation that is still foreign to most consumers outside of science-fiction novels.

But increasingly, bets on the metaverse — and plans to virtually build it out — are invading the headlines and signaling that if you aren’t talking about the metaverse today, you will be soon.

Just recently, Epic Games — the developer of Fortnite and owner of the Unreal Engine technology — announced that it has raised $1 billion more in funding, including $200 million more from Sony Group Corporation, adding on to the $250 million it invested into the company back in 2020. In a statement, Epic said it’s using the additional $1 billion to “support future growth opportunities” and help the company create the so-called metaverse. With the new round of funding, Epic said its equity valuation now stands at $28.7 billion.

The metaverse is coming, clearly to the point that even real-world big names like Sony are partnering up rather than risking being left behind.

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