Virtual Worlds on the Blockchain? Welcome to the Metaverse

Medium May 27, 2021 · 4 min read

The metaverse
Key Takeaways:
— Have you ever imagined living in your favorite video game? Setting up a house and exploring with your friends? The Metaverse is here, ensuring you can do just that.
— The Metaverse is a virtual living space built by you, the players. You design every building, clothing item, and activity.
—In the Metaverse, creators get rewarded for their contributions, generating a reliable income stream for dedicated players. 

Virtual worlds exist on the blockchain., it’s time we dive into the Metaverse.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is unlike anything the entertainment space has ever seen. It’s a merging of various established worlds into one expansive space, built up over years of movies and tv shows. Thanks to this effort, MCU content can occur in any era or time period, focusing on one character or a whole cast, and the audience will buy in due to the established connection.

Now, imagine if that concept applied to your work and social life. Where you can be hosting a meeting in a virtual office at one moment before joining your friends in a space adventure just a minute later – all in the same universe. Sounds dreamy, right? A virtual universe of connected spaces? Such a notion has been teased since the early 90s, dubbed the “Metaverse” by enthusiasts.

What is the Metaverse?

Popularized by author Neal Stephenson’s novel, Snow Crash, books, and virtual platforms have expanded upon the Metaverse concept over time. We’ve seen Habitat, the first persistent online community for users to be represented via avatars. While not exactly a video game, Habitat enabled users to move around different regions and interact with one another via text. Think of it like one of the first Marvel movies, before the cinematic universe existed. The world could stand on its own, but there’s massive potential for something more grand. 

Additional virtual worlds came to be, specifically ones where users could buy items via virtual currency. The idea didn’t hit the mainstream, however, until Second Life by Linden Labs.

The rise and fall of Second Life

In Second Life, players would create an avatar and simply exist in another world. By spending in-game money, Lindens, they could buy property, build houses, create social spaces, art, tattoos, accessories, or interact with one another. Game rooms, concert halls, and mansions came to be, and hang-out, users did. Any Lindens made could then be converted back to real money, while paying a transaction fee, of course.

Second Life
Second Life
Image Credit: secondlife.com

These creations could be compared to Marvel’s subsequent movies, each starting to hint at connections to a larger, shared world. The point is, these movies could be in any era, focusing on whichever character they prefer.

Each one is connected by that underlying Marvel universe. As for Second Life, players can create whatever they’d like, be it an item, property, or accessory. Each one has a greater purpose within that game – to create a unique value within the underlying connection: the game world. Each Marvel movie contributes something unique to the cinematic universe, serving a greater purpose but able to exist on its own.

This was a universe where companies held remote meetings, famous people could give interactive talks, or where anyone could visit official, NASA-built islands showcasing craters and spacecraft. In theory, anything was possible.

Unfortunately, the platform wasn’t all it seemed, highlighting the potential dangers of an unchecked Metaverse. Linden Labs was eventually slammed for fraud issues. That’s not to mention the game’s lack of anti-money-laundering policies. It really didn’t end well!

Technology in the Metaverse

Faults aside, Second Life was revolutionary at the time. Since then, technology has advanced to make the Metaverse more immersive than ever. Now, similar worlds exist in the realm of virtual reality. Players are still building new mansions and game rooms but through the lens of a headset rather than a computer screen.

Remember when Travis Scott threw a massive concert in Fortnite? Millions of players attended this free event, following the massive artist as he pounded around the game’s island. Users and their friends could fly around the island, witnessing a light show putting any live concert to shame. 

Of course, such an event exposed Scott to millions of additional eyes. He certainly gained a fan or two, which certainly converts into more merch sales for the artist, among other benefits. On a smaller scale, say, a virtual neighborhood, a local artist could advertise a free event at the nearby park.

However, the broad concept is still limited by a few key factors: intermediaries and ownership. While projects like Second Life claim to be for the players, every change still had to go through Linden Labs. The company takes a cut of every transaction and has the ultimate say in every moderation case. That’s right, they even taxed your digital money!

As for ownership, the issue lies with intellectual property. If a user creates/buys a Fortnite skin, they have every right to sell it, but they can’t. Plus, what happens if Epic Games decides to shut down the game? Again, they have the final say in everything. Your assets aren’t really “yours” due to that control.

NFTs within the Metaverse

Fortunately, there’s a solution to that lack of authority in blockchain technology.

A blockchain is a decentralized digital ledger that tracks ownership and transactions across its network. Users interact with a blockchain via its relevant cryptocurrency – digital assets that represent value within the system. No one party is in control of the blockchain, providing the power to its users.

How does this benefit the Metaverse? Let’s look at a few examples.

Decentraland is a virtual world run by the players and the creators. Changes are voted on by the community, with higher say given to those who invest the most. But what’s most exciting is Decentraland’s implementation of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – a unique, tokenized version of ownership. 

Decentraland on Twitter: "Genesis Plaza is relaunching! Get along to the  Decentraland channel on Twitch at 6pm UTC for a live-streamed walk-through  with @UnicornGamingUK… https://t.co/AjCkzGKhuM"
Decentraland
Image credit: Twitter

Essentially, if a user creates a popular shoe for Decentraland avatars, a unique token representing that shoe is provided to the artist. There’s no other token like it, and the holder can prove ownership of the asset by showing that token and monetize it as per their will.

How about property on the blockchain? The Sandbox sells ownership of virtual properties via NFTs, a project championed by Gemini founders the Winklevoss twins. Investors can purchase property within the Metaverse, offering a unique experience within the space – get a move on though, Snoop Dogg’s already there!

Snoop Dogg reconstruit son manoir réel dans le métaverse The Sandbox NFT
Snoop Dogg’s Metaverse Land
Image credit: L’Entrepreneur

Most of these worlds exist on the Ethereum blockchain, meaning they’re potentially interoperable. Imagine buying a neat outfit for your avatar in Decentraland, only to show it off at your personalized property in The Sandbox. The options are yours, and that’s super exciting.

These tokens make money, too. Digital artist Krista Kim sold a 3D house for $500,000. This buyer will receive 3D files of said model, and can then upload it to their Metaverse of choice via the token.

Considering 2020 saw the world confined in their homes, such a design is more relevant than ever. For many, escapism comes in the form of the Metaverse via virtual reality. Thanks to VR, a workspace like Kim’s could keep someone sane as their day-to-day routine falls within the four walls of their home.

The bottom line

Unfortunately, this fully realized version of the Metaverse hasn’t hit the mainstream. NFTs could help start the movement.

We love expressing ourselves in the real world – just look at social media. But with the Metaverse, we can express our houses, our interests, and even our ideas to anyone in the world, profiting from it along the way.

Eventually, there won’t be a difference between your virtual and your real life. The lines between both will draw so thin, it’ll simply be your life. It’s an unbelievable prospect only realized in movies and sci-fi, but we’re getting so close!

If you’re as fascinated by the emerging metaverse as we are, you need to check out our School of Block episode for a closer look!

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