Your Guide to the Metaverse

Beginner Dec 17, 2021 · 8 min read

Key Takeaways:
—  What is the Metaverse anyway? “The Metaverse” refers to a public ecosystem where the world’s users can connect to one another through an open online platform. The term was first coined in a cyberpunk novel describing a fibre-optic-based world where people from across the globe could connect with each other.
— There are two kinds of Metaverse platforms: Ones controlled by a central entity (like Fortnite and Roblox) and decentralized ones that are built and established by communities.
— The more decentralized the digital world, the more the users have full government of the project.
— Different projects and platforms offer different immersive worlds to interact and engage with and there are various opportunities and nuances that are available and vary from platform to platform.
— In time, we will see opportunities pop up in the Metaverse from careers to entertainment and what an exciting world we’re looking at!

What is the metaverse, how does it work and where are the limits?! If you’re feeling interested but bamboozled – we get it. Here, we give you the ultimate guide, so you can get involved.

The Metaverse. Another hot topic and a technological buzzword that’s been making the rounds. But Facebook’s recent rebrand to “Meta” isn’t the first time tech experts have delved into the potential for a comprehensive digital world. So what exactly is the Metaverse and what’s the difference between a centralized, controlled environment and other open-sourced online worlds? Pop on your proverbial headset, we’re diving into all things Metaverse!

What is the Metaverse?

The idea and term of a “Metaverse” were born nearly 30 years ago in a cyberpunk novel by Neal Stephenson, where he talks about an imaginary place available to the global public over some sort of worldwide network. (Yep, Stephenson’s Snow Crash was WELL ahead of its time.)

Amazon.fr - Snow Crash - Stephenson, Neal - Livres

The way we see and talk about the Metaverse is fairly akin to Stephenson’s vision: It’s a public space for a global network made possible through digital means. In the Metaverse, people can build and interact in a world based loosely on reality, but with opportunities beyond time and space in the real world as we know it.

While there are different degrees of Metaverses, the basic concept ticks a couple of boxes:

  • A public digital space featuring unique, customisable avatars representing individual users,
  • Where digital ownership ranges depending on how decentralized the platform is,
  • where you can engage with other users,
  • interact with elements of the digital world, and
  • share experiences with others based on the platform

Different digital ecosystems facilitate different utilities and levels of control for users. If the platform leans towards a more decentralized approach, there is more opportunity to create and build applications and take ownership of the ecosystem and digital world itself.  

Basically, a Metaverse is an online platform that adds layers and layers of creation on a digital platform, adding in the ability for a user to build a character (or avatar) and establish and lead a digital life built on what that avatar can do. From fashion and digital careers, to looking after pets and property, the Metaverse imitates reality while throwing in the world of opportunity only the imagination can dream of. 

A decentralized space vs a centralized environment

This is where we talk about how centralized versions of the Metaverse are a little different to other platforms (typically blockchain-based) that are building open-sourced Metaverses. 

The key difference has to do with control, creation and governance.

If you’ve watched Steven Spielberg ‘Ready Player One’, you’ll have an idea of what a governed Metaverse looks like. While the ecosystem (Oasis) has imagination as the only limitation, there is still control over the players.

Core control: Centralized Metaverses

In a centralized Metaverse, there is one single entity governing the entire network, with internal servers and the policies set up to regulate the virtual world. In centralized environments like Fortnite and Roblox, the virtual community lives within the confines of a centrally controlled space and the users are limited within those parameters. The community can interact together and share experiences, but they don’t have the freedom to control or own pieces of the digital environment.

Community control: Decentralized Metaverses

In stark contrast, we have a decentralized Metaverse, where the platform is open-sourced and users have the freedom to control their own experience almost entirely. The control of the platform lies within the community (rather than one central authority) via a control that is governed by users; meaning they have a lot more individual control over not just their own individual assets, but over the way the Metaverse itself is built and operates. The decentralized Metaverse is emerging hand-in-hand with blockchain projects and we’re starting to see the opportunities come alive in some pretty neat ideas…

Ready, player one?

Let’s explore the decentralized metaverses and the networks and virtual worlds that are emerging.

Axie Infinity

Axie Infinity is a play-to-earn gaming Metaverse based on the blockchain. It’s a little more than a game and just a little less than a full Metaverse; as a game, Axie is driven by social interaction and mixes elements of art ownership (the Axies themselves are NFTs) and gamification of battling the little creatures (rewards are offered for in-game battles and quests). 

Key-takeaway: Why is it a partly decentralized Metaverse?

Built up by the community, Axie Infinity combines offering users open sharing experiences across the platform and throws in an opportunity to earn from the game’s rewards while ticking the box of full virtual ownership of the Axies and other assets of the platform. While the platform itself is currently governed centrally, it will in future pass governance into the hands of its users.

Image credit: Axie Infinity

Somnium Space

Somnium is a virtual reality world built on Ethereum, which hosts every player in one open world. In the Somnium system, players can buy digital land (which they own absolutely), play games in the world, interact with other players and create digital assets to use on the platform. As an open world, the potential to create and engage with the environment is pretty much limited to the imagination. 

Somnium’s main factor that sets it apart from other VR games is that players are not scattered across sub-servers. Rather, they are all on the same playing field and can all engage with one another and the broader environment. Somnium Space is also deeply intertwined with NFTs, which empowers players to own parts of their experience and see their assets interact with the Somnium environment. 

Key-takeaway: why is it a decentralized Metaverse? 

By integrating blockchain with VR, Somnium’s open ecosystem allows users to interact with one another, to monetize their VR experience on the platform, create and earn digital assets, mint NFTs, enjoy social interactions and create and “live” in their digital land; bridging the gap between digital and real life.

Image credit: Somnium Space

The Sandbox

The Sandbox is one of the biggest Metaverse platforms in blockchain at the moment. The long-term aim of the project is focused on establishing a fully decentralized world, entirely governed, created and controlled and created by users within the Sandbox community. With the expected launch of a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO), the platform is looking to give as much control as possible to its users. 

The Sandbox caters to creatives and is designed to act as a platform where digital creators can put their work and experiences on display. With celebrities like Snoop Dogg and Deadmau5, there’s also a public appeal to digitally live and interact with big names. (Imagine a reality where you can log in, walk out of your digital house, wave to your neighbour Snoop and head to work on your virtual vocation – which is funding both your online and physical home. With The Sandbox, this isn’t necessarily a far-off reality.)

Another important element of the platform’s ’s vision was expressed by CEO Arthur Madrid when he commented “We are developing an entire ecosystem that opens new digital job opportunities for players and creators in our open NFT metaverse.” 

An important element of the Sandbox is that it offers a variety of employment opportunities; from digital tour guide, showing newcomers around the platform, to content creators enhancing the ecosystem as a whole, all of which come with a real world salary.

The Sandbox doesn’t only open up digital opportunities to create on the digital platform; it also shows how the ecosystem and environment mimics reality, right down to career opportunities in the system to work, earn, and live off their lives from the Metaverse.

Key-takeaway: Why is it a decentralized Metaverse? 

The Sandbox isn’t fully decentralized yet, but the team is working to give full control to players. In the open world, building the world in any way players can imagine is the focus. Celebrity appeal has hit with big-named users joining in the Metaverse’s community, and have joined to interact with each other, engage with the environment, see what Snoop Dogg’s avatar is up to, and live in a world that they’re actively involved in building. 

Image credit: The Sandbox

Decentraland

Similar to The Sandbox, Decentraland is a social world where users can interact with one another, play games, and build up and manage digital property on an open platform. The key theme of Decentraland is wrapped up in digital art and the digital world has a plethora of thriving art galleries and auctions open to the public. In June 2021, Sotheby’s opened the digital doors to its Decentraland gallery launching a space where users can view, bid on, and buy high-end NFTs.

While The Sandbox is still working on becoming completely decentralized, Decentraland is already governed through a decentralized autonomous organization, making it 100% decentralized and user-run. Another interesting nuance in Decentraland is how users claim plots of land (which is an ERC721 token listed as the crypto LAND) and other assets on the platform using MANA, and develop them or flip them for profit. 

Key-takeaway: Why is it a decentralized Metaverse? 

Similar to The Sandbox, Decentraland is an open digital world where players can log in, and engage with the environment. There is a core focus on a world where art and creativity is encouraged, with digital art galleries built and curated by users and auctions for top-range NFTs take place regularly. Players’ avatars can walk into a gallery and can start bidding. There is also a massive appeal in buying digital property in upcoming areas and building them up, or selling them for profit.

Image credit: Decentraland

Diving into the Metaverse

As the Metaverse expands with new projects and platforms, new opportunities will continue to arise. Getting involved and contributing to the online community depends on the platform. But for most, it’s as easy as owning a digital wallet and buying some of the currency (like SAND or MANA) to get started. 

With the different degrees of Metaverse, each offering a unique purpose and a different level of community governance you, as the user, have enormous power to determine where the online space can be taken. With true, absolute control without central intervention, the online world really is your digital oyster of collaboration and community creation. By putting control and ownership right into the hands of users, the metaverse is a true expression of its community, rather than being the product of an out of touch, top-down corporate vision.

Knowledge is power.

Trust yourself and keep on learning. Check out our School of Block episode all about NFTs and why we can’t get enough of them.

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