1 Minute in the Metaverse 🌐 The Open Metaverse Promise
Let’s start with the basics. How do you define the metaverse?
The metaverse is a term that’s been used for a long time in sci-fi. Snow Crash is of course a key reference there. More recently, the technology has finally matured to a place where it can practically happen.
I personally define the metaverse as the internet built by game developers. To some extent, the internet is the metaverse, it’s just going to evolve more and more to be game-like.
With Web3, game developers will replace web developers, and game engines will be the place where all of this is created. It will be used for everything that human imagination can come up with. It’s gonna be the largest impact we’ve ever seen, I think, in our human story. It’s really a very singular moment, which is why it’s so important to me.
And what about the “Open Metaverse”? How does it relate to what you do?
I started my company, Crucible, in 2018. And I created this personal thesis, which I called the “open metaverse”. So Crucible was really just an action plan for this idea. Frankly, nobody understood what I was talking about at the time (laughs). The only person that was really talking about these kinds of things publicly back then was Tim Sweeney of Epic Games. So I really needed to fund it myself in order to keep it alive. Then, at the beginning of 2020, I took some first investment from Outlier Ventures in London, which has become sort of the accelerator for the open metaverse.
Our software, Emergence SDK, gets integrated into the engine and allows developers to build on-chain, decentralized development. It’s significant for games because once you include a sort of identity and economics that are decentralized through wallets, you get a new model called “play-to-earn”. Although right now we’re at the beginning of this, I’m here because it’s an inevitable future.
What is the “play-to-earn” (P2E) model exactly?
For a long time, we’ve had centralized games, even Fortnite makes $10 billion in a couple years selling skins. But the publishers fully control and own these assets, so all the revenue comes back to them. When you move to the Web3 native design, all of that revenue, and that spending can individually go to each player. So, the ‘play-to-earn’ model is one where, by playing the game, you as a player are contributing value to the virtual world, and you get some back in the form of digital assets.
It’s gonna start to shape the future of work to feel more game-like, and I think it’s going to be life-changing for billions of people. Let’s take an example. There’s a mobile game called Axie Infinity, which is sort of like the Angry Birds phase of play-to-earn.
In the Philippines, while people were losing their jobs to COVID, they adopted this game and they’re making a really healthy living out of it. Some of them are getting off the streets and buying houses. They’re collecting generational wealth! So if you apply that to an AAA-quality, experience, and then you bring that to Africa, and India, where there are billions of people who are early adopters to tech and are very very curious, they’re about to leapfrog into Web 3.0 natively directly.
As I said, that can be really meaningful for billions of people! The annual revenue percentage for monthly active players is 10x any of the biggest games because there’s real-world value to it. It’s much more like a job or like work than a game. It just happens to feel like a game. These games are gonna be worth billions of dollars — and all of that value comes collectively from players.
But is that sustainable in the long run? Isn’t it just built on speculation?
Yes, it’s built on speculation, and there’s a risk to that, certainly. Regulators will make their way into this eventually. But think about this: it’s decentralized, it’s permissionless, and you can’t shut it down! It’s really a digital creature that’s alive on the internet, that’s actually going to start to help people. The immense social mobility potential of it does come from speculation. I bet you’re going to start seeing more gaming companies and publishers adopt open source, bringing in decentralized identity and creating some level of on-chain assets within their game.
Web 3.0 is clearly unlocking new revenue models, in which way are those different from what we’ve had until now?
To me, the only way to see Web 3.0 is through decentralization. Web 2.0 is the business model of the internet as we know it — that always prioritizes shareholders. But if you go back to Web 1.0, we were all about end users. With the benefit of that networking and the business models that have actually made incredible profits, we’re now moving into this third one — which is going to touch every human on Earth and will be worth trillions. It’s going to be made up of our data, it’s going to plug into our brains and all of this is just too big for any one company.
It’s a responsibility for all of us to make sure that we all own it, and we don’t allow ourselves to sleepwalk into this model where the Big Tech owns it. Why? Because we can’t have the metaverse built on the attention model: advertising based on selling user data. Right now it doesn’t seem that significant, right? Being targeted to the right shoes is actually pretty good, at the right time if you’re interested in buying those things. But we’ve already begun to see how that data can change mindsets around political ideas and so on — it gets into a much less innocent place. We need to make sure that this time, with the metaverse, it’s embedded with the right infrastructure — something that serves individuals a little bit more than shareholders.
And what would ‘identity’ mean in the metaverse?
Identity — that’s really the core for all this! There’s a keyword here that actually I didn’t really hear too much before I did this research, which is ‘credential’.
Credential is the way you prove your identity. And so, you know, that’s come from governments or royal families, or some central source for so long. Currently, on the internet, it’s in the form of an email. But as a user, you’ve never been able to mint your own credentials. You’ve always needed to jump through a bunch of hoops, in some administrative office, or in some forum online to get permission to prove your identity. Now there is this very profound, fundamental new idea emerging: we’re getting to a standard in which you could mint your own credentials to prove your identity. It’s called self-sovereign identity. It’s something that’s been developed for about 10 years, but it has never made its way to gaming — which is what I’m trying to do.
With Crucible, we have to build integration libraries for different programming languages that just don’t talk to each other. Once that’s available in gaming, then your online identity in the form of an avatar can be an actual formal credential that you can mint on your own, and authenticate with any number of services be that the game itself or other third party services.
So, you mint your one identity, you prove it, and then you can create an infinite number of personas, which all have different avatars, or whatever you want to use them for. But it really is all sort of anchored back to you as a human being.
Speaking of avatars, if you look at it from an anthropological perspective, there’s an interesting discussion on whether they’ll be used to shield our existing identities, or actually to extend them, like an alternative form of expression. What’s your take on that?
In my view, technology has no inherent value to it. The values of technology are adopted by the people who create it and use it. In the AI scenarios, we hear about, the bias actually comes from the people that write algorithms — not the AI itself. A knife can kill someone or prepare a meal. You know what I mean? Inherently, it’s always been that way.
Avatars will be used to mask — there will be a lot of hiding. But I also think there will be a lot of expressions, where you can be anyone you want to be, as who you feel you really are.
In that sense, to what extent do you think the metaverse will give rise to new social norms?
With the metaverse, we’re going to reimagine every social norm. It’s so existential. The blockchain as a technology has already made us reflect on really profound things like what is money, what is identity, what is art, what is value.
I personally dropped out of college because I had the internet, which meant that I could self-direct myself more. My life would have looked very different without the internet, more in line to a traditional path that was handed to me. And I think as the internet, or should I say the metaverse, matures more, it’s just going to create more optionality for people. Why do you have to live your life, be it personally or professionally, the way that there’s a set path for, when you can choose it yourself? The metaverse just means that these opportunities for self-determination are going to become much more robust, and a larger part of daily life.
One of the truths that we should probably talk more about is the way we’re losing objective reality. If it ever did exist, we’re certainly moving away from it. Of course, things like language will always be important for us humans to find common ground. But if you go into the Unreal community on the engine and see the things that are being built, and extrapolate where that could potentially go — yes, it’s going to reimagine every social norm there is.
So, what are the Web3 social communities like?
If you go to the Web3 worlds of new brands that are being started, they’re completely driven by the community. And it’s full of hundreds of thousands of people who are passionate members of that community. They are also owners of what is taking place. It becomes a lifestyle, like a tribe. There are billions of people addicted to social media and Big Tech, but you don’t see that kind of passion.
Because of that, more interesting things will begin to happen in a decentralized environment where you can be rewarded for what you’re doing. I think that, eventually, the open environment will actually swallow the more closed environments. It’s just going to take some time.
Take the example of Crucible. As a company, we’ve raised half a million from equity investors, and four and a half million from the community directly! And in January, my community which is based on Telegram will be shifted into a portal that I’ve built on the web, which only token holders will have access to, and that will bring proposals and sort of voting and everything into the community engagement.
Sounds amazing! This makes me think of how, for a lot of people in the space, the metaverse represents a utopia of sorts. Given our discussion on the social mobility potential, collective ownership, and so on, it seems like you see it that way too?
Whether the metaverse is a utopian future or not, will depend on whether it’s open or not. Dystopian is closed. Always. 100%. The opposite of Black Mirror is White Mirror. What I find truly promising is that the collective trillion dollars that are created in the metaverse can be captured individually by each person! Having said that, I don’t believe in utopia. That’s a naive thing. But if we could lift the floor for people below the poverty line, that’s a very good goal.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that this generation has an opportunity to really go back to the drawing board on things and try to redesign them in a way that works for more people.
Technology has always just been created to collectively solve problems. So the more problems we have, like the global pandemic, the more we’re just going to react and use technology to hopefully make things better, but we’ll see.
About the guest:
Ryan Gill is the CEO and founder of Crucible, a web3 company that designs and creates software to enable game developers to build within the open metaverse. He’s also the founder of the Open Meta Association / Open Meta DAO.
About the series: 🌐 1 Min in the Metaverse 🌐 is a LinkedIn original that aims to explore the metaverse through the eyes of those building it! Each interview comes with a 1-min sneak peek of key ideas as well as a full version long read.
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