1 Minute in the Metaverse 🌐 A Space Odyssey of the Metaverse
How did it all start for you, with Star Atlas?
I first met Michael Wagner, the CEO of and co-founder of Star Atlas in 2017 / 18. He was the first person I’ve met that had his hands, mind, and heart on the blockchain and crypto. He was extremely passionate about that space, so we got to talking. We reconnected back in 2020.
By that point, there were some early drafts of the Star Atlas white paper. When I got to read a few pages into it, I felt like I was in an ocean of mystery, innovation, and possibility.
I couldn’t stop thinking about what I learned back in 2008 and had studied ever since — a virtual world and economy of Second Life.
All the way back in my undergrad, I had a professor who was consulting for Toyota and other companies that were investing in Second Life. I was doing a lot of research papers at that time. And it all just ‘full-circled’ for me. I saw the game, but I also saw something beyond that, which is what we now call the evolution of the internet — a place where we can persist, and engage with the things that we do in real life, but within the internet.
All of these things that we do today, we’re going to end up doing them in this immersive world that is also going to be intermingled with a game.
Next year, when you and I will have a follow-up interview and are hopefully going to be in one of our spaceships. And I’m going to say, “oh my gosh, look over there at these ships!”. Those ships will be played in real-time by other players in Star Atlas, while we’re having a social experience of our own.
I see a world where Star Atlas is opening up this digital universe. For now, it’s the game, but tomorrow it could be life as we know it.
That’s fascinating! Let’s talk about the economy of the game. It sounds like the ambition is to replicate the global economy within a virtual environment. What are the biggest challenges of operating a complex blockchain-powered economic apparatus within a game ?
The first challenge is to be able to have a dialogue with a traditional economist that can wrap their mind or expand their mind around our thinking and our vision. We’ve had great conversations, met amazing people, and have an economics team that’s growing. Sometimes, they just don’t get how reality can be expanded in such a digital way. It’s going to take time for people to really see the potential of extending reality into these virtual economies, which I totally understand.
Aside from that, the goal is to be able to also back-engineer from where we want to be to where we are today. We’ve created and we’re building, what one can really say, the most epic world that’s going to exist. I say that with much humility, because it is a tremendous challenge, to be able to create an economy from a vision, to actually fit a puzzle with blockchain mechanics, NFTs and DeFi.
This is coupled with the fact that we’re a permissionless, censorship-resistance system. Governments and economists today are restricted to what happens within their country, city, or district. Those are very top-down.
In Start Atlas, we’re setting the basic rules and frameworks, but the way these governance and economic mechanisms evolve and how decisions are going to be made over time will be determined by the players holding both utility tokens, ATLAS and POLIS.
That’s tremendous and very challenging. We’re thinking now of the best way to math subject matter experts and innovative thinkers within the gaming industry with a purely economic background, in order to make it all happen.
Would you say you and the team are driven by an aspiration to build a better world and systems then? Is that why so many people are betting on the metaverse?
We want to experience life, we want to have fun, and we want to be able to do it in a new way that currently doesn’t exist for us. And yeah, that’s why we’re seeing all of these startups, and all of these worlds popping up. The technology is here, it’s accessible.
It’s a gold rush for a lot of people as well. The gold rush will end at some point though, and those who are here for the long term, who stand on their ethos and live their ethos, those are really going towards their North Star and will be here in the next 20, 50, 100 years.
We want this environment to be owned and operated by the world, by the community. This is meant to be a public utility, where other gamers, and creators, and innovators can build on top of the standards that we’re building today for Star Atlas the game.
We have aesthetic quality standards — that hyper-realistic feel. We love this decentralized mechanism of game design, and we love community. So those are three things that we want to continue pushing forward and innovating every time we get to enter Star Atlas and build.
Speaking of community. There’s an understanding that most people that engage with P2E games today are in it mostly for the money. Is that something you think will happen with Star Atlas?
We know in our hearts that the game is not going to be successful if it’s not fun and people don’t want to play it. This is not meant to be a system where there are guild operators acquiring expensive in-game assets, and then lending them to players who can’t afford them.
We really want to provide that sense of ownership for everyone. So, we’re game-first. Earning in-game utility tokens is a derivative, a part of the economy,
What about accessibility? Are you introducing any gamification mechanisms to make it easier for players that are new to crypto to onboard?
Given the number of hoops you have to go through to purchase an NFT, it’s quite astonishing how much traction we’ve had so far [with Star Atlas’ marketplace]! I can’t believe people actually want to do all of those things for the game, it’s amazing.
We are working every single day to optimize that experience. We want people to connect to the game, feeling like they’re playing any other game where you don’t have to worry about the tokens that you’re gaining or your digital wallet. All that should just be running in the backend.
Today we’re talking about blockchain gaming as a new segment and sector, but eventually, it’s just going to be gaming. This is what happens with emerging markets.
Makes sense. Currently, the gaming market feels pretty dichotomized, with this split into web2 vs. web3.
Yes, right now everyone’s positioning. I get an influx of presentations from projects that want to add me as an advisor. They present themselves as “NFT games” or “blockchain games” when really it’s like a game from Steam that’s entering a layer 1 ecosystem. All they’re doing is adding a token, launching NFTs, then saying they’re a blockchain game.
That’s misleading, in my opinion — that’s a sign of a gold rush intention. There’s not much depth in the actual gameplay and no technology that makes it different from other games. There are just a lot of pigs with lipstick out there.
Speaking of depth, if we go back to the core metaverse ideology, based on decentralization and community-driven governance, is that an aspiration we can realistically implement?
Today, we want to be able to connect with people all over the world, we want bigger communities. That’s why NFTs, with their pfps and the punks collections, became so popular — it’s about being part of the club.
Historically, we’ve always moved around in packs.
I was born in Peru, where the Incan civilization actually had one of the first blockchain ledgers on the planet — through quipus.
A quipu is a long string. And in this long string, there are other columns of long strings, which have knots in them — so, it’s essentially a code. These quipus were passed from town to town by a runner called “chasquis”, they acted as an accounting ledger, keeping the record of everything in the cities.
The local “accountants” were the only people who could decipher the code to understand what the inventories looked like, what sort of trade was happening in the cities. It was a distributed ledger, because there were many of these quipus that literally communicated an empire that went from north to south of South America. It was a decentralized empire that used data collectively this way. Still an empire, nonetheless, which colonized a lot of nearby regions.
There are many stories like this.
What I think we’re dealing with today is a multi-generational, post-traumatic centralized disorder. Everything has been centralized for generations.
I’ve always said this: there are some negative things that have been passed on to me from my parents — that stuff dies with me. I’m not going to pass that on to like my kids.
We want change, we want to be in peace, we want to have a life that is worth living. We’re turning to technology, to see if we can find that. Maybe, if we don’t find it in technology, we’ll end up going back to nature. I’m a big believer that, as humans, we’ve lost touch with nature.
That’s another thing we discuss internally at Star Atlas: how do we allow people to have transformative experiences that are digital, but then also entice them to go to the ocean, to the mountains, and develop a relationship with nature, because that’s just as important as what we’re doing here digitally.
Nature and technology tend to be perceived as mutually exclusive. But you don’t seem to think they are?
I was talking to a cool group of people the other day about this. We thought how awesome would it be to install a bunch of sensors in the Amazon that can pick up on humidity, fires, and levels of deforestation; then use that data to create an immersive VR simulation. Then, for example, when there’s a fire in the Amazon, people inside the simulation would really feel what’s happening, and would become more conscious of it. It feels too removed otherwise while living in cities like London or Paris.
So, I think there’s a way to reconcile the two, it just depends on how we use these tools. It’s our responsibility. We have to take ownership. We can’t just build things with a mentality “well, that’s what the people want!”. We need to keep questioning what the impact is going to be decades from now. We don’t want all these questions to slow down any sort of momentum, of course, but we do have to assume our share of responsibility
How do you define responsibility?
Taking responsibility is about having empathy. It’s about knowing what I do and how that is affecting others and the environment that I’m in.
With the metaverse and all its technology, it’s the same thing — the way that we develop this, the way that other people are going to use it from other cultures, from other backgrounds, from other economic statuses, how are they going to use it? How are they going to engage with it? We have the responsibility to ask those questions, and to form the end product. Or at least to take the product to a place where it has standards and is a safe environment for these considerations.
Identity is also something that we’ve been internally doing a lot of research on. How are people going to identify themselves in this new world? Because we can be anything there — a creepy actor, or a benevolent one.
How do we create a safe space where you have pirates, and people are trying to kill your ship, but you’re not being a troll and a jerk — not embodying a hateful being. How can we balance that out in a game social environment?
This safety component to me is just as important as the economic side. We’re building this game for people of all ages, of all backgrounds, and it’s very important that we approach our UX and UI with these things in mind.
To finish, if we were to imagine where the metaverse is going in the future, what do you see?
It’s so hard to see even just a year from now, but…let’s talk about death! We all think about it from time to time, about what we’ll be remembered by.
I’d love to somehow download everything I am into an avatar and have that avatar continue developing itself in the metaverse after I’m no longer here in this human form.
I’d want to leave the coordinates to this avatar, some sort of tracking to it, so that my great-grandkids can come and visit me in the metaverse at some point in the future, to spend some time together and ask questions. Hopefully, I would have left enough information to this avatar, so that he can give my great, great grandkids advice that I would.
So, I don’t know where it’s going even 10–20 years from now, but maybe it’s along that path where there’s real significance and intent to this space.
About the guest:
Pablo Quiroga is the Co-founder and CRO at Star Atlas, a web3 space game merging cinematic graphics, multiplayer gameplay, and decentralized finance. With more than two decades of experience building high-growth ecosystems, Pablo’s mission with Star Atlas is to build a truly “permissionless and censorship-resistant” gaming metaverse.
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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