What’s True About the Metaverse in 2022, According to Experts
We spoke to 13 metaverse pioneers to understand what’s actually going on. Forget the noise, here are the only insights you need to know.
Brands big and small, tech and not, are flocking to the metaverse to buy virtual land, drop NFTs, and throw immersive events. Against the backdrop of the media hype, reputable institutions like McKinsey are predicting a trillion-dollar future for the metaverse, while VCs like a16z are betting generously on web3 tech. The whole thing starts to feel more tangible — yet a lot of questions remain.
To separate real substance from noise, we launched a video series called 1 Minute in the Metaverse to demystify the metaverse and boil it down to the true facts.
In this post, we’d like to share what we’ve learned from the 13 experts that have appeared on the show so far, representing innovative projects like The Sandbox, Ready Player Me, Decentraland, and The Fabricant.
A disclaimer before we start: what we’re witnessing today is the very early beginning of the metaverse. Albeit promising in the long run, web3 tech powering this new iteration of the internet currently falls short of the glossy Meta-esque vision announced earlier this year.
That said, the foundation of something new is being laid today by a handful of pioneers. Here’s what they say is already true about the metaverse in 2022.
Metaverse is not a destination — it’s a dimension
When people think of the metaverse, they often imagine an immersive VR world or a massively multiplayer game-like experience. However, most experts we spoke with are actually highly skeptical about the whole Snow-Crash / Ready-Player-One scenario for the metaverse.
Phil Ranta (Wormhole Labs) highlighted how VR headsets we currently have are not exactly optimized for long immersion — motion sickness remains an issue, and the headsets are yet to reach mass adoption. Besides, a fully immersive future may not be socially desirable, as it could seriously aggravate social isolation and raises a number of ethical concerns, particularly for younger users.
Looking 5–10 years ahead, VR is more likely to remain reserved for specific immersive experiences, ranging from entertainment to training, to art and education, as well as healthcare.
By contrast, most experts believe that AR — described by Ryan David Mullins (Aglet) as a ‘virtual layer’ — will become more present in the years to come, enabling us to experience reality in exciting new ways in our daily lives.
Many today are actively betting on this ‘hybrid’ future where digital objects are projected on top of physical reality due to its strong commercial potential. Giovanna Graziosi Casimiro (Decentraland), the head of the Metaverse Fashion Week in Decentraland this year, is on a mission to create more ‘phygital’ entertainment experiences, which would provide brands with a chance to engage with their audience in a more interactive way.
Ryan Mullins and the team are building a company based on that same premise. Their key product, Aglet, is a great example of a next-gen web3 platform blending traditional gameplay, virtual collectibles, and real-life events.
Until the XR tech is advanced enough to enter the mainstream, the metaverse will continue to have its pioneering use cases unfold on web and mobile platforms, powered by blockchain tech.
Gaming will be used to onboard the masses onto the metaverse
If we look at the most iconic platforms in the space today, they all have one thing in common — a gaming DNA. Founded in 2010, The Sandbox was first purely a game with user-generated content capabilities. Similarly, Decentraland, launched in 2020, started off as a gamified social experiment. Both have become something much bigger than a game — a virtual world with a rich social, creative, and economic life.
According to exerts, the next generation of gaming will combine the best of traditional games (fun gameplay, AAA-quality graphics) with real in-game ownership, enabled by blockchain and NFTs.
Star Atlas is among the most anticipated projects in the space pursuing this very ambition. Co-founded by Pablo Quiroga, is set to become the first cinematic web3 gaming experience set in space, owned and governed by its players.
There’s an important caveat though: web3 games are still very niche. Amidst the widespread scam fears and lukewarm gameplay reviews, there are plenty of challenges ahead for blockchain gaming: delivering more fun gameplay, moving away from the exclusively crypto-savvy audience, nailing distribution, etc. A game that succeeds in overcoming these and attracting the mainstream audience is very likely to become the biggest web3 onboarder on Earth.
The metaverse must be open
The idea of a single ‘Metaverse’ is contrary to the core philosophy that inspired its creation to begin with. That philosophy is the ‘Open Metaverse’ — an ideological opponent to the existing web2 structures, controlled by a handful of powerful tech gatekeepers.
As confirmed by Sebastien Borget, whose platform The Sandbox is among the main candidates to become the destination of the metaverse, the ultimate goal is to have a multitude of interconnected, decentralized worlds (like a multiverse galaxy!) owned by their respective communities.
The business models of true metaverse platforms are adapted accordingly. The host platform is there to empower its community through creator tools, governance tokens, marketplaces, and others. DAOs have emerged as a new form of organization, represented equally by each and every individual token holder.
Decenetraland Foundation operates as a non-profit, matching creators with brands with the ultimate goal of this network becoming fully autonomous. Similarly, the first digital fashion house, The Fabricant, has recently launched its Studio, connecting digital couturiers with retailers working with NFT garments.
In game development too, the idea of empowering players — as opposed to providing them with ready-made worlds — is taking deep root among web3 studios like Darewise, recently acquired by Animoca Brands to further scale its stunning Life Beyond game.
What’s interesting is to observe how the ‘open metaverse’ spirit is starting to inspire a real shift in mentality and culture among the more traditional players entering the space.
Metaverse is a land of opportunity for creators
With multiple metaverses — each representing a unique visual and narrative universe — creativity is expected to flourish like never before. Imagine the metaverse as a virtual theme park — but this time, it is co-created by its visitors.
Democratization of digital tools is at the heart of the web3 revolution. As explained by Kirill Tokarev (80.lv), the rise of the creator economy, which began thanks to web2 social platforms will reach a new momentum in the years to come as more people get the hang of tools previously reserved for professionals and new open-source initiatives emerge.
User-generated content (UGC) is the heart and soul of the metaverse. Roblox, considered by many as a forerunner of the metaverse, consists of more than 40 million custom games, all created by players (of all ages!) and indie developers like Yonatan Raz-Fridman, whose studio Supersocial is building gaming experiences on the platform.
Powered by the blockchain, Decentraland and The Sandbox are among the pioneers taking it to the next level. By providing its users with the Builder and VoxEdit respectively, they’re able to create ever-expansive platforms where new experiences and characters are being crafted on a daily basis by individuals and partner brands.
As a consequence, more and more creators are able to make an actual living out of the metaverse. Borget confessed being astonished by the speed at which a true creator economy emerged inside The Sandbox, with a growing number of users who were able to turn their passion and their dream into an actual job — or even a company!
The metaverse is attracting top talent from architecture, design, and fashion, who’re appropriating new tools and adapting their offer. For instance, Adriana Hoppenbrouwer-Pereira (The Fabricant) described collaborating with ‘‘digital tailors’ whose work consists of adapting high-definition digital garments to platforms like The Sandbox.
Fatemeh Monfared, a metaverse architect and founder of Spaces DAO, believes for a lot of digital creators like herself the metaverse represents an exciting opportunity to challenge themselves and reinvent their practice.
Avatars are the future
Just like in-game assets, avatars are hardly new. What is new is how experimental we’re starting to get around them. Ready Player Me is making it possible to transport avatars across metaverse experience with the help of a turnkey SDK solution, adopted by over 1500+ partners worldwide. Its CEO, Timmu Tõke, believes that avatar identities will inspire more diversity, creativity, and self-expression.
Most experts agree that we should have a choice of the kind of avatars we want to own — from pixelated, to cartoonish to high-fidelity ones. However, explained Tõke, tradeoffs such as visual style are inevitable if avatars are to become interoperable. As of today, transporting avatars from one platform to another with RPM is only possible when the visual universes are a match. Elsewhere, in the absence of a unified standard, a case-by-case adaptation of the kind done by The Fabricant’s ‘digital tailors’ is needed.
Another exciting avatar trend is the transformation of the iconic pfp NFT collection into 3D animated characters. Recently, we’ve seen the blue-chip Bored Apes come to live in a trailer announcing the upcoming ‘Otherside Metaverse’; while Women of the World are entering The Sandbox and getting fashion makeovers at The Fabricant.
As to social interactions, everyone believes that avatars will make us more social and may even remedy some of the current shortcomings of feed-based social media platforms.
Having worked on creating digital humans behind him, Mao Lin Liao (REBLIKA/ Reblium) thinks that our ability to feel true empathy towards digital versions of ourselves is crucial — and bets on hyperrealistic graphics to get us there.
The market for our digital selves, based on what Ryan Gill (Crucible/ Open Meta DAO) called the direct-to-avatar (D2A) model is expanding. Digital fashion, embraced by a growing number of iconic haute couture brands the likes of Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana, will play a big part in making it scale.
As explained by Hoppenbrouwer-Pereira, digital fashion offers an unprecedented playground for creators and users alike — what better way to express yourself than through clothes?
And that’s a cut — but we’re just getting started!
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article, where we’ll share the best insights on topics like NFTs, self-sovereign identity, interoperability, and more!
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