Recently I’ve spent a decent amount of hours in several most popular metaverse/blockchain worlds. Here are my (NOT a blockchain expert’s) couple of questions, based on examples of Sandbox and Decentraland. Consider this as developmental feedback. My idea is not to criticize anything but to reflect on the opportunities to grow, as well as to hear some comments from the more educated people.
All blockworlds today are almost identical on a conceptual level. There is some concept of limited space, internal cryptocurrency, marketplace, and creators tools. You can buy/sell land, avatars, and props. All this usually runs on the Etherium blockchain. The difference comes from the tech stack, visual solution, and the concept of “play” – the things that you can actually do inside the world.
Web3 ideology is in opposition to the current state of the Internet with few companies owning everything. You can be the top YouTube creator, but you actually don’t own your videos. YouTube can decide to delete them or block your account at any moment. Well, all the blockworlds today are independent subspaces built and supported by someone, aka Foundation. What if the Foundation will just shut down the website or will no longer support creators’ tools? Well, you will still own something in the blockchain. But there will be no use to it. It’s like owning an apartment in New York when there is no planet Earth anymore. From the level of dependencies, it’s almost the same as with the YouTube example, but you are just paying for opening your channels. There are DAOs, of course, but…
Another idea behind blockworlds is decentralized government. Owners of the internal cryptocurrency vote to make all decisions. I’m from Russia, so please excuse my skepticism here. I know how something could appear like democracy but be whatever it wants to be in the background. There are two other questions. Is it still a democracy, when we are talking about control by capital share? Blockworlds are not countries, they are more like social corporations. Is it okay to decide on the development strategy of a very big company by voting across all employees? Decentralization is good in certain areas, but it raises all the same questions we have about it in the real world.
Different worlds are competing with each other today, and this goes in contradiction with the idea of the Metaverse. Yes, you can store avatars and assets from Sandbox outside the game (in your crypto wallet), but you can’t use them in Decentralands. Voxels and polygons are different on a very fundamental level. This is just one example here, of course, but it feels for me that these questions will be one of the most important going forward. It will be only resolved with cross-world APIs and proper collaboration. There are some projects focusing on this, so we will see.
It’s still a game
Sandbox is still a game, and they are not hiding it. Decentraland is pretending to be a world, but it’s rather the world of minigames. Those are the amusement parks of doubtful quality, not the environments to live in. Here my bet is with Meta Horizons for now.
Basic creator’s tools
One of the reasons for poor experiences is a poor creator’s kit. It’s a bit easier with assets, especially in Decentraland, where you can upload models from Blender and other popular applications. Interactivity is now highly scripted. It is lowering the entry point but it’s as well becoming the single biggest limitation. It’s hard to go wild and follow the imagination. So, the amusement parks are becoming not so amusing rather quickly.
Market, not construction site
At the current stage of the projects, what you are expecting to see inside is a construction site. I’m looking for a community that is building and improving experiences. In reality, it’s a Sunday market. A couple of companies are presenting their existing experiences, e.g. golf games or virtual casinos. All this is in the middle of a random GIFs gallery (NFTs museum). And it is indeed the market, not the creators’ playground. The cost of the land is dictated by limited availability, not the experience value. So, there is no point to invest in this development. You are making money just by holding the assets and waiting for some luck with the next press release from the platform or a big partnership announcement.
It’s rather expensive
Land prices in most worlds are now starting around 3ETH (~$12K), which is a lot of money. Many talented artists and developers will not be able to join those worlds properly just because the entry barrier is too high already.
How would I approach solving this?
The metaverse or blockverse should be not a single world, but a community of worlds, with transferable avatars, and props, and connected experiences. Each world could be run on its own rules and platforms, bringing diversity in experiences and removing creative limitations. Land should be free to get, with the ability to own it and to sell further. NFTs work like this already, where turning JPG into a token doesn’t create value by itself. So the value of the land should come not from the limited availability, but from the experience and the history of interactions (e.g. traffic coming to specific land based on the previous popularity). The government could be organized differently in different worlds, leaving people the possibility to choose the desired level of engagement and vector of development.
Virtual flower shop test
I’ve come up with a mental experiment to test the level of development of the different decentralized worlds. Imagine, I would like to open a modern flower shop. (It will be trendy, cause we will need something real to decorate our virtual homes.) I would like to create the best flowers in the metaverse, mix them in the nicest personalized bouquets and sell them. NFTs should do, but there will be a need for flowers NFTs and the concept of bouquets (NFTs combination). To make it fancy, I will need a virtual field to grow those flowers of a different rarity (generative art) with value coming from a time needed to cultivate them (limited availability) and the quality of the visual part. Also, those flowers should be alive: not just animated, but have different attributes, e.g. life expectancy with and without watering. I could easily recreate this concept in Unity or Unreal. It’s different when it comes to current metaworlds. While the market part is almost there, it feels like the interactive tools are not powerful enough.