In this blog mini-series, we’re looking at the recent boom in communications regarding the metaverse from technology leaders; what are their goals? How will they arrive in the metaverse? How will it impact users? In this third and final part, we examine the companies who are already there, Somnium Space, Decentraland and The Sandbox, AKA the Web 3.0 pioneers.
Hardware plays an important role in any metaverse, whether the focus is on portability, Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality. Many metaverse projects are currently based on a very sci-fi concept and so lean towards VR technology predominantly. This need for technology can prove to be an accessibility issue for some consumers; Somnium, for example, aims to digitise almost every human physical sense.
The creators believe that the entry level tech will be a VR headset with a view to support haptic gloves and bodysuits in the future, through partnerships with companies like Tesla. These haptic products use motors to create a real world sensation; picking up a bottle of water in VR would trigger pressure within gloves to create a sense of feel and even weight.
The Somnium metaverse already supports full finger and mouth tracking, in order to reproduce human expression and movement. Their whitepaper even notes that smells could be replicated with future technologies to further immerse the user into a digital world.
Obviously, this is an ‘ideal scenario’ for any tech company, but it must be noted that any metaverse aspirations will find a VR-only approach a difficult sell to the average consumer for myriad reasons, among them; pricing and motion sickness.
Decentraland, while still supporting VR headsets, doesn’t claim a want to convert all physical sensations into a digital facsimile. It requires a different level of immersion, much like The Sandbox, with the latter aiming to be as flexible as possible by launching the software on as many platforms as possible.
The Sandbox is perhaps focusing on cross-platform usage due to its leaning into gaming. Creating and playing games are a large part of the Sandbox experience and their use of a voxel art style makes it a more approachable platform as it feels less ‘uncanny valley’ and a bit more ‘Minecraft’. These factors combined with the possibility of portable usage makes it a very accessible platform.
Community is integral to the metaverse. Without a population, it would feel like a lonely experience. Each of these platforms aims to place the community at the centre of their metaverse. Two things need to be treated with care though – ownership and safety.
These three companies allow for a fully decentralised ownership market based on blockchain technology. The user can buy a parcel of land, build a property, decorate it how they please using NFT artwork or digital assets created by community members. This property can be a home or a business, or perhaps an experience based on music, art, movies or a particular fanbase.
This sense of ownership is important to bringing consumers onboard, but also to keeping them coming back for more. Having a slice of digital real estate will be like creating a Facebook profile or WordPress blog, but in a 3D visual space, where every detail is crafted to showcase personality and expression.
Of course, with that comes individualism and that can lead to safety concerns. Each of these companies implements systems to regulate how users interact with each other and protect them. This system works like Reddit karma, creating a summary of how helpful and respectful a person is. There’s still work to do, given that any user will be able to interact with anyone else simply by approaching them. Keeping younger users and minority members safe is paramount to success, so client-side tools to block or report members will need proper implementation.
Users have to be put first and currently that’s the plan. All three of these companies give their users a level of power, often seen through community voting on how the metaverse is shaped. This revolves back to ownership; if a user feels they are shaping the world around them, they can truly invest time, energy and money into the metaverse.
For Decentraland, this is doubly important. Their metaverse is not only hosted on a peer network, rather than central servers, but creation within the world needs a knowledge of software scripting. This isn’t going to be easy for everyone, so a reliance on more experienced community members will be an absolute necessity.
Where these metaverses may become confusing to the average consumer is their use of cryptocurrency. First of all, knowing how to use crypto wallets is just step one; step two is then buying the right currency for the metaverse. Somnium uses CUBE, Decentraland uses MANA and The Sandbox, unsurprisingly, uses SAND.
This currency is used for everything within the metaverse, from buying land to purchasing assets in order to build a game or experience. Like any currency, the value fluctuates constantly. This fact does make any metaverse project feel like a bit of a gamble, because what if the project isn’t successful?
Ultimately, there must be a low cost solution to converting crypto back and forth, or the idea of a metaverse will fall down. There can’t be several metaverse, in the words of The Highlander, there can only be one. Which means, there should be flexibility to users.
Creator control is an important focus of these three projects. For many creators, they believe that having a middle man between themselves and the consumer detracts from the experience. Not only that, but a portion of revenue will always end up with the third party. In a decentralised metaverse, any transaction is between creator and consumer only, fully backed up by smart contracts on the blockchain.
Where these metaverse ideals differ from those of Meta, Microsoft, etc, is that the creator is in control. They don’t need to meet any parameters set by an overseeing party, this includes pricing. A platform like Fortnite for example, could allow for more creator control, however Epic Games, the developer and publisher, would still set the pricing while taking a cut to advertise and host the creation on their storefront.
It’s not just content creators who can earn revenue within these decentralized spaces. The average user can also monetise their existence within the metaverse. This could come via billboard advertising, asking an entrance fee to their home or created experience or even by selling their skills on the open marketplace.
As with creator control above, this is something that can be explored with no restrictions from a governing body – within the realms of legality, of course. This could lead us into a new era of creativity and business. A user who perhaps has skills more suited to boardroom business can lend their skills to new situations and consumers.
Businesses can transition to holding a metaverse presence, which would benefit many areas of commerce and even healthcare. Therapists could begin to see patients within these 3D spaces, offering a new layer of interactivity. Healthcare professionals are already using AR and VR to treat people, shifting this care to the metaverse within a property built on virtual land becomes an extension of their physical presence.
So, what does the future hold for these metaverse concepts? The future of all three platforms looks incredibly healthy, but each will see a different type of user jump onboard.
Somnium Space seems more technology focused, using emerging hardware to envelop the user into a futuristic world. The parent company is doing everything they can to partner with leading tech companies to realise their vision. While Decentraland is aiming their sights at the programmers and creators of tomorrow, using their platform to showcase individuality and expression. The Sandbox feels the most user friendly right now, with its videogame aesthetics and partnering with pop culture mainstays.
What all three have in common is a view to give users full control and autonomy. The space a user buys or inhabits is truly theirs and can be used for business or pleasure. These metaverse projects offer flexibility over closed platforms and that will surely grow as time goes on. Using NFT technology, users could display art or play unique music in all three spaces, creating a digital identity not possible elsewhere.
The biggest factor with all three companies is the absence of a central business, which is seemingly what we’re seeing with Meta and Microsoft currently. This overseeing figure was the first to go, or users will always have to be guided by a set of rules established by a party who answers to board members and advertisers.
To balance that point however, is user safety, which is something more easily policed on a platform with a central authority to help those in need. Time will tell how users feel about joining these platforms and how integral services shape themselves as the metaverse concept is still in relative infancy. With so many ideas, concepts and creative people involved, you can’t help but think that the future holds so many possibilities.