Building The Metaverse One Block At A Time

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“Just like you probably wouldn’t live in a house without a concrete foundation, you probably wouldn’t want to participate in a metaverse that isn’t built with an open blockchain.”

I love video games. My love affair with pixelated adventures began in 1985 when I was 5 years old and my father brought home a used Commodore 64 intended to help my brother, who was in college at the time, with writing and printing essays. Shortly after, my sister learned how to copy games off the computers at her school. She would bring them home to me on a floppy disk, and what was intended to be a tool used to help my brother make his way through college quickly became my private space. There, I would pretend I was a cave explorer battling my way through spelling tests playing Cave of the Word Wizard, or schussing down the slopes playing Winter Games, or being an NBA star playing Larry Bird vs. Dr. J.

As time went by and the video game industry made huge technological improvements, my passion for video games grew. I won my first Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987 by collecting the most pledges for my elementary school’s walk-a-thon fundraiser, and there was no turning back. From then on, I would spend hours sitting on the living room floor – face covered in Cheeto dust and hands sticky with grape soda – trying to get to the next level, find the next treasure, or master a new cheat code (gamers who have played the first Contra know what I’m talking about) until my father insisted I go outside and play.

Throughout my childhood and well into my adult life, I have used many different machines to facilitate my adventures, but the one device I have yet to obtain is the one that will actually allow me to enter the game. The device that will make it feel as if I am the one blasting my way through the zombie hoard, saving the princess from the clutches of the evil wizard, or throwing the winning touchdown at the Super Bowl. The device that will grant me entrance into the metaverse.

The term metaverse was first coined by author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 book “Snow Crash,” where it is defined as a “digital universe that can be accessed through a device.” The idea of a metaverse is exemplified in films such as “The Matrix,” “Tron,” and “Ready Player One.”

The rising popularity of virtual reality gave hope for the creation of the metaverse. However, even with the thousands of virtual reality applications currently being used, a player cannot move seamlessly from one application to the next. For example, if a player is playing a VR Batman game and wishes to switch to a Star Trek game, they are forced to exit one application, go to the main menu, and enter into the next desired application instead of simply having their digital avatar move from Gotham city to the Enterprise, both of which could be contained in the metaverse.

But how will the metaverse be created? Who are going to be the major players in its creation, and what role will blockchain and cryptocurrency technology play in its development?

To answer those questions, ETHNews conducted interviews with Simon Kertonegoro, the vice president of marketing for blockchain platform developer Enjin, as well as James Mayo, the president of blockchain game producer 8 Circuit Studios.

Note: While both companies are working toward the creation of the metaverse, Enjin is more interested in what it calls the multiverse. It sees the “metaverse as the physical realm and digital realm converging as one.” In contrast, the company believes that the “multiverse is infinite realms converging as one.” Ultimately, Enjin’s vision is that the “metaverse will become part of the multiverse, not vice versa.” It’s out of this logic that the company speaks about the creation of the multiverse throughout the interview, rather than the metaverse.

Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity:

ETHNews: How does your company define the idea of the multi/metaverse?

James Mayo, 8 Circuit Studios: In its broadest sense, you can think of the metaverse as a kind of digital reality … We like to think of it as a universe of interconnected game worlds. It’s a place that nobody owns, but everyone can participate in. Like many, our vision of the metaverse is informed and inspired by the cyberpunk novels of William Gibson (“Neuromancer”) and Neal Stephenson (“Snow Crash” and “Cryptonomicon”), as well as movies like old-school “Tron” and “The Matrix.”

Simon Kertonegoro, Enjin: In theoretical physics, a multiverse is an infinite array of universes where anything is possible, and every possibility exists. The various universes within the multiverse are often referred to as “parallel” or “alternate” universes or “other dimensions.” In the context of gaming, the multiverse is a network of games where players can use their characters and items across multiple realms.

ETHNews: What will the creation of the multi/metaverse mean for the gaming industry?

Simon Kertonegoro, Enjin: In the multiverse, players will have a unique and seamless experience in which their characters can live forever as they travel through each gaming world. No longer will players have to bid farewell to their beloved heroes or lose their items upon completion of a game. Instead, they will be able to preserve their gaming identity and assets from one world to the next.

James Mayo, 8 Circuit Studios: Massive change. On the surface, the game industry is only a small nudge away from entering into the metaverse-rabbit-hole (MMO’s, social, open world, competitive multiplayer, etc. – all are the progenitors of the metaverse). However, once the new digital reality of the metaverse becomes accessible, the economic implications will be profound: new sources of revenue, new untapped markets, new tools and technologies, new conceptual frameworks, new forms of creative expression – all in a dimension limited only by our imagination. As far as industries go, the games industry is probably primed to adapt and exploit the benefits of the metaverse more quickly than others, since it is an industry frequently pushing the edges of technological development. I think the metaverse will result in a new gold rush for the gaming industry and will radically shift wealth to the “creator class”: developers, designers, and artists.

ETHNews: Are there any other industries that will be affected by the creation of the multi/metaverse?

James Mayo, 8 Circuit Studios: Absolutely. Any industry affected by what happens online will be impacted by the metaverse. The things that you do on the internet today, you will do in the metaverse tomorrow.

Simon Kertonegoro, Enjin: I believe augmented reality [AR] will break down the walls between the digital world and the physical world; blockchain technology will be the key to managing possessions in this vast plane of virtual consciousness. In 10 years, once AR technology has reached a point of sufficient convenience, I can imagine walking around the streets and seeing people wearing and using the virtual items that they also wear and use in the games that they play. I believe this will also have a massive impact on the retail sector. Stores will have a physical layer and a digital layer. You will be able to purchase digital assets using physical currency and vice versa.

ETHNews: How will blockchain technology affect the building of the multi/metaverse?

Simon Kertonegoro, Enjin: I believe blockchain technology is absolutely essential to the building of the Multiverse because all universal asset data such as identity, history, ownership, and supply needs to be freely available to all games and platforms that want to support it. The data needs to be publicly transparent, completely secure, impervious to corruption, and accessible through any internet-enabled device. There’s no other technology that can better fulfill these needs.”

James Mayo, 8 Circuit Studios: Blockchains will be the foundational technology of the metaverse. Just like you probably wouldn’t live in a house without a concrete foundation, you probably wouldn’t want to participate in a metaverse that isn’t built with an open blockchain. This is because blockchains allow the movement of characters and assets between games. If you aren’t in a game world that uses a blockchain … your stuff would exist on someone’s server somewhere and moving your stuff off-server would either be impossible, or you would need someone else’s permission.

ETHNews: Other than scalability, what are some challenges your company is facing in using blockchain technology to create the multi/metaverse?

James Mayo, 8 Circuit Studios: We don’t see scaling as a blocking or gating issue, but we’re also using the blockchain in a very specific way, and our design focus is on leveraging the blockchain’s strength and working around its limitations. However, outside of scaling, the biggest challenge 8 Circuit Studios is facing is regulatory uncertainty. Blockchains offer this incredibly innovative way of handling a new form of money/security/escrow/etc., and that means that they’re being used for those things in industries that require significant regulatory oversight. It’s still the wild west and the regulators have the unenviable task of updating antiquated regulations and enforcement policies, which means these policies are not always well defined. If 8 Circuit Studios was just developing video games, we wouldn’t have to spend much time thinking about financial regulation, but because we’re using an open blockchain we often find ourselves having to do extra homework to make sure we’re in good standing.

ETHNews: How do you see blockchain technology being utilized to build the multi/metaverse five years from now?

James Mayo, 8 Circuit Studios: The question of on-chain vs off-chain will largely be sorted out by then, and development concerns will have probably moved to the next bottleneck.

Simon Kertonegoro, Enjin: The implementation of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI), and internet of things (IoT) technology creates some very interesting possibilities for the multiverse.

  • VR: Blockchain assets that you own and can see and use in virtual reality worlds.
  • AR: Blockchain assets that you own and can see and use in a digital overlay of the physical world.
  • AI: Blockchain assets that are owned and used by NPCs [non-player characters] who can trade and interact with players.
  • IOT: Blockchain assets that are compatible with different internet-enabled devices. For example, what if you could buy a Turbo Mode token for your smart car and it allowed you to increase your speed past a certain point? Now imagine you could also use that token for vehicles that you use in certain games.

ETHNews: How do you see cryptocurrency being used within the multi/metaverse once it is created?

James Mayo, 8 Circuit Studios: [Blockchain] gamers are already familiar with the concept of digital currencies, and we believe they will simply begin using cryptocurrencies instinctively in the same way to facilitate exchange and trade in the metaverse. Cryptocurrencies will likely become adopted quickly as non-crypto-gamers discover the value of [digital assets]. There is also likely to be an extremely diverse set of cryptocurrencies used in the metaverse like we’re seeing with alts and tokens currently. I think the teams contributing to the development of the metaverse will choose to experiment and play with their own cryptocurrencies and economic systems, and gamers will choose which ones they prefer based on their own set of values.

ETHNews: Do you think the creation of the metaverse will be the catalyst that finally brings the top game developers together, or do you see Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft building their own individual metaverses?

James Mayo, 8 Circuit Studios: I think they already have their own start to their individual metaverses – Nintendo Network, Xbox Live, and the PlayStation Network. Several of us at 8 Circuit Studios have careers working for and with Microsoft Games Studio and Nintendo, and I have a number of friends still working at both places. Microsoft is doing some really interesting things with blockchains that I can’t talk about yet, but I can tell you the metaverse is something a number of their senior executives are paying attention to. Both Microsoft and Nintendo are playing with cross-game intellectual property (IP), and other game developers in the industry are experimenting with crossplay. I don’t have a lot of information about what Sony is planning, but they’ve recently been standoffish when it comes to crossplay experimentation. [Note: On September 26 Sony PlayStation announced it was going to enable crossplay for the popular MMO, Fortnite.]

Does this mean they will work together to create the metaverse? I don’t think they will, precisely. I think the area where they will find a way to work together is through the underlying protocols of the metaverse. One of those protocols will be the blockchain itself. After that, I think Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony (among other publishers/developers) will have products that are metaverse “enabled” and it will be the gamers, and the digital assets that gamers own, that will move between those companies’ connected game worlds.”

ETHNews: How is your company currently utilizing blockchain technology to create the multi/metaverse?

Simon Kertonegoro, Enjin: Enjin is lowering the barriers to entry by providing the tools for game developers to create blockchain items and integrate them into their games without the need to write any code. We have created the first multiverse items and collaborated with nine games to integrate them. We are also continually creating more items and attracting more games to the multiverse. On top of that, we are providing all the necessary tools for game developers to create their own multiverses by collaborating with each other.

James Mayo, 8 Circuit Studios: First and foremost we are using the Ethereum blockchain to protect the gamers’ right to own their own characters, property, and digital assets. Secondarily, we are using the blockchain to allow us to create digital assets that can be moved between games – a necessary attribute for things like taking an avatar from one game world to another. Thirdly, there are some extraordinary properties that you can embed in your digital assets. We’re calling these new kinds of assets: Smart Game Objects.

Just thinking about all the possibilities the multi/metaverse has to offer gamers awakens the 7-year-old boy in me. The boy who literally had recurring dreams of being a part of the video games he played is fascinated by the idea of using a device that will put him smack dab in the middle of the worlds he has longed to see. Yet the adult in me wonders if the concept of the metaverse will truly become reality. But if and when the concept of the metaverse becomes manifest, you can count on me to be there, pockets full of crypto, ready to dominate.

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