Explore Metaverse

Explore Metaverse

With the world it is these days, you can see why people might long for an alternate reality – a way to restart the system and start over. This is the allure of virtual worlds: they are places where power can be reversed, disappointments escape, and capitalist inequalities left behind for something more exciting, resilient, and meaningful.

No wonder then that online universes like Fortnite and Roblox currently attract nearly 400 million users, while others like Decentraland and Sandbox are growing rapidly. Their market will soon be worth over a trillion dollars, Grades appear. Facebook changed its name to Meta to indicate its belief in a virtual future. Microsoft prepares for workplaces populated by digital avatars. Fashion brands from Nike to Gucci design clothing and accessories for the metaverse. JP Morgan and Samsung both set up shop in Decentraland. On Roblox players can run their own Forever 21 stores and even sell their designs. Many companies are making big bets on the metaverse (even if most people are still not quite sure what it is).

Three new books help explain why. Sail the MetaverseAnd the Written by Cathy Huckle, Dirk Lueth, and Tommaso de Bartolo; Metaverse GuideAnd the Written by Terry Koharrison and Scott Kenny; And the Step into the MetaverseAnd the By Mark van Rijmenam, they all set themselves up as guides for Lonely Planet to the digital frontier.

Although their definitions vary, here are some basics about the metaverse: They are actually many metavers or digital spaces, which are typically decentralized, incorporate augmented and virtual reality, store information on the blockchain, and allow users to own digital goods. So, like “the Internet,” the term “metaverse” describes a sprawling network of sites and spaces.

In practice, the metaverse offers a new way to connect to the Internet, with new markets and products. In their book, Hackl, Lueth, and Di Bartolo mention that it presents three paradigm shifts:

1. expertise: People don’t just want to consume. It’s much more attractive to have likable contextual experiences.

2. identification: People value their digital personality and want to carry it with them across the metaverse and even into the real world.

3. Property: Wherever people choose to spend their time, they want to have a skin in the game.

In other words, the end of the game is having a unified digital identity on the blockchain – an identity that is the same whether you log into your work computer or play at night. It will contain your encryption keys, the NFTs you purchased for your digital home in Decentraland, and all your other important data. In the metaverse you are less user than you are a member.

This opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Terry and Kenny point to Roblox as an example of what’s to come. Players design games and spaces, and people gather at events in a way they can’t on social media. Keeney (also known as “DJ Skee”) worked with Paris Hilton to build Paris World on Roblox, throwing a New Year’s Eve celebration that drew more attendees than the Times Square celebration. “This is the future of partying,” she tells the authors.

The most noticeable thing about the metaverse (and its cousin Web3) is the focus on ownership. Users can take a stake in almost anything; They can vote on decisions about which communities they belong to and which apps they use, create and sell NFTs, and even get paid to play games in decentralized applications (dApps) that run on peer-to-peer networks rather than servers. User ownership is a real revolution as it creates a new economy. The best version of the metaverse says that the best version of the metaverse will liberate users, allowing them to easily move communities and digital goods from one platform to another — moving a Facebook group to Roblox, then moving a piece of art made there. to Fortnite. In this vision, users can monetize, sell, rent or even borrow their digital assets.

The message, it seems, is that while users have gotten on the short end of the stick on the old web, exchanging their data for free search engines and social media platforms, they (or rather, the architects of this new network) are renegotiating that deal. Hackl, Lueth, and Di Bartolo write: “Play becomes a labor that produces assets worth something within this dApp (or even in the broader metaverse).” This may include creating monsters in Axie Infinity and selling them to other players or earning tokens with them, working independently as a brand ambassador for Decentraland, or promoting digital art or avatar gear. Instead of liking dopamine, the rewards of online life come in cold, hard coding.

It’s an interesting promotion – because the old web leaves much to be desired. Advertising-based model makes users’ information the product; Few giant corporations have so much power that it is almost impossible to regulate them; The endless drive to share also fosters divisive content, conspiracy theories, and trolling. All of this makes spending time on social media seem like a light vice: I talk about Twitter like it’s a casual smoking habit I can’t give up. An alternative that can undo some of the established power and revitalize the web should be welcome news.

However, I can’t help but see the miserable side of this future. Work does not turn into play; Playing became a job. It’s as if instead of offering digital editing and ownership, the metaverse offers more responsibilities without an upgrade. Do I want to bring everything I do in my spare time to work with my avatar, pulling all my interests and relationships with me? Do I want to turn my leisure activity into a small business? Do I want to spend more of my life on the Internet? Or is my online life replacing my humble life in the physical world?

These are exactly the kinds of pitfalls characters escape from in books, TV shows, and movies about virtual reality, from the 1992 classic sci-fi film Neil Stevenson. snow crash (who coined the term “metaverse”) for the Netflix series black mirror.

Are metaverses our future? Companies like Meta and Microsoft seem to think so, even though their virtual worlds remain closed rather than open ideal. There is no doubt that the excitement, the money and the momentum are driving us into a new form of digital reality. One way or another, it will reflect the desires of its user base, whether it is entrepreneurship, escape or convenience. Dystopia is one risk. The other thing is disappointment: we dream of metaverses but end up in a mall.

A version of this article appeared in the July-August 2022 issue of Harvard Business Review.

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