Our thinking on the Metaverse is incredible, not least because it is more or less speculative. What is clear, is that the Metaverse is positioned as both a successor state to mobile connectivity, and a platform for leisure, livelihood, and learning. Meta-Life will require reimagination of financial life, institutions, and societal hierarchies. In addition to supporting gaming and social media, Meta-Life will combine economies, digital identity, and decentralized governance. Meta-Life will be a place for community and connection. Already user creation and ownership of valuable assets foster the promise of a Metaverse. The success of this vision depends on whether Meta-Life creates a thriving economy around: competition, an endless cycle of disruption, a proliferation of profitable enterprises especially SMEs, capital mobility, and strong consumer spending.
All of these features provide blockchain the potential to power this future technology. Digital natives who come into the metaverse for leisure will be targeted by firms selling digital skins, virtual trinkets, and cloud-based space. NFT games in the Game-fi world have already evolved into ways to earn revenue. Players can already sell in-game NFTs and even earn tokens using play-to-earn models. The future of work will allow workers to be able to enter a 3D office in the Metaverse and interact with their colleagues’ avatars. Microsoft’s Mesh is a collaborative platform that will allow anyone to have shared virtual experiences on a multiplicity of devices. This is the dream for mixed reality, according to Microsoft’s Alex Kipman, the inventor of Kinect and HoloLens. Initially, Mesh plans to present people as virtual avatars. Eventually, Mesh will scaffold what Microsoft defines as “holoportation,” allowing users to appear as themselves in a virtual space.
The old world of cash, with low entry barriers, and narrow potential for surveillance, is bowing to novel transactional systems using a decentralized blockchain-based digital substrate. In theory, the virtual world should have “better” payment rails than the “real world.” But the fact is, the “rails” of the “virtual economy” are much worse than those of the “real world.” They are more expensive and cumbersome. The linchpin of this future is open data. New payment rails with unfamiliar affordances may limit the ability of some to function freely, or even exist within these transactional communities. These payment networks, embedded in multiple interlocking systems, may also easily exclude many people from financial transactions.
Lana Swartz in her book, “New Money: How Payment Became Social Media”, (2020), adjures that “Many of today’s dominant visions for the future of money are unlinked from the political and territorial structures of nationhood.” She argues that the future of money is one that makes money a communication medium. Proponents of “web3”—an as-yet unrealized idea for the internet’s next phase, have fixed their gaze on Meta-Life as an opportunity for epochal transformation. They evoke the idealistic rhetoric of democratization, decentralization, and transformation. But this only clouds what would otherwise be a bold financial conversation. In 2020 people spent $54B on virtual goods, skins, and extra lives in games.
This contemporary shift is linked to narratives around the participation-democratization nexus of the post-democratic turn, amongst the well-established democracies in the economically affluent global North. And while cultivating citizen participation is commonly regarded as the promise of democratization, many citizens are increasingly ambivalent about democratic institutions and any further expansion of participation.
Once the Metaverse materializes, it will be the next forum for user transaction, and value extraction. It will be privatized, centralized, and financialized with widespread artificial scarcity. Tim Sweeney, C.E.O., of Epic Games, sees Meta-Life as a multi-trillion sector of the global economy. Jathan Sadowski labels the shift to a new rentier capitalism. Alexander Bernevega and Alex Gekker describe the change as the assetization of high-end video games, where productive assets will use rent-based and commodity-based models, to generate a continuous stream of commerce. Fully assetized gaming will also debunk the logic of ownership. Gamers will live inside the games themselves, using customizable skins for avatars, character wardrobes, and munitions, enabled by microtransactions on new payment rails.
The Tencent C.E.O, Ma Huateng, sees the Metaverse as making the virtual world more real and the real world richer with virtual familiarities. The Microsoft C.E.O., Satya Nadella, sees it as the chance to embed the real world into computing, and for humanity to embed computing into the real world. Jensen Huang, C.E.O., of Nvidia, thinks the Metaverse will create a new economy, larger than the present one. The venture capitalist Mathew Ball, suggests that it will be an immensely scaled and interoperable “network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds”, that will be experienced “persistently and synchronously”, by “unlimited numbers of users”.
The metaverse is not being built by one conglomerate. Different players are building different virtual worlds, applications, devices, and tools. All of these worlds will be interoperable in the future. The dream is that people will navigate between virtual worlds and bring along their assets with them. If two virtual worlds are interoperable, the blockchain will authenticate proof of ownership of assets in both virtual worlds, using a crypto wallet. So it is important not to forget your wallet, when you are in the Metaverse.