The emergence of ‘Meta’ as Facebook’s new identity raises some important questions: What exactly is The Metaverse? Which version of this futuristic vision is most likely to succeed? And should we worry that one of the world’s largest corporations wants to monopolize the next generation of the Internet?

The term ‘metaverse’ was first coined in Neil Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash to describe an online, pervasive space where users can work, play, and socialize in a 3D environment. The novel was a prescient exploration of yet-to-be-developed technologies such as the wireless Internet, smartphones, and mobile computing, as well as digital currency, virtual reality, and augmented reality headsets.

While many of the trends that Stephenson predicted have become part of today’s reality, the metaverse itself remains a work in progress. Only very recently have we witnessed significant steps towards realizing its potential through the development of the blockchain and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) which may ultimately become the foundation of the next-generation Internet.

The Role Of Blockchain And NFTs

For the metaverse to achieve mass adoption, it needs to be open, interoperable and to avoid centralized control. In this way, users can enjoy the rewards of online activity while protecting their own data from exploitation by the dominant Internet players.

Key blockchain attributes include:

Universal accessibility and Interoperability

A digital identity can be created in under a minute by opening a crypto wallet to store fungible and non-fungible tokens. Both types of tokens are interchangeable across many blockchain platforms that are customizable but compatible with each other.

Proof of digital property rights

Digital goods and assets held in a crypto wallet are individually recorded on the blockchain to ensure quick and easy proof of ownership.

Store of value

Cryptocurrency (fungible tokens) such as Bitcoin or Ether have a standard value and can be used to pay anyone around the world securely and safely–facilitating the trading of online goods (non-fungible tokens).

True digital ownership

Any virtual items–including in-game assets, art, and even physical objects–can be uniquely registered on the blockchain as non-fungible tokens and bought, sold, or traded in the digital economy, where everything has a value just like in the real world.

Play to earn

With true digital ownership, play-to-earn becomes possible as users increasingly realize that they can receive a return on their investment of time and money by generating revenue from their efforts.

Decentralized control and open governance

The blockchain is totally decentralized allowing peer-to-peer connectivity, removing intermediaries, and enabling individuals to make decisions in a fair and equal way. One significant benefit is the opportunity for individuals to get involved in decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) with on-chain elections and governance mechanisms to run their community, including decisions on how to spend its funds.

‘Open’ Versus ‘Closed’ Metaverse

The success of the metaverse revolves around true digital ownership where every user enjoys real value from their experience because they have protected property rights, just as they do in the real world. As a consequence, they can buy, sell, and trade assets on the blockchain in the form of NFTs, opening the way for Play to Earn where each individual is rewarded for their time, effort and commitment.

At the same time, an ‘Open Metaverse’ protects each individual’s data on the blockchain from unpaid exploitation. By delivering real value through property rights, earning capability, and peer-to-peer connectivity, the ‘Open Metaverse’ offers a supportive environment that is already attracting many new users. Decentraland is a good example of a more mature metaverse that contains many community-run elements: while sometimes appearing to be wild and chaotic, it is still fresh enough to sustain its appeal after several years in operation.

By contrast, the ‘walled garden’ environment developed by social media giant Facebook uses closely managed controls that drive massive advertising revenues at the cost of data exploitation.

Walled gardens impose rules and constrain user choice in such a way that they eventually lose their vitality and burn out. We see this in the constant stream of new social sharing platforms, some of which have already faded away–such as Vine –because it had to be ‘new,’ but didn’t manage to sustain its appeal in the face of growing competition. In fact, a blockchain metaverse is just a platform on which people build their own activities and develop their own businesses. This process of continuous renewal helps to sustain user interest for much longer.

However, when users are eventually faced with a stale and boring product that also steals their data–such as is the case today with Facebook–they are likely to move elsewhere. Users may have overlooked data theft before they really understood what it meant and stuck around while Facebook seemed ‘cooler.’ But today its appeal is severely tarnished.

Having generated almost $86 billion in revenue during 2020 and already reaching more than 3.5 billion people with its apps, Facebook has no motivation to change its approach. Meta will undoubtedly resemble Facebook in the near future and become a ‘Closed Metaverse’, lacking the key components of true digital ownership and data protection that are so important to an ‘Open Metaverse’ environment.

While Facebook’s ‘Meta’ is perhaps the greatest threat to the ‘Open Metaverse’, other established players in the gaming world also have little incentive to change their highly profitable business model. For companies such as Epic Games (publishers of Fortnite) and Roblox, adopting a more decentralized business model would involve giving up as much as thirty percent of current revenue and sharing much more with users.

Consequently, the success of the ‘Open Metaverse’ depends on the rise of a new generation of blockchain enthusiasts and the independent-minded community that gravitates towards them. Fortunately, a broad spectrum of metaverse projects is already experimenting with play-to-earn blockchain games, including The Sandbox, Decentraland, and Alien Worlds.

While these interpretations of the metaverse have their differences, all have a video game element in common because the two experiences are closely related today: games offering concerts and other social events operate in digital economies that also enable the trading of in-game items on the blockchain.

Community: At The Heart Of The Metaverse

One example of a community-driven Metaverse that has caught the popular imagination is Alien Worlds, which has already reached more than 5 million users in just 12 months since its launch, making it the biggest blockchain game available in terms of daily active wallets.

In this play-to-earn game, users build and govern for themselves while exploring seven planets across the Metaverse. Daily activities include creating NFTs, meeting new gamer friends in user forums, and selecting land and tools for a chosen playing strategy.

With an extensive virtual economy built around the in-game currency, Trilium, Alien Worlds focuses heavily on DAOs, with NFTs stored on the Wax and BSC (Binance Smart Chain) blockchains while Trilium is held on both of these as well as on the Ethereum blockchain. In addition to mining for digital assets and battling rivals, Trilium can be used to finance Missions to explore other planets.

The success of Alien Worlds is founded on bringing important aspects of real-life into the digital world such as a competitive DAO structure that motivates players to bid for election and manage the community on the Planet they have chosen as a virtual home.

Multiple activities are arranged by community organizations and many players choose to support each other, just as people do in the real world. The Alien Worlds community has already inspired a generation of blockchain gamers to engage in the same intense cooperation and competition – mining, fighting, exploring, playing games, and participating in governance –that is found in any earthbound community.

No matter how far we travel in search of a home, the same social principles apply: community, cooperation, competition, fair treatment, and equal property rights. That’s why Alien Worlds provides a framework for the success of the ‘Open Metaverse.’

Saro McKenna is the Co-Founder and CEO, Alien Worlds.

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