The ‘Metaverse’ is an umbrella term for a state of digital reality— a world of ones and zeros designed to give participants simulated real-world experiences (and beyond). It’s already here, but something is missing— a digital economy to match. Here’s why…
What is Real? How Do You Define Real?
There’s a theory that we all live in a simulation, but we just don’t know it. I recall a popular quote from Elon Musk where he mentioned that the likelihood we live in ‘actual’ reality is ‘one in billions.’
Elon said our reality is most likely a simulation. Who’s got the cheat code to make Legos turn soft when you step on ’em? Asking for a friend…
While this theory is by no means new and has been posited by numerous headscratchers for decades, it burst into the mainstream for my generation with films like The Matrix (the title of this section is actually a quote from one of its lead characters, Morpheus). Although jacking into an altered state of existence still seems a ways off, Virtual Reality (VR) technology is already starting to give us a glimpse of what a ‘world above a world’ is like.
The Metaverse is not a singular company or application, though. It’s an overarching idea and ecosystem consisting of dozens if not hundreds of companies building hardware, software, and thriving communities.
Toes in the Metaverse Water
By Christmas 2020, the cabin fever from the Pandemic was real, and I had just heard about the new Oculus Quest 2 release. I ended up purchasing two for my wife and myself, and thus our journey into VR began. Yes, I did know that Oculus is owned by Facebook, and I’m not too crazy about that. Still, I tried the device out, and for the price, it’s leaps ahead of the rest of the VR industry (which hadn’t impressed me thus far in terms of hardware and ease of use).
My Oculus Quest 2, with a few added accessories and goodies
With the Oculus, no PC is required. Despite its compact design, it still has great processing power, optics, responsiveness, and networking capabilities. It was like strapping an XBox to my face and boom! Off to the races!
I quickly filled my spare time with arcade-style games like Pistol Whip , Population One, FitXR, and SUPERHOT.
Pistol Whip is amazing— I don’t have time to elaborate further, just trust and believe
My wife, on the other hand, was pretty much interested in only one thing— AltspaceVR , a Metaverse app. Within this platform she could customize her avatar, move freely through the worlds of Altspace in VR, make friends, and even attend events. Since AltspaceVR is not driven by games-within-games, it’s closer to Second Life than Ready Player One’s Oasis. As I started using it, I found it to be kind of like VRchat, but without all the ‘random chaos.’ It’s more of a ‘mature’ vibe, and while avatars are customizable, you can’t import a custom waifu with millions of polygons that crash the game.
Rise to ‘Metastardom’
Over time, we both dove deeper and deeper into the AltspaceVR community, and I would say we rose into the higher ranks of popularity in this digital world. People who were already ‘Altspace popular’ knew us pretty well, and whenever we entered a particular space, people we didn’t even know recognized us almost instantly.
My wife and I inside AltspaceVR sporting our VR avatars
A lot of that faux-fame was because of a VR talent competition we helped run called THE SHOW, executive produced by real-life music mogul GoldenChild and co-founded by GoldenChild and SugarShark. I was the host of the AGT-style show while my wife was on the panel of four judges which included Altspacer Sasha.
THE SHOW was no joke— fully customized stage designed by an actual virtual design studio (Haptix ), searchlights, jumbotrons, a fully functional custom voting system (by Altspacer Luminosity), and directed by an industry veteran who directed real-life productions (Altspacer Marshak).
As I recall, the production ran for 10 live shows or so, culminating in a grand finale where talent winners from each individual show competed against one another. There were oftentimes literally hundreds of people on set watching in VR or on their computers. AltspaceVR isn’t a very wide community, so those numbers are a pretty big deal.
…And Here’s the Problem
With such an awesome production loved by everyone in AltspaceVR, and with so much work having gone into it, we probably all made bank right? Nope.
The current issue with AltspaceVR is, while it is totally free to use, there are no integrated economics features for event producers. For platforms like AltspaceVR to succeed in the Metaverse, you need high-quality experiences that people would actually be willing to pay for, especially those that they already pay for IRL— comedy clubs, dance clubs, concerts, even plays…I’ve attended them all in AltspaceVR, and for the most part, they deliver the same experiences I’m used to in real-life, all without ever leaving the comfort of my own home.
I attended the Failed to Render comedy club in AltspaceVR and laughed many times at many great jokes from comedians, just like in real-life. I could see their virtual heads bobbing and hands moving as they delivered their live performances in a virtual world.
I also attended The Inner Circle’s Psytrance Music Festival in AltspaceVR. I danced my ass off for hours, Negroni in hand and haptic feedback device strapped to my back. It was just as easy to have a great time and make new friends in a virtual setting as it was IRL, and I skipped the overpriced drinks, long bathroom lines, and pricey Ubers that tarnish the real thing.
I went to a live concert with many musicians performing on their instruments and singing directly into AltspaceVR. There was even a digital picnic blanket for me to chill on at the ‘outdoor amphitheatre.’
I attended an improv comedy night in AltspaceVR and even went on stage to perform improv comedy directly with other people (who may not have even been on the same continent as I was).
I even checked out a fully produced live play with actors, changing sets, music, the whole shebang. In VR, the production team could generate literal magic on stage at near zero cost— I saw things that could not possibly happen in real-life because physics simply prevent them from happening.
I did it all for free, and event producers suffer hugely for it…
AltspaceVR relies on voluntary models like Patreon and Venmo donations, since there is no way to configure entrance fees for digital events or take payments directly within AltspaceVR. The platform is global, so in designing such a system, it brings in a lot of pain points derived from international transaction fees and the like.
I am currently a Patreon member giving to one of the AltspaceVR productions. In the past I gave a tip to an event producer that is much larger than I care to mention here. I was genuinely frustrated with the system because it shortchanges event producers. Sadly the real economy doesn’t run on ‘give what you can.’
Real vs. Virtual: Same Same?
For someone who doesn’t have extensive experience in the Metaverse (and that may apply to you) the question becomes ‘Is it worth it to pay for carbon copies of real experiences?’ After six months in AltspaceVR, I can confidently tell you that the answer is a resounding yes, and in some cases, I don’t even see them as ‘copies.’
When event producers take their role seriously, the results can be astonishing. Remember that virtual music festival I mentioned earlier? When I took off that headset, I realized I was feeling all the same feelings from attending a real, in-person music festival: adrenaline, joy, satisfaction. I could point at the DJ with my virtual hands, and he pointed right back with his. I was THERE, wherever ‘there’ was, and then bang, I was still inside my own office. What a trip!
If I couldn’t get into the event unless I paid a cover charge, I would gladly pay it, and probably more than once, too. It’s hard to describe the difference between a real event and a VR one to someone who hasn’t done both, but I can tell you— even though it’s VR, there is, without a doubt, real value there.
I must admit, my story is less about the specific solutions that crypto brings to the Metaverse, and more about the struggles of a Metaverse that lacks an economy to support it. However, it’s important to understand the problem here. VR event producers in AltspaceVR work incredibly hard to build something special within the ecosystem. The platform, it seems, is not designed to reward this hard work, since there is no way to run premium paid events.
For example, when I was a spry youngster in high school, I ran real club nights where 600 real people showed up (and paid a real cover charge). This year in AltspaceVR, I ran a virtual club night at the Hart of Gold Club, a virtual space designed by my wife who just so happens to be an interior decorator.
My wife at the grand opening of her club, Hart of Gold.
600 people also showed up to that, and it went on for five hours with people constantly coming up to the virtual DJ booth saying ‘this is the coolest event I’ve ever been to in Altspace!’ And yet, in terms of my wallet? Bupkis.
Crypto for the Win
Cryptocurrencies can help address this issue by creating a cyclical economy wherein event producers can earn real money at their events. Moreover, eventgoers can spend money and aspire to be rewarded as event producers. The places where crypto really shines through are in micropayments, international transactions, custody, and the realization of a thriving, self-sustaining ecosystem.
Cryptocurrencies allow for micropayments to take place with near-zero fees and can come from anywhere in the world without international fiat transfer costs. Also, in the same way that people retain ownership over property in the real world, they can also own their funds outright in their wallets if they happen to be in the form of crypto.
Lastly, in my opinion, it’s unlikely that the situation will amount to ‘one Metaverse application to rule them all.’ The strengths and goals of AltspaceVR differ from (and even complement) those of Rec Room, VRChat, and so on. A platform-agnostic cryptocurrency could easily unite the disparate economies of every Metaverse application. An independent Metaverse Blockchain could even serve to divert some block rewards to a voting pool where users vote for which event producers deserve a portion of newly-created coins.
I had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with a lot of wonderful people inside AltspaceVR. Unfortunately, I don’t find myself with my headset on much these days. I guess I felt as though I was perpetuating the status quo by continuing to participate, and in the end, it just means more hard work for more free events, all to grow the community so AltspaceVR can monetize the entire platform for themselves later. Without a clear path to real-world rewards, I could no longer see the draw for me personally producing events, which is undoubtedly the coolest part of AltspaceVR for me.
I still greatly appreciate every event producer in AltspaceVR working to bring value to it for Altspacers. I especially appreciate the opportunities to speak in VR about ARK.io and MSQ.io at HiveFest and The Cryptocurrency Generation , as well as participate in a crypto game show that was hosted by Blockchain UniVRse .
Photo from my ARK and MSQ presentation at HiveFest in Altspace
These days, I’m interested in learning more about Somnium Space , a VR Metaverse platform with Blockchain in its DNA that draws inspiration from both AltspaceVR and VRchat.
Somnium Space, a Blockchain-fueled VR Metaverse platform
Let’s watch the Metaverse industry closely and see how its economy develops. I strongly believe crypto has a place in this exciting new digital world. If this article interested you, consider checking out our video The Blockchains of Ready Player One on YouTube!