Many also assume that blockchain technology will play a key role in the Metaverse, along with other emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR). But is the use of blockchain really a foregone conclusion?
Professor Jeremy Bailenson of Stanford University recently moderated a World Economic Forum panel featuring some of the world’s leading thinkers of the Metaverse and blockchain. “The first question posed to the panel was, ‘Do we need the blockchain for the metaverse?’” Bailenson, founder of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, told Cointelegraph. “The consensus was that the Metaverse could exist without blockchain.”
For example, Bailenson offered metaverse pioneer Second Life, founded in 2003, which has 70 million current registered accounts and is to add another 350,000 new accounts every month on its online multimedia platform. Second Life has “developed a robust economy where digital assets are bought and sold,” Bailenson said. “The typical GDP of Second Life is about half a billion dollars a year. And the world runs robustly without using the blockchain.”
“Could the next iteration of the internet exist without blockchain technology?” asked Tonya Evans, a professor at Penn State University’s Dickinson Law School. “Yes, you could,” she told Cointelegraph. After all, distributed decentralized ledgers and cryptographically secured assets — including smart contracts — are just one part of Web3 technology, along with AI, 3D printing, VR, augmented reality, the Internet of Things (IoT), and others.
Many are excited about the prospect of the Metaverse with its virtual worlds that can be used to play online games, as well as train surgeons in 3D organ models and allow students to visit recreated villages in ancient Greece that are amazing. have been brought to life.
Exclude it at your own risk
But leaving out blockchain technology, while doable, could still be a mistake. “The Metaverse without blockchains would probably just take the ball to Big Tech,” Evans added, and it would come at the expense of those same people left behind by Web2 — “the same people that a truly decentralized web would amplify.”
Yonatan Raz-Fridman, founder and CEO of SuperSocial – which develops games for the Metaverse – agreed that blockchain technology is not absolutely necessary. “No, you don’t need a blockchain to enable Metaverse,” he told Cointelegraph. There is no a priori reason why avatars can’t be created in 3D and games can be played with closed platforms, like those of Second Life.
But Web3 is arguably a reaction against the FAMGA companies – Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon – with their proprietary platforms, and Raz-Fridman predicted that companies like Meta will have to compromise on interoperability if they expect to to participate. This means avatars can travel freely from one Metaverse project to another – along with all their digital clothing and jewelry. Like NYU marketing professor Scott Galloway put it recently:
‘Why buy clothes if you can’t wear them outside the store? Why buy a Birkin bag if you can’t show it off in the Metaverse?”
Consumers are now demanding a Web3/Metaverse more like the one in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel snow crashadded Raz-Fridman, “where everyone owns their digital assets and has the freedom to take them with them as they move from one place to another.”
Interestingly, novelist Stephenson himself is the co-founder of a recently launched metaverse project Lamina1, “which will use blockchain technology to build an ‘open metaverse’ — one that is open-source and decentralized,” the Washington Post reported†
All about people, places and things
The Metaverse is an elusive term – different parties define it differently. However, most agree that it is about immersive three-dimensional virtual worlds with many games and role-playing games. Bailenson, for his part, finds it helpful to break down the Metaverse into people, places, and things. He sees a potential role for blockchain technology in each of these areas.
“People are avatars, the bodies we wear while immersed in the digital world,” he explained to Cointelegraph. Here, blockchain technology can provide the “crypto DNA” that “enables a one-to-one mapping from person to person.” avatar.” For example, it can be used to guarantee that a person cannot inhabit ten avatars at once, or to allow someone else to “take my own avatar for a ride.” Bailenson added:
“While an obvious application of blockchain will be to verify clothes and jewelry for an avatar, I’ve always thought that the killer app here is documenting and verifying human animations.”
Places, in Bailenson’s view, are fixed areas in a grid of a virtual world. For the Metaverse to work, a world must be “persistent: it’s there even when you’re not, and consistent: if you buy a piece of land a mile from Snoop Dog, it can’t go any further based on a arbitrary reclassification of the world.” Some platforms are already using blockchain technology to document these cards, he noted.
Finally, the most obvious application of blockchain technology is in Bailenson’s realm of things, including three-dimensional models, two-dimensional images, sound files “or any digital asset that can be housed in a virtual world.” Blockchain technology can be used to verify transactions “without a centralized body overseeing the transaction” and also to ensure “that items have a unique value based on the supply – you can’t just make thousands of copies to create a actively falsifying.”
As things stand, major Metaverse players and/or contenders — including Sandbox, Decentraland, and the FAMGA companies — offer “very little interchange between their web platforms and other platforms,” Lik-Hang Lee, assistant professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Cointelegraph told. This lack of interoperability, characteristic of Web2, is a shortcoming that must be addressed if the Metaverse is to reach its full potential. According to Lee, this includes at least the following elements:
- Anyone should be able to build a virtual world that can link to the rest of the Metaverse;
- Any device or browser must be able to access Metaverse, provided it meets certain predetermined specifications;
- Ownership of digital assets must be captured and stored across multiple servers and clients;
- A single avatar must be able to communicate with avatars on other servers;
- People should have the ability to produce, display, buy and sell their digital assets within the Metaverse.
“In light of the growing number of metaverse initiatives that are incompatible with each other, it is more important than ever to build standardizing organisms,” Lee told Cointelegraph.
However, interoperability may not be easy. Meta, Google and others “will fight hard not to lose their dominance,” Raz-Fridman said. It may also take time for the public to understand exactly what is in a user-owned internet, but when they do, “consumers will demand that they have more control.” At that point, FAMGA companies will have no choice but to at least make some compromises on interoperability.
Raz-Fridman was asked why crypto people in particular seem so interested in the Metaverse. Is it because they think it will potentially boost cryptocurrency adoption? “If you look at it historically, there has always been a battle over the story – different versions of what the world should be like,” he replied.
At one extreme are the crypto maximalists who envision a decentralized, blockchain-based and open-source world where people own and manage their data and digital assets. Raz-Fridman is sympathetic to this position, but in the end he doesn’t think it will eventually prevail, at least in general. Facebook, Google and others “own a great deal of economic activity over the Internet, and they won’t be toppled overnight.”
Nor is the survival of private, private platforms unrealistic. In the short term, you might expect a kind of “clash of civilizations” between the two views, Raz-Fridman continued, with an eventual middle ground that emerges when consumers decide for themselves how decentralized the Metaverse is.
Meanwhile, as the Metaverse continues to evolve, Bailenson expects many free uses of blockchain technology “where the technology works, but is not essential.” However, as more time goes by, “a series of great apps will emerge where blockchain is the only way to do the job right,” Bailenson told Cointelegraph.
All in all, a Metaverse without blockchain is both conceivable and feasible. But “if the goal is to democratize the internet, not to mention accessibility, transparency, composability and platform interoperability,” Evans said, “then the Metaverse must contain blockchain.”