Letters to Layer 2: We Still Know Nothing About the Metaverse

Will the metaverse be expensive to use? Will there be more than one? Who, ultimately, is responsible for building it?

By Daniel KuhnLayer 2
AccessTimeIconMay 30, 2022 at 9:50 a.m. UTCUpdated May 31, 2022 at 2:19 p.m. UTC
By Daniel KuhnLayer 2
AccessTimeIconMay 30, 2022 at 9:50 a.m. UTCUpdated May 31, 2022 at 2:19 p.m. UTC

Daniel Kuhn is a features reporter and assistant opinion editor for CoinDesk's Layer 2. He owns BTC and ETH.

Last week, CoinDesk’s digital magazine, Layer 2, published a comprehensive series on the metaverse. The features, essays and op-eds covered what the metaverse is, what it means for crypto and how to profit from, in and around this next-gen web.

In short, the metaverse is (conceivably) the next frontier for the internet. It seeks to create embodied experiences and that will push many parts of the web as we know it to their limits.

This article is excerpted from The Node, CoinDesk's daily roundup of the most pivotal stories in blockchain and crypto news. You can subscribe to get the full newsletter here. And it is a part of Layer 2's “Metaverse Week."

We won’t just have social media, but very social media. “Holding” crypto could take on a literal meaning. Our online identities would have substance and form, and might, therefore, be treated with a higher level of respect than we currently give our avatars and usernames.

All of this, it goes without saying, has relevance for digital privacy, digital rights and digital assets. The internet today, and especially the subset carved out by the crypto industry, is largely synthetic. We don’t yet know the full repercussions of what making the virtual a little more life-like could be; just as it was difficult to predict how the World Wide Web would impact society back in Tim Berners-Lee’s day.

Suffice to say, these changes if they come in even half the measure as predicted, would be profound. And, as thorough as Metaverse Week was, there are still unanswered questions.

A few experts wrote in and shared their thoughts on some of the biggest issues remaining. They cover the creator economy, tribalism and the real costs associated with the metaverse – and maybe show how little we know.

Will there be one metaverse or many? (And why might one be better than the other?)

As my lawyer always says: “It depends.” Is there a single internet, or are there multiple internets? As an English speaker, I’ve always enjoyed a very large slice of the internet. However, I never appreciated that until I moved to Japan in 2019 and found that the Japanese-language internet is much smaller. Search for the same query in Japanese, and you’ll get many fewer hits, due to the simple fact that there is much less published content on the web in Japanese than in English.

In much the same way, “the metaverse” can be used to refer to the wider phenomenon of spending time in virtual worlds. However, humans are inherently tribal. Even if a single implementation of the metaverse becomes mainstream, we’ll find ways to divide it into mini-metaverses that serve our gathering needs. This is neither a good nor a bad thing – it’s simply part of being human.

– Grace “Ori” Kwan, co-founder of Orca

Will the metaverse be expensive to use?

There will be enormous variation in the cost of participating in the metaverse just as there is in the global economy currently. Similar to how there is intense competition among brands for the real estate and eyeballs in Times Square in New York City, there will be comparable levels of competition in the most sought-after metaverse realms for both digital real estate and attention.

Brands will be dedicating significant percentages of resources towards gaining and retaining customers in the metaverse and, as part of that competition, brands will vie to offer the best metaverse experience at the most affordable price.

This market pressure should keep metaverse experiences affordable for the majority of users. That said, experiences will run the gamut between low-cost to free and extremely expensive and exclusive, just as brands in Web 2 choose different tactics, with some marketing to a mass market at affordable prices while others cater to small, niche groups who can pay more for customized, luxury experiences. As the metaverse matures, expect this level of variation in branded experiences to develop.

– Yonathan Lapchik, CEO of SUKU

If you could shop or socialize from anywhere, would you leave your home?

Today, the internet makes shopping more efficient because it’s quicker and cheaper than going into a store. The trade-off is in losing visual and tactile experiences, and the sensation of being in a crowd or a shared sense of reality and place. In bringing us theoretically close to anyone else online, today’s internet simultaneously disconnects us from our family and friends. The metaverse will reconstruct the web from a flat two-dimensional experience into an immersive, interactive three-dimensional experience that resembles a massive multiplayer video game like Fortnite.

When shopping, for instance, instead of scrolling through a digital catalog to buy your groceries you will enter a supermarket with an avatar representing your identity. That avatar will push a digital cart down the aisles as you pick up food items, examine them and deposit them in your cart. This is closer to the real-world experience of shopping that is threatened with extinction by Web 2’s convenience – with the added benefit of the internet’s ubiquity and choice.

In other words, the metaverse might allow us to reclaim our past while still preserving the efficiencies of going digital. As for our friends, family and those we want close to us: You’ll be able to invite anyone into your virtual home and offer a curated experience, sharing your life in an immersive format that mimics someone visiting your offline reality.

There are clear benefits of the metaverse’s community-based ownership and governance models as well as its trustless transactions and transparency. It reproduces the physicality lacking in the web, and allows for more attuned social experiences. Still, if you could experience reality virtually, why would you leave your home?

– Dan Nissanoff, CEO of Game of Silks

Creators will be central to the metaverse

Right now, the metaverse consists of several open-world games. Unlike traditional games, users fully own the in-game assets they earn or purchase. Yet, most of these assets are predesigned by the game’s developers. It doesn’t have to be this way, and in fact if this trend continues it would choke the metaverse before it begins.

The name “user-generated content” is as it suggests. Today it usually refers to YouTube videos, fan fiction, game mods for Grand Theft Auto, Roblox and Minecraft – or content that was created by your average netizen rather than “professionals.” In the context of the metaverse, we’re really talking about in-game assets – the characters, worlds and tools you use as you play.

Companies like Meta and Riot Games have already started experimenting with user-generated content in their metaverses, and the results have been promising. But what’s really interesting, if the metaverse is to be as interactive, immersive and experiential as professed, the world cannot rely only on companies to flesh it out. The metaverse simply wouldn’t “scale.”

What will likely encourage players to build on their own in-game assets (clothes, levels, maps, etc.) is the level of guaranteed ownership and potential to profit. Today, mods can be monetized but that often breaks the rules and players often seem more motivated by prestige among their peers for building cool stuff.

So it is that the metaverse presents a contradiction: In the absence of UGC, the metaverse would be nothing more than a static environment where people could look but not interact (like watching a movie). So this stuff is necessary. And because blockchain will give these assets a market and permanence, there will be motivated players to build. The hope is that user-generated content will foster creativity and innovation by allowing like-minded individuals to engage with each other. But might market competition look a little more familiar, instead?

– Simon Viera, co-founder and CEO of MixMob

The mental health implications of the metaverse

In general, those struggling with issues such as social anxiety or agoraphobia can experience, maybe for the first time in a long time, some sustained social engagement through the metaverse. As they edge themselves into an inclusive world where they can feel present and comfortable, barriers such as fear of judgment could slowly begin to dissipate. This, in due time, could encourage them in their ability to hold conversations and comfortably immerse themselves in new environments within the physical world.

Similarly, those who experience loneliness – such as individuals who live in remote locations – could potentially feel more socially included by entering the metaverse as they will have the opportunity to meet with people from all walks of life and connect with others who share similar passions and interests. The metaverse breaks geographic boundaries.

The physically disabled could likewise benefit. In the metaverse some stand to gain a whole new sense of motion and interaction, offering a real sense of liberation as they explore new environments. With virtual reality, they can travel to exotic destinations such as beaches and rainforests, or visit different cities and monuments, all from the comfort of their home.

There could be dedicated “islands” or “planets” – or digital worlds – developed as mental health sanctuaries, where users can go to experience therapy services, mindfulness classes and exercise programs. For those who may lack the confidence or the resources to venture into these avenues in the physical world, the metaverse presents a very feasible alternative.

This sense of freedom from physical limitations spans all aspects of identity. On a vast scale, people will be able to recreate themselves and be anything they want to be – no matter their race, gender or size. This should not discourage people from being who they are in the physical world, but rather encourage them to extend the scope of who they imagine themselves to be – maybe igniting something that would otherwise lay dormant within.

– Jawad Ashraf, CEO of Terra Virtua

More from Metaverse Week:

Verifiable, immutable ownership of digital goods and currency will be an essential component of the metaverse.

Executives from Adidas, Budweiser, Clinique, NARS Cosmetics and other big consumer brands explain why the metaverse is “seismic” for their businesses.

The future possibilities of the metaverse are presumably limitless, but is there anything you can do in the metaverse right now?

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Daniel Kuhn is a features reporter and assistant opinion editor for CoinDesk's Layer 2. He owns BTC and ETH.

Daniel Kuhn is a features reporter and assistant opinion editor for CoinDesk's Layer 2. He owns BTC and ETH.