Games have been a fun childhood pastime for most of us growing up in North America in the 90’s. Mario gave us the ability to fly, to fight the evil King Coopa Troopa, and to save Princess Pea. Sub-zero from Mortal Kombat gave us an ice-cold look, a set of skills that any mortal ninja would envy, and a fighting chance at being the champion of Mixed Martial Arts. Tony Hawk pro skater gave any suburban kid spending their summers scraping their knee on pavement an alternative way to earn street cred → be damn good at Tony Hawk and maybe win some competitions in the process.
But first, let me level set with you -- the first time I heard the word metaverse I rolled my eyes 🙄. I thought to myself, “not another marketing gimmick to put a new wrapper on a used car”. But as I thought more about this space, I realized that we are already living in the metaverse.
What might a digital urban sprawl look like without the limitations of roads? What drives people into the metaverse, and what makes them continue to invest more time and resources?
In this short essay, I will explain WHY metaverses will continue to grow into the mainstream in the next 12-18 months.
Augmented Reality is the gateway drug into the Metaverse
Let’s take a closer look at social media in 2021. Snap (fka Snapchat) morphed itself from an ephemeral social media product to an Augmented Reality product. There are no shortage of face altering filters and games you can play that blends your reality and your digital experience.
If we look around the corner, there are more avante-guarde uses of Augmented Reality. Filters like Morphin, which Betaworks lead the round in 2019, were just coming around the bend to enable consumers with a superpower: add your face to a popular GIF. Here’s Loic Ledoux’s point of view on what his team built and what their view of the world was in 2019:
“We believe in the future you’ll be able to be the main character in your own film. Imagine a super hero movie where you’re the main protagonist?” -Loic Ledoux
So if this was back in 2019, just imagine what consumer behavior we might be seeing with NFTs and Metaverses in 2021. Bobby Hundreds, CEO & Founder of The Hundreds, recently posted a thought piece on what NFTs can learn from Streetwear.
Culture and Community must outweigh the transactional aspects of the game. Although quick flips and trading are essential to collectibles culture, they cannot become the only thing that drives a project. NFTs can only hold the world’s attention for so long before they’re distracted by the next shiny object. That is, unless, the NFT is grounded in something irreplicable and irreplaceable: long-standing rewards and enduring benefits that are human and meaningful. Much more than a generic financial gain. -Bobby Hundreds
Tyranny of Societal Norms
Metaverses free us from the tyranny of societal norms, especially if the culture we live in is considered conservative. Someone who identifies as pansexual doesn’t have the psychological safety to be themselves in a place like Mississippi. Lawyers, doctors and finance professionals are expected to maintain a veil of professionalism that often prejudices people that have visible tattoos, piercings or gauges. New parents commonly experience loneliness due to estrangement from their friends, particularly if those friends do not have children.
But in a Metaverse like Sandbox, we can speak, act and speak the way we want. But in addition to accessing different forms of social capital, as Metaverses decentralize, the possibilities of online communities to pave inroads for financial capital become more real. This value can take many forms but usually is mediated by exclusive access, including access to information, to talent, to deal flow, or to expertise, to events, etc.
Tyranny of Physical Space
Outside of being a different person in the metaverse, what else might we be motivated to do in a digital space? There are places that you’ve never been but want to go --- think about visiting Paris. There are places you’ve been to but you can’t visit right now --- say, the many night markets in Bangkok. There are places that don’t exist anymore that you want to visit -- the Great Barrier Reef will become extinct soon due to global warming. And there are places that will exist in the future but don’t exist today -- think a wedding party that you’re planning for a year in advance.
Companies like MoNA are powering metaverses in the form of 3D NFTs, where each of these places can not only be created, but purchased, collected and sold.
Tyranny of Time
Time moves forward but our memories stay with us. Memories are only in our head, but what if Metaverses can help us touch, taste, smell, see and hear our favorite memories from our lives or the lives of others?
Imagine owning parts of your family’s history -- walking through your home when your children are young, christmas memories from your grandmother’s place --- recordings even of the most mundane parts of your life today can be vividly re-lived long after they’re gone.
Tyranny of Work & Creativity
For some citizens of the World, they were not lucky enough to be born into an affluent country. People in the Philippines are playing play-to-earn Crypto games to sell NFTs to earn a living after losing their jobs during COVID-19. They earned $400 USD/week, which is 4x more than what they expect to earn in their local jobs, all of which started and ended in a metaverse.
But you don’t need to be living in a developing country to tap into the economic value that metaverse communities are creating for themselves just by solving their own problems. For example, with BlockBets, you can earn cryptocurrency by wagering on Call of Duty matches. BlockBets solves the problem of wagering against strangers (ie: there’s no social contract to keep the counterparty to pay if they lose the match), but it also unlocks a new way to earn money.
Creativity itself is redefined in the Metaverse. Our imagination’s limitations are to create within the confines of the physical world. But with generative NFTs, we can have our own creativity spawn a new type of art in the metaverse.
“Art is not art, therefore, except as it leads to an engendering creativity in its beholders. Whoever takes possession of the objects of art has not taken the possession of the art.” - James Carse, Finite & Infinite Games
When the speculative NFT craze slows down and people are stuck with NFTs that they can’t flip for a profit, we will see mass adoption of NFTs through usage in the metaverse. I leave you with three key takeaways:
NFTs and the Metaverse can provide groups of excluded people a way to gain proficiency in the social and financial realms (ties to # 4 - Tyranny of Work & Creativity). This is an extension of movies, video games, and social media. With the metaverse, it is not just about increasing access to social capital but financial capital as well.
In a world of increasing inequality, there will be increased appeal to create new worlds, free from the trapping of our current society. Social mobility continues to decline in developed countries. Automation continues to eat into the share of work being outsourced, limiting opportunities for citizens in 3rd world countries. We are increasingly wanting to become curators of our own fantasies and virtual experience - i.e. we don’t want to watch the movie, we want to be in the movie.
For the majority of the world population that has met physiological and safety needs (see Maslow’s hierarchy), the Metaverse offers a better way (than our current structures) for people to find a sense of belonging and purpose. What I can create is no longer limited to the physical tools and resources of the “real world”. Where I can find community and a sense of belonging can extend beyond the physical realm.