Metaverse, virtual worlds that unite billions of people, from the predictions of science fiction writers and futurologists today have turned into specific goals spelled out in the roadmaps of IT corporations and start-ups.
Cryplogger has figured out the history of the formation of virtual worlds and the role of cryptocurrencies in this industry of the future.
A Premonition of Virtuality
The now fashionable word “metaverse” was first mentioned in the fantastic novel “Avalanche” by Neal Stevenson from 1992. This term was understood as a single virtual space that copies and replaces the real world, where users interact with digital objects and other users.
Writers and dreamers have been inventing fantasy worlds with their inhabitants and laws for centuries, but have had little way to share them with other people. But as soon as the first computers appeared, it became clear that this is the very tool that will help not only to create new worlds, but also to invite other people to them, to use a new environment for creativity, communication, earnings and any other activities.
Imagine: the very beginning of the 1960s, the word “personal computer” can still be found only in science fiction magazines, and the world’s leading minds have already calculated all the possible economic and social consequences of the development of computer technology!
The famous Polish futurist and writer Stanisław Lem in the early 60s predicted the emergence of virtual worlds and analyzed the problems of the existence of a virtual civilization in the monograph “The Sum of Technology” and in the series of stories “From the Memoirs of Ion the Quiet”. In the same years, another famous writer Arthur Clarke in his book “Features of the Future” (1962) foresaw the development of computer technology, and later made a prediction about the creation of a full virtual reality by 2025.
The ideas of these futurologists were replicated in numerous fantastic stories, novels, films and TV series, and those who now stand at the head of the world’s largest IT corporations grew up on them. So you could argue that this is one of those prophecies that everyone believed so much that it couldn’t help but come true.
In the public consciousness and world culture, the concept of virtual worlds has firmly entered with the advent of Hollywood blockbusters on this topic. In the film “Tron” (1982), virtual reality was shown for the first time, in which a person can interact with computer programs. The next sensational film on this topic was “The Matrix” (1999), where billions of people lived in a virtual world indistinguishable from reality (although not of their own free will). Since then, this topic has been revealed from different sides in hundreds of films, TV shows and books.
As is often the case, human imagination has far outpaced technological progress. Only by the beginning of the 2000s, the capabilities of computers made it possible to create those virtual worlds that mankind began to dream about two generations earlier.
Step by Step into Virtuality
The first timid attempts to get closer to the creation of virtual worlds began to be made in the 1970s, with the advent of the first personal computers and long before the formation of the Internet familiar to us.
The multiplayer 3D first-person shooter Maze War, which appeared in 1973 and worked on the ARPANET computer network, can be called the first virtual world where several players were able to interact with each other for the first time (more precisely, kill each other).
In the 1990s, as the computing power of personal computers and the speed of Internet connections grew, a whole galaxy of online multiplayer games appeared, where hundreds and thousands of players fought against bots, communicating with each other to trade and form alliances and guilds. The primitive graphics of the first hits, such as The Realm Online (1996) or Ultima Online (1997), were compensated by the developed imagination of players brought up on tabletop role-playing games. EverQuest (1999) was the first commercial game with a three-dimensional game engine, which allowed you to collect more than 3,000 players on one server at the same time, and this is the population of a small town.
Perhaps the most massive online game that has grown into a real virtual galaxy was EVE Online (2003), which to this day continues to develop and update. Users become captains of spaceships that explore star systems, gather resources, explore technology, organize into alliances and factions, fight, make alliances, and trade. The Eve Online game galaxy has over 7,000 star systems with over 60,000 planets. The audience of the game is still more than 330,000 active users. At the same time, up to 50,000 players are in it at the same time, many of whom spend most of their free time in this world, literally live in it.[
The first online game where the focus was shifted from violence to social interactions was The Sims Online (2002), a multiplayer version of the famous “life simulator”. In it it was possible to communicate, build a personal life and career, create businesses, earn virtual money, build houses and buy land. The Sims virtual universe included 17 towns on an area of 360 square kilometers and could simultaneously receive hundreds of thousands of users, who were given maximum freedom of action and self-expression.
From a commercial and technical point of view, the project was a failure. The number of users who paid for the subscription barely exceeded 100,000. However, in this virtual world, for the first time, a realistic model of modern society has developed, with fierce competition, with virtual criminal groups and even with virtual prostitution.
In every sense, a more successful multiplayer real-life simulator was the Second Life project, launched in 2003 by Linden Lab. As in the Sims, there were no storylines and mandatory missions, and users were given almost complete freedom of action. The economy of the game world was built on the game currency Linden-dollars, which were initially exchanged for American dollars 1 to 1. At the peak of the game’s popularity, which occurred in the early 2010s, Linden dollars were the most used electronic currency in the world, with an annual turnover of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Linden dollars could buy virtual items, real estate, furniture, virtual land, participate in gambling. In addition, reverse conversion into fiat currencies was envisaged. Thanks to this, thousands of businesses have formed in Second Life: workshops for creating virtual items, shops, art galleries, banks, gambling houses and casinos. Already in 2006, the first millionaires appeared in the game. Users earned and withdrew five to six-figure sums from Second Life.
For almost 18 years of the project’s development, the total number of registered users who have entered the game at least once has exceeded 60 million Second Life and now remains one of the most popular virtual worlds with an active economy and the simultaneous presence of up to 40,000 users.
At the peak of popularity, there were predictions that the platform would become the basis for the “new Internet”. However, the inflated system requirements of the game application and the complexity of controlling the character greatly limited the audience.
Nevertheless, it was Second Life that paved the way for many virtual worlds of the next generation, and its successes and challenges allowed us to accumulate valuable experience in managing such large-scale IT projects. It became clear that in the creation of future metaverses, there will be a huge amount of work of programmers, game designers, artists and even economists who can create a sustainable virtual economy that would allow users to enjoy the gameplay and at the same time provide stable profits for developers and publishers.
In parallel, in the American academic environment, virtual worlds were developed for completely different purposes. University of Michigan graduate Bhargav Shri Prakash founded Vmerse in 2005 and developed the world’s first virtual reality simulation platform designed for college entrants and graduates. There was no multiplayer mode or social interactions, in fact it was a detailed interactive three-dimensional copy of the campus of the University of Michigan. Later, virtual copies of the campuses of Stanford and Columbia universities appeared in Vmerse.
Blockchain for metaverses
So, by the time bitcoin appeared and the beginning of the development of blockchain technologies, there were already commercially successful virtual worlds with millions of users. What is the role of blockchain in this industry?
A well-known problem with online multiplayer games and virtual worlds is that users have to put up with all the risks of high centralization: from unexpected blocking of game accounts to database failures and physical damage to servers.
As the experience of Second Life and EVE Online has shown, players are ready to invest millions of dollars in virtual worlds, thereby maintaining the stability of the virtual economy, but at the same time they would like to guarantee that their investments will not be reset due to the arbitrariness of the game administration, another software failure or force majeure.
These fears are not unfounded. In 2005, a software error in the next update of The Sims Online led to the depreciation of the internal currency, a drop in the value of virtual items and real estate, and thereby destroyed the game economy, provoking a mass exodus of disappointed players. And in the spring of 2021, a fire in the OVH data center in Strasbourg destroyed 25 game servers of the popular multiplayer online game Rust. At the same time, a large array of user data was lost, with all their game achievements.
The solution to the problem of reliability of data storage and digital capital was the transfer of internal game currencies to the blockchain and the introduction of NFT, when each game item corresponds to a non-replaceable token issued in a decentralized network.
From impersonal data, savings and virtual real estate of users become digital assets, which in many countries are already recognized as property at the legislative level. At the same time, the storage, use and trade of game items in the form of NFT receive legal protection.
In the crypto industry, there are several projects that have created virtual worlds with an economy based on blockchain technologies. The most famous of them is Decentraland, the development of which started in 2015. The most valuable asset in this metaverse is the land parcels represented by non-fungible LAND tokens of the ERC-721standard. They can be rented out, built up with buildings, shops, casinos, used to place advertising. Also in the virtual world of Decentraland there is its own in-game currency MANA, which is a token in the Ethereum network, which makes it easy to withdraw it and exchange it for fiat currencies.
Not so well-known, but also actively developing blockchain project Somnium Space with support for VR glasses offers a three-dimensional world where users can buy land plots (parcely), create trading platforms, games, cinemas, galleries on them and develop a common virtual universe. Objects created in the Builder editor in the form of NFT can be sold in the Somnium Store marketplace for cube cryptocurrency.
“Our ultimate goal is to realize the long-standing dream of mankind to fully immerse yourself in a vast world that is constantly changing and will never be the same, no matter when you decide to join,” says the founder of the project Arthur Sychev.
It is impossible not to mention the project, which is still in development, but has already made a lot of noise in the crypto industry. The multiplayer game Star Atlas, according to the creators, should become an analogue of Eve Online on the blockchain: with space battles, battles for planets, politics, trade and the extraction of resources and technologies. All this is intended to be implemented on the Solana blockchain, which differs from Ethereum by orders of magnitude faster and cheaper transactions.
In the form of NFT, spacecraft, crew members, orbital stations, equipment for the extraction of resources, sites on planets and much more will be produced. Also on Solana, the game currency ATLAS and the POLISmanagement token were issued.
The blockchain industry is literally at the forefront of progress, offering creators of virtual worlds fast and cheap micropayments, automation of the digital economy through smart contracts and digital rights to virtual property with NFT technology. However, blockchain technologies are not the “magic pill” that can cure all the childhood diseases of multiplayer online games at once.
If users like such solutions, it is easy to imagine that they will scale to entire virtual offices and headquarters. Thousands of employees will be able to work on common tasks, physically located on different continents.
In September 2020, Facebook corporation introduced a similar solution: the Infinite Office service – a virtual office for working from home through the Oculus Quest 2 headset. And in August 2021, it showed another tool for remote work – the Horizon Workrooms service, which is a virtual meeting room with support for VR glasses and the ability to track a person’s eyes, face and movements.
It is Facebook, with its 2.89 billion users and huge financial opportunities for innovation, that is called the most likely creator of a truly large-scale virtual reality focused on social interactions.
Mark Zuckerberg openly declares such ambitions:
“We expect that within 5-7 years Facebook will be talked about not as a social network, but as a metaverse company.”
He sees the metaverse as a constantly existing and synchronized environment where billions of users will literally live inside the content.
Virtuality for Machines
Many tech corporations understand the term “metaverse” very differently than the gaming industry or Mark Zuckerberg. For them, it is not only and not so much virtual spaces to which users are connected through computers, VR glasses or connectors in the back of the head. For them, the metaverse is a virtuality that permeates and influences the real world in many ways. For example, through the Internet of Things (IoT) – all kinds of devices with access to the global network. And we are talking not only about a “smart” kettle, air conditioner or microwave, which we can control from a mobile application. This refers to “smart” sensors in vehicles, in engineering systems of buildings and urban infrastructure, in industrial equipment.
That’s the vision shared by Satya Nadella, the current head of Microsoft. He called Microsoft Asure cloud services an enterprise metaverse that allows you to create digital copies of real objects, organize collaboration in virtual spaces and use the Internet of Things to manage processes in the virtual and real worlds.
It is expected that in a few years up to 55 billion IoT devices will be connected to the global network, which will require the introduction of new approaches to ensuring cybersecurity, storing and processing huge data flows. Many technology companies are now working to solve these problems, including those from the blockchain industry, for example, the IOTA Foundation, IoTeX and the Constellation Network.
It seems that much faster than the gaming and social metaverses imperceptibly for us, a metaverse of machines and all kinds of electronic devices is formed, which will conduct microtransactions on the blockchain (like Robonomics), store data in cryptographically protected clouds and be controlled by self-learning expert systems, colloquially called “artificial intelligence”. But people in it will not occupy the most prominent place.