It is easier to define the Metaverse in terms of what it isn’t. The Metaverse is not AR/VR, as users can interact with other interfaces (smartphones or computers). The Metaverse doesn’t come from gaming, and this is demonstrated by the virtual gaming platforms themselves, which are turning to other markets or companies. The Metaverse is not Web 3.0, which unlike the former, only includes decentralized worlds, and the Metaverse is not desert, considering the fact that it will have 400 million monthly active users in 2023.
There are some compelling definitions of the Metaverse, such as the evolution of the current Internet from something we primarily observe. Or, as a venture capitalist and Metaverse expert Matthew Ball points out, projecting his vision into the future, a potentially interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds and environments that can be effectively synchronously and persistently experienced by an unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence and data continuity.
Although there are many aspects of the Metaverse that can be difficult to define, it is clear that there is only one Metaverse. It includes various virtual worlds that coexist with the physical world, such as Decentraland, Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft, and the Sandbox, but it’s all part of a single entity.
To better understand the concept of the Metaverse, it might be helpful to use similes and metaphors. The Metaverse can be thought of as a semantic field, or a set of words in a language that relate to a specific domain of meaning. In the case of the Metaverse, the platforms it contains are organized according to their level of immersion, data continuity, and persistence. However, unlike a semantic field, interoperability between these platforms is not guaranteed. They are all part of a single set, but do not necessarily share or use the common data. It’s as if the individual words in a lexical field have rebelled against common meaning and are now competing for supremacy. There is no alliance or interoperability between these platforms in the Metaverse.
The battle for users’ eyeballs
In the competitive landscape of the Metaverse, platforms are constantly developing strategies to gain an advantage over their competitors. They protect themselves from external threats and build systems to attract and retain users. It’s similar to any other battle, where each side tries to anticipate the opponent’s moves, bolster their defences, and win over those not directly involved in the conflict. Let us check out some examples.
In August 2022, Sandbox, a virtual world built on the Ethereum blockchain, launched Alpha Season 3. It registered more than 200,000 monthly active users (a more than significant milestone) and immediately hosted around 90 experiences, 27 of which originated Partners of Warner Music Group calibre. The opportunity to participate in new interactive play-to-earn games and access to exclusive events and projects drove the platform’s revenue by 190% sequentially. The number of users who followed the initiative was surprising. The platform reached around 39,000 users a day and the website recorded 1.6 million visitors in March. The only hint of interoperability related to NFTs: owners of the largest collections of non-fungible tokens, such as Bored Ape Yacht Club, had the option to use the tokens as avatars in Alpha Season 3. This move resembled less a strategic alliance and more a special war patronage aimed at hegemony.
Commenting on the data for the third quarter of 2022, Roblox CEO David Baszucki cited strong growth in the platform’s key operational metrics due to the synergistic impact of developers (around 4 million) and experiences (30 million, including games and events). He said these events have created high-quality experiences that appeal to broad, global audiences. Alongside this, however, Roblox said it is continuing a defensive capital allocation strategy focused on maximizing long-term shareholder value. Even then, the third quarter numbers are impressive: Revenue was $517.7 million, up 2% year over year; The average daily active user count was 58.8 million, a 24% increase from 2021; and hours spent on the platform increased by 20% to 13.4 billion.
In September 2022 alone, Decentraland welcomed 56,000 daily users, a 6% increase from August. The reason, again, lies in the implementation of a precise tactic: in the same month, the platform offered more than 160 experiences, including a fashion event – a common strategy since Pride Week is organized in June, Art Week in August and the Music Week Festival in November.
From this, it can be deduced that victory comes from attracting as many eyeballs as possible. Similar to the engagement rate, which depends on the engagement of a piece of content, Eyeball Driven is a marketing strategy adopted by websites, social media or streaming services and adopted in the Metaverse, whose profit comes solely from the number of views received. The more users access the platform, the more visibility the platform gains. As more experiences and services are added, there will be more users. This is also of crucial importance in the Metaverse, since platforms first have to be known and tried out by users. And then you can look at other key performance indicators like engagement rates.
If successful, the profits for the platforms (and inevitably for the brands displayed in the window) can be large. This may also explain why Twitter announced on December 18, 2022 that it would ban users from advertising their presence on other social networks, a policy that was promptly withdrawn after user objections. This is also the reason for the increasing polarization and specialization of platforms in the Metaverse that are able to monetize the virtual footprints of visitors.
‘If we don’t end war, war will end us’
It is often said that all is fair in love and war, but both can come with significant risks. The lack of interoperability and standardization in the Metaverse leads to general anarchy as individual independent realities, governed by their own laws, co-exist.
It is worth noting that the lack of cohesion between platforms in the Metaverse contributes to the proliferation of extremist movements and this makes money laundering easier and counter-terrorism more difficult. Since the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force is one of the key features of the modern state, Metaverse needs an established body with a monopoly on the use of virtual force. The current lack of institutions would make it easier to carry out terrorist activities. For example, recruitment would be facilitated through augmented reality and artificial intelligence, coordination and training would be accelerated through the 3D reconstruction of possible targets, and the mere existence of the Metaverse would accelerate the creation of new potential targets for extremists like virtual spaces and buildings. Just as in the real world, in the Metaverse there is a need for a supranational organization that has the authority to enact general and individual policies that become part of the systems of rules for all participants and are not optional. Without this type of organization, it is more difficult to build a cohesive and orderly society within the Metaverse.
It is important to be intellectually honest and to recognize that while interoperability can increase the risk of inappropriate use of data to influence user behaviour and decisions, it could also be a means of achieving better regulation of privacy, security and data protection. A higher compliance protocol may be a utopian solution in the real world, but it is possible that such a solution could be implemented in the virtual world of utopia within the Metaverse.