The current state of metaverse interoperability: Where design framework must go from here
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“The internet wasn’t built with an identity layer” is a classic (and true) refrain, but it should not be an excuse to continue on a path of ignorance. Using the hacking of the late Steve Jobs’ iCloud as an example, it is clear that none of our digital identities are safe. Better to have none, then? Perhaps. However, let’s try just one…
Less is more
Self-sovereignty is quickly becoming one of the most important entrance points and roadblocks within metaverse discussion. At present, the metaverse requires individuals to re-register themselves as they traverse the multiverse. While a multitude of metaverses would be redundant in several respects, we, unfortunately, are already seeing the first indications of this trend. Microsoft, Sony, Nvidia, Meta, Adobe, and many other companies have recently come together to announce the creation of the Metaverse Standards Forum, a consortium whose purpose is to ensure interoperability.
However, interoperability hinges on having a singular digital identity that is universally recognizable, ensuring ease of use, workflow and experience.
“Metanomics” is a term originally coined by Doug Thompson for a talk show he used to host on Second Life, and it has to be said that the economic models of the metaverse are often so boring and repetitive that they can easily be summarized with the following directives:
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- Stake tokens
- Buy some land or NFTs (being taxed)
- Pay some entrance fees
- Gamble or lotteries
These are all mechanics that lead to involvement over the long term but at low intensity and impact. What is the metaverse’s game-changer then? The clue is in the previous sentence: Let’s talk about gamification.
Users just wanna have fun
We are moving toward an all-encompassing virtual world and its dominant design (DD) is being driven by the web3 gaming industry, just as cryptocurrencies arose from the need to actualize financial value to in-game currencies. Right now, in GameFi, we are witnessing the painful transition from a play-to-earn model to a play-and-earn model.
This might sound like a simple linguistic trick — but it instead underlies the need to bring the play back to the core of the conversation. For too long GameFi has been drunk off its own profit-seeking vision, at the expense of the ludic aspect and possibilities for users. With the advent of crypto-winter, the platform’s games have been subject to the shrinking space and discontinued, with few exceptions, including Axie Infinity and Sandbox.
In addition to the GameFi’s losing bet, Axie Infinity itself fell victim to a $600 million hack in November 2021, resulting in the decimation of users, while the native SLP token went from $0.4 to $0.0025.
This obviously disrupted the tokenomics of the project; nevertheless, it remained standing thanks to a reduced but strong community of 700,000 supporters.
Sandbox, a game reminiscent of Minecraft in some respects, instead has a user base of two million and has one major peculiarity: It is set in the metaverse.
Gamification of social interactions is a crucial aspect of the metaverse: The only virtual spaces where there is currently a clear concept of ownership are social platforms such as Reddit and NFT marketplaces like OpenSea.
These platforms, however, provide a limited experience as centralization prevents immersion and the ability to switch between metaverses. If these spaces can harness the natural human propensity for play, spontaneity and entertainment, they will grow to such a level that the creation of a unified and GameFicated metaverse will be inevitable, despite the vision and interests of corporations.
Users of the metaverse will act according to archetypal traits that are likely analogous to the ones serving as the basis for social gaming. Dr. Richard Bartle has defined the four types of these particular archetypes:
- The Achiever, who is goal oriented and driven by the need to complete the tasks and benchmarks assigned to themselves.
- The Socializer, who sees the metaverse as an opportunity for them to make new friends and network.
- The Explorer, who is adventuresome and continually looking for play stimulation and hijinks, particularly with relation to unique experiences.
- The Hunter: So as not to betray anyone’s expectations, it will be necessary to decide what and how to make this kind of user hunt.
These archetypes are not mutually exclusive — users often manifest a combination of them, with one prevailing over the others. The gamification of social interactions is a key aspect of the metaverse. Platforms like Reddit and NFT marketplaces provide a limited experience due to centralization, but if they could tap into human’s natural desire for play and entertainment, the creation of a unified and gamified metaverse would be inescapable.
The four archetypes should serve as the foundation for building successful token models in the metaverse and determining the game-theoretic model and mechanism design for sustainable economies and governance structures.
The metaverse and a meta-quadratic economy
A gamified economy is a system where the economic activity is organized around game-like rules and incentives, with the goal of making economic interactions more engaging and enjoyable for participants. A DAO (Decentralized autonomous organization) could potentially be used to manage and oversee the rules and incentives of this economy, helping to ensure fairness and transparency for all participants.
The nearest real-world “metaverse” instance currently available and functioning within a pseudo-DAO structure is Reddit, more specifically, any r/subReddit. These “subs” are probably the nearest metaverse instance actually available, with their possibility to incentivize “moderators” of each reality within the metaverse, giving them greater responsibility to maintain order and discipline.
This is another step toward decentralization of decision-making, where authority is governed by smart contracts, with perhaps even a sprinkling of quadratic economy, a model where the value created by a transaction is proportional to the square of the participant’s number. The value generated by a transaction increases significantly as more people participate, creating incentives for individuals and organizations to contribute to and participate in the economy.
But why stop at quadratic?
In addition to being able to decide on which issues to have one’s vote weigh more heavily, we might consider providing greater representation to the brightest and active members of the community. DAOs could help to achieve a sustainable metaverse by providing a decentralized and transparent governance structure for the virtual world, thus helping to ensure that the metaverse is run in a fair and equitable manner, with the interests of all participants taken into account.
Such kinds of structures could be useful to manage the distribution and allocation of resources within the metaverse, such as virtual land or assets, for a more sustainable and balanced meta-economy.
Let’s go nuclear!
The metaverse is, in some ways, the cyber counterpart of nuclear power: The potential for enormous benefits and disasters matches each other. Fortunately, the web — be it the first, second, or third iteration — is a democratic tool by definition: If this imprinting is maintained, Orwellian scenarios will certainly not occur.
Let us scroll through a roundup of critical issues that will still need to be considered:
- Kids: How will we have to behave about children’s access to the metaverse? Will they take risks as in the real world, or will they be protected directly at a code level? AI could certainly play an important role in this area, perhaps filtering inappropriate behavior in real-time, which will still need to be sanctioned in the most serious cases.
- Health: Too much of metaverse will lead to an increase in physical problems we already experienced, such as obesity and back pain, but also depression and addiction.
- Inequality: Greater economic wealth will result in more compelling meta-experiences, while poorer people will have to settle for a low-quality one, but we are talking about an issue that should be addressed tout-court.
- Privacy: It is already irritating to know that we are profiled based on how and where we move our cursor regarding certain content, but who would want a metaverse that keeps track of where we look?
At the moment, giving a concise and fulfilling definition of the metaverse is not possible. Why?
Because the metaverse is a placeholder, a MacGuffin, a proxy. We are not able to describe it because we only experienced fleeting glimpses of it.
What we must keep in mind is that any nuclear force must always have a nucleus as a landmark, and in this case, it’s us: A new humanism is coming, and I wonder if our avatars will also be able to enjoy the renaissance, transcending the limits of our existence.
Eloisa Marchesoni is a Tokenomics engineer.
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