31 Key Takeaways From The Metaverse Primer
In late June venture capitalist Matthew Ball wrote an epic 9 part primer on the Metaverse.
It’s taken me since then to totally unpack his insights and try to incorporate them into my worldview.
Below are my key takeaways.
Full notes these takeaways are pulled from.
Lightly edited for readability.
1. Metaverse ≠ VR
The Metaverse is often mis-described as virtual reality. This is like saying the mobile internet is the iPhone. The iPhone isn’t the mobile internet; it’s the consumer hardware and app platform most frequently used to access the mobile internet.
In this analogy an Oculus headset would be the hardware used to access the Metaverse and Facebook the platform hosting it.
For a variety of reasons addressed below. Facebook taking this role will prove more challenging than what Apple pulled off with mobile. which we’ll get into further below.
2. Metaverse = Successor to the Mobile Internet
We need to think of the Metaverse as a sort of successor state to the mobile internet.
Similar to how mobile evolved from desktop as users demanded more flexibility enabled by technology. The Metaverse will evolve from mobile as users demand more Immersive experiences enabled by technology.
3. Metaverse Stack
Personally, I’m tracking the emergence of the Metaverse around eight core categories, which can be thought of as a stack (click each header for a dedicated essay).
The Metaverse will arrive in bits and pieces as incremental improvements are made along this stack.
4. The Tech Required for High Fidelity Avatars is Here
Newer iPhone models now track 30,000 points on your face via infrared sensors. While this is most commonly used for Face ID, it can now be connected to apps such as Epic Games’ Live Link Face application, thereby enabling any consumer to create (and stream) a real-time, Unreal Engine-based high-fidelity avatar. It’s clear that Epic’s next step will be to use this functionality to live map a Fortnite player’s face onto their in-game character.
A critical piece of infrastructure needed for people to more realistically represent themselves in digital environments has arrived. Developers have only just started down the path of realizing its full potential.
5. Affordability of LIDAR
Fifteen years ago, we were stunned by Google’s ability to capture (and finance) 360° 2D images of every street in the world. Today, scores of businesses can purchase LIDAR cameras and scanners to build fully immersive, 3D photogrammetric reproductions of anything on earth… These devices make it easier and cheaper for companies to produce high-quality ‘mirror worlds’ or ‘digital twins’ of physical spaces, as well as use scans of the real world to produce higher-quality and less-expensive fantasy ones.
Mirror worlds like virtual walk thru’s of real estate listings will be the first steps towards metaverses. Mirror worlds will eventually be replaced by fully rendered fantasy world’s which may or may not have foundation’s built on real world equivalents.
The Three Core Areas of Networking Enabling the Metaverse
- Bandwidth is commonly thought of as ‘speed’, but it’s actually how much data can be transmitted over a unit of time.
- By sending rendering data on an as-needed basis, games can have a much greater diversity of items, assets and environments…this approach is most important for Metaverse-focused platforms.
- If we want to interact in a large, real-time, shared, and persistent virtual environment, we will need to receive a superabundance of cloud-streamed data.
- Many players already struggle with bandwidth and network congestion for online games that require only positional and input data. The Metaverse will only intensify these needs. The good news is that broadband penetration and bandwidth is consistently improving worldwide.
Bandwidth is currently one of the main constraints for fully realized virtual worlds. Fortunately it is constantly improving. But, further strides are needed before virtual worlds with thousands of simultaneous participants will be possible.
- Latency refers to the time it takes for data to travel from one point to another and back.
- latency is the hardest and slowest to fix of all network attributes
- Entirely new technologies, business lines, and services are being developed to cater to the growing need for real-time bandwidth applications.
Latency is a formidable challenge to overcome for real-time interactions to occur at scale in the metaverse.
Ask any parent of a Fortnite player who is constantly told their laggy Internet is the cause of their child’s misfortune in the game. Now imagine when they are running around fully virtual worlds in Oculus headsets trying to best their opponents.
Our ability to shift to virtual labor and education is directly dependent on reliable quality of service. This spans both overall uptime, as well as the consistency of other attributes such as download/upload bandwidth, and latency.
The Metaverse will need to be persistently available for people to structure their economic and social lives around it.
9. Metaverse Raises the Requirements of Networking to that of AAA Multiplayer Games
we should think of the Metaverse as raising the requirements for all aspects of networking — latency, reliability/resilience, and bandwidth — to that of AAA multiplayer games
AAA games like Fortnite cannot be played at scale today. Fortnite matches are limited to a hundred players for example, due to limitations imposed by the current state of networking.
An always on Metaverse will require similar networking capacity as millions of users playing a AAA game like Fortnite simultaneously.
10. The Availability and Development of Computing Power will Constrain and Define the Metaverse
It doesn’t matter how much data you can receive, or how quickly, or why, if it can’t be used. Who would have thought that enabling 100-player battle royales would change the world?
Data is rapidly being removed as a constraint for digital activities. The ability to take advantage of available data to build immersive digital experiences is the bigger challenge.
11. Computational Requirements For Augmented Reality
Given the intensive computational requirements of AR, it’s therefore likely our core personal/mobile devices will be able to do a ‘good enough’ job at most real-time rendering. Most importantly, consumer processors improve much faster than networks as they’re far more frequently replaced and aren’t literally fighting the speed of light.
Current mobile devices are powerful enough for AR use cases. Exhibit A, Pokemon Go. Consumer activity has been muted because of a lack of compelling experiences along the lines of Pokemon Go for people to engage with.
12. Edge computing
helps end-users supplement their local compute while also minimizing network-based latency and network-congestion risk.
As the internet grows more fragmented due to government regulations requiring local processing of user data, companies will have no choice but to locate that data’s storage and handling closer to the user.
The computational demands of the metaverse along with increasing regulatory hostility to user data being stored outside of a person’s home borders.
Heightens sensitivity to how and were identity data for the metaverse will be stored to an unprecedented degree.
Leading to the rise of identity data being stored as close as possible to users without compromising their experience.
13. Role for Crypto in Allocating Computing Tasks
Imagine, as you navigate immersive spaces, your account continuously bidding out the necessary computing tasks to mobile devices held but unused by people near you…later, when you’re not using your own devices, you would be earning tokens as they return the favor…Every computer, no matter how small, would be designed to always be auctioning off any spare cycles.
Blockchains will give users the ability to subsidize access to the metaverse. By allowing for the exchange of P2P compute power as needed between devices that need capacity and ones that have capacity.
14. Games have Long Been the Most Complex, Scaled, and Diverse Simulations
no other consumer-grade experience required a comparable amount of computing power.
Similar to the past. Demand for gaming experiences in the metaverse will provide initial demand to develop the computing resources needed to power them.
15. Technical Requirements for Metaverse Platforms
A virtual Metaverse platform must have the technical ability for (relatively-unbound) creation (engine + studio + tools), services to support it (prefabs and asset marketplaces, voice chat, player accounts, payment services), and operate a multifaceted economy (i.e. consumer spending that’s shared with on-platform creators/developers, as well as creator/developer-to-creator/developer revenues)
No company is currently positioned to roll out a metaverse platform. Given the requirements, companies are going to need to make strategic decisions around building, buying, or partnering to plug their gaps.
While the presumption is the large traditional tech platforms have a leg up.
Some upstart platforms. Epic and Discord come to mind. Are well positioned to disrupt the large incumbents plans for metaverse domination.
They don’t have the legacy privacy issues — Google | Facebook
A history of operating closed digital economies that would make potential partners think twice about partnering with them — Apple | Google
16. Gala Games
If we love to play Fortnite, or use Instagram, it stands to reason we’ll invest in and use them more if we can profit from and/or help govern them…This is the premise of Gala Games, a sort of blockchain reimagination of Zynga (makers of Farmville), from the co-founder of Zynga.
While web 2.0’s giant’s network effects provide formidable moats. Web 3.0 companies like Gala Games may be able to effectively compete by offering financial incentives, like tokens, rewarding users for investing time on their platforms.
17. Without Them There Will be no Metaverse
only a more virtual and immersive version of today’s mobile internet and app stores.
The metaverse needs a foundation like the Internet and pieces like TCP/IP need to be built before creation can start in earnest.
18. We…Want the Metaverse to Flourish as the Internet did
We want as many new platforms, technologies, and companies to be created…while also checking the rent-seeking instincts of dominant platforms. To do so, we will need an ecosystem of ‘interchange’ solutions that interconnect, translate, and exchange information/users/assets across and between myriad different and competing platforms.
If the Metaverse is to realize its economic potential like the Internet. It’s foundations needs to be as open and adaptable as the Internet’s were.
19. We Want as Much of the World to Integrate into the Metaverse as Possible
This means interconnecting the many devices and platforms around us today, from your car and home-security camera, to your employer’s productivity software, and as well as altogether new ones, such as VR and AR headsets, projection cameras and screens, wearables, and more.
- We also want many of the virtual experiences that already exist to interconnect in brand new ways.
- it’s likely that, at least for the foreseeable future, heavily verticalized software will be best at addressing specialized vertical needs. This makes interconnection inherently difficult.
- It’s critical that developers can easily export their work from one virtual platform, rendering solution, or engine to another. This is because the majority of creations in the Metaverse will be intended to persist, and be continuously expanded upon — in contrast to most media products…which are largely one-off P&Ls with front-loaded revenues.
- For the Metaverse to thrive, we need developers to thrive. And this means making it as easy to take a virtual immersive educational environment or AR playground from one platform to another as it is to move a blog or newsletter.
- it’s likely that the leading virtual platforms of the Metaverse will be even more lucrative and powerful than today’s mobile leaders. This is because, compared to iOS and Android today, these ‘operating systems’ will span far more of the physical world, while also controlling more of both labor and creative product itself.
- For…open standards to “win”, they need to offer developers greater profits than those provided and controlled by the closed platforms.
- And this is hard. The major platforms make enormous, loss-making investments in tools and technology, customer acquisition (e.g. below cost consoles), and sometimes exclusive content, in order to establish a lucrative market for developers.
While maximizing the Metaverses potential requires open standards. The technical demands of building it give well resourced vertical solutions from incumbents a head start in attracting users with better experiences.
20.US Payment Rails Tend to Reflect Trade offs Around Security, Fees, and Speed
No one is perfect, but more important than their technical attributes is their competition. There are multiple wire rails, multiple credit card networks, multiple digital payment processors and platforms. Each of these competes based on their advantages and drawbacks
The scalability trilemma is a widely held belief which states that decentralized networks can only provide two of three features at any given time with respect to security, decentralization, and scalability.
Historically centralized services have solved for scalability while blockchains solved for security. Now, the race is on.
21. Roughly $54B was Spent on Virtual Goods, Skins, and Lives Last Year
compared to $42B at the movie box office and $30B on recorded music in 2019. If value in the Metaverse will be primarily driven through virtual worlds and virtual creations, rather than better phones, then we want the most profits going to developers of the virtual platforms and the developers on them. However, you can’t access the Metaverse except through hardware, and every hardware player is fighting to be the (or at least a) payment gateway to the Metaverse. the fight for payments supremacy has made the “Metaverse payment rails” expensive and flawed, rather than cheap and dynamic. And this is because the operators of these rails use them to control the Metaverse and prevent disruption
If Blockchains provide a path forward for liberating payments from the centralized services dominating today’s technology stack. It will pressure incumbents on multiple fronts. Not just in the aspects of their businesses focused on maintaining control of payment gateways.
22. Console and Mobile Platforms Control Their Browsers
These browsers generally do not support common (and open) standards for complex rendering, rich user input, and more. As a result, developers are forced to choose between impractical fees or mediocre experiences.
Mobile platforms only appear as open as their desktop counterparts. This is an illusion. For example Chrome on IOS is not the same chrome you use on a PC, Chromebook, or Android phone.
It’s essentially Apple’s Safari browser with Chrome wrapping paper. This is Apple’s price for making Chrome available via the app store.
Why does Google play ball with Apple?
They want a seamless experience for users across devices. While maintaining the justification for imposing similar restrictions on other browsers in their own Play Store with dominant share on Android.
23. Investment of Time, Energy, and Money into the Metaverse Requires Irrevocable Ownership
I n fact, consumer spending today is constrained by the knowledge that no games last forever…Expected obsolescence…constrains spending.
in-game economies are…hard to optimize and easy to break…Open economies, trading, and increases to commercial item value inevitably trend towards play-to-earn mechanics or behaviors, which can quickly devolve into “work” that ruins a game’s sense of fun and fairness. Over time, developers will figure out how to support “Metaverse” business models. And they’ll use the Metaverse’s comparatively larger economy to quickly surpass more “legacy” game makers.
Metaverse economics will become a thing similar to how tokenomics has become a thing in crypto. Similar to crypto, getting the economics right will be essential to obtain initial users while maintaining appeal to later adopters by giving them mechanisms to contribute and feel it’s worth their while as well.
The Potential of Blockchain and the Metaverse
24. The Metaverse Requires Blockchains
the virtual economy today already generates over $50B per year and spans hundreds of billions of hours of use — all without crypto or the blockchain. Regardless of whether cryptocurrencies become a common form of payment in the “real world”, they’re increasingly being used in gaming via NFTs and blockchain-based studios — and for initial user payments, in-game currencies, and UGC payments. As a result, the “crypto Metaverse” suffers from substantially less currency fragmentation than today’s gaming ecosystem (i.e. Minecoin, V-Bucks, COD Points, Robux, etc.), supports two-way exchanges (i.e. USD to ETH and back), is widely interoperable (the same “currency” can be used in AxieInfinity and Decentraland).
Early iterations of the crypto metaverse are already more compatible than their counterparts in traditional gaming.
This could prove critical for adoption. Real world use cases for many crypto projects continue to be elusive. This gap could prove largely irrelevant if crypto becomes the dominant payment channel for an ever expanding metaverse.
25. Open Standards Typically Struggle to Generate Greater Developer Revenues, Especially in the Media Business
Not so in crypto.
Today, only a tiny fraction of online users and gamers even have a crypto wallet, and almost no brands and games issue NFTs. But irrespective of multi-month dips in the blockchain/crypto/NFT economy, we see more of these groups embrace blockchain-based experiences each month. This produces a virtual cycle that drives more users to register a wallet, mint an NFT, or integrate crypto assets, which also increases the value and utility of all other blockchain products, thereby bringing more to the technology.
blockchain-based revenues offer major publishers not just the potential for greater revenues, but a system that is equivalently fair and impossible for a competitor to manipulate. It is hard to imagine a better on ramp to openness.
Crypto provides the foundation for the economics of openness to be flipped on its head. The maintainers of open standards are rewarded more handsomely than the applications built on top of them.
Ethereum + DeFi vs. TCP/IP + Web 2.0 Giants
26. The Metaverse will lead to the Establishment of Many new Entertainment Franchises and Brands
This is because new access technologies do more than shift how consumers access content. They change the content itself.
Initially content in the metaverse will look similar to the multi-player online games like Fortnite we are familiar with today.
But, as creatives flex their muscles and fully adapt to the capabilities of this new story telling mode. Expect new powerhouse franchises like the MCU and entertainment brands like Disney to emerge.
27. New Marketplaces will Emerge to Commission and Sell Independently Created Virtual Goods
(Etsy, but for skins!), and to hire architects and artists for your digital spaces.
While many call the current activity level in NFTs a bubble and some type of pullback is inevitable.
Long term it is only the tip of the iceberg.
28. To Build the Metaverse, Businesses will need to Produce Virtual Assets
we’ll see a growing number of businesses focused on producing and maintaining ultra-realistic renders of specific ‘real world’ environments, such as Manhattan, or managing databases of virtual information on these environments. It’s incredibly difficult, and costly, to try and compete with data platforms that have multi-year head starts, large ecosystems, and developer lock-in. This dynamic explains why most scanning/marketplace/virtual generation start-ups are acquired before they become late, or even mid-stage companies.
The gobs of capital Web 2.0 giants like Facebook, Google, and Amazon have amassed from their dominance. Provides their best defense from disruption via a decentralized metaverse.
It gives them the chance to deploy their war chests to assemble the toolkits needed to bring compelling virtual worlds and experiences to users.
29. The Most Obvious Behavioral Change of the past year has been the Increasing Amount of time we Spent Online and in Virtual Worlds
It’s hard to imagine what could have more rapidly changed this perception than COVID-19. Millions of…skeptics have now participated in (and enjoyed) virtual worlds and activities…Not only has this destigmatized virtual life, and “the Metaverse,” but it might even mean an extra generation will participate in it.
As time passes and history reveals itself. Jump-starting the move to a virtual economy could prove to be one of the more significant impacts of Covid-19.
30. Over the Past Year, We’ve Seen Two…Significant Injections Into Metaverse Revenues
T he first is the rapid legitimization and investment into purely virtual assets, most notably via cryptocurrencies and NFTs. The second is investment from major non-gaming brands and talent, from Prada, Ford, and Gucci to Neymar Jr. and Travis Scott.
These trends are accelerating. High profile brands like Dolce and Gabbana (UNXD) are issuing couture NFT collections for the digital elite to fight over.
While established stars like Jay-Z signal their hipness by acquiring digital native art like crypto punks.
31. Today’s Generation of Children Express Themselves, Often Learn, and Constantly Socialize Through Virtual Worlds They can Touch, Change, and Collaborate in.
the capabilities of these virtual worlds will expand, their ease of use will improve, and their significance will grow.
Similar to how zoomers are more comfortable with their photo being taken than their parents generation due to the commonness of picture taking driven by camera phones.
The children of today will have a hard time understanding why people think spending substantial portions of their time working and playing in virtual worlds is frowned upon.
Thank you for Reading
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Originally published at https://stevenlmiller.me.