The Metaverse Is Still ‘Manual’—But Will It Be For Long?

‍Editor's note: This article is based on an August 2023 virtual panel, BFF Buzz: The Metaverse. BFF Buzz Spaces share a high-level update on a niche’s momentary state of affairs, including imminent trends, evolving issues and public discourse at the time of recording. Listen to the full recording.

In the evolving digital landscape — where buzzwords like "metaverse" and “digital twins” are more common than ever — the current state of virtual reality is, well, humbling.

“The metaverse is manual,” said Evin McMullen co-founder and CEO of decentralized identity company, Disco. If the goal is to reach a state of fully immersive digital infrastructure that allows users to move their avatar through customized virtual environments, we need a data transport layer that securely moves their information along with them. And right now, that data transfer process is clunky, happening by our own commands, often manually, and with plenty of data breaches along the way.

Building the metaverse starts with data

McMullen and Disco imagine that, one day, the metaverse will feel not unlike an episode of The Jetsons, where the cartoon characters participate in video conferencing and virtual interactions just like us, but with better-customized user preferences (like shower temperature) that extend to their physical lives. In some ways, forms of such advanced technology already exist, but McMullen argues we must be able to more easily transfer data around our digital identities for such innovations to actually improve users’ lives.

“It starts with being able to build out more data around our keys than just financial assets,” said McMullen, noting that public crypto wallet keys are a first step. Imagine being able to both own the access to and carry around preferences like your primary language, preferred pronouns, preference for light or dark mode or your contact list. 

For the metaverse to truly be seamless, argues McMullen, such personal data must be attached to a user’s public wallet address and function across multiple blockchains and virtual environments. Such functionality is what Disco is working to build out.

Making virtual worlds into fun spaces to hang out

Then there’s the question of aesthetics: Once the data transport layer is fleshed out, will the world be visually inviting and enjoyable to inhabit as an avatar? 

“Building these beautiful, high-quality environments that don't make people cringe — that's been an issue and quite off-putting in the past,” said Jessica Manins, co-founder and co-CEO of the immersive game developer studio Beyond Worlds. Such ambitious builds require a top-notch gaming engine (Beyond Worlds works with Epic Games’ Unreal Engine), but beyond the technical capabilities, gaming studios must also work with partners and brands to develop intellectual property (IP) extensions and collaborations. IP conversations involve bringing together teams of creatives, legal experts, designers and marketers, but the result can be well worth it. (On that note, we recommend this interesting op-ed by Web3 gaming consultant, Leah Callon-Butler, on why the Barbie movie is a fantastic metaverse case study.)

Beyond World has proudly partnered with Web3 metaverse projects, including most recently a project entitled Flufworld Burrows, which sold out its virtual metaspace NFTs in just three minutes. 

“There was so much excitement in watching people bring 10,000 unique characters into these spaces,” said Manins. “Technically, that was a huge milestone for us.”

What does the future hold for the metaverse?

While the metaverse is quite a buzzy topic, there’s a public misconception that the metaverse only means virtual reality (VR) and simulated gaming environments. 

“And as a VR developer, this is something that we've been coming up against for so long,” said Manins. “When Meta came out with their big vision of the metaverse, that's [how] the general public has kind of understood the word.”

But in fact, both Manins and McMullen agree that a future metaverse orients around a deeper, vision. Imagine a world with seamless flow between virtual spaces and physical spaces, where logging on and off an internet-connected device is even less clunky than unlocking your phone, and where the interoperability of digital assets allows all files to work (and have monetary value) on whatever platform you use.

‘There needs to be an understanding of the complexity of it,” Manins said.

Perhaps to begin re-thinking the metaverse, general consumers will have to step outside our normal ways of thinking: “I think the general public's understanding of the metaverse is hanging out inside of someone else's website with iPad strapped to your face,” laughed McMullens. “Waving your arms around, doing some activity that's happening inside a persistent digital environment.”

But the misconception, notes McMullens, is that the metaverse doesn’t exist inside a defined space. It will encompass all areas, including social media and the ability to own your following list, along with a person’s shopping history, brand loyalty and digital reputations.

Exciting, right? Yet, consumers will have to be patient. There's currently a lot of friction and not a lot of reward for the metaverse right now, explained Disco’s head of ecosystem partnerships Masha Healy. “I look forward to the day where I am a user in all of the different ways that I'm able to show up,” she said. “Whether that's the communities that I'm a part of, the things that I like to do — all of those things.”

Megan DeMatteo is BFF's Editorial Partner.

🚨 This newsletter and all the information in it does not constitute financial advice. If you don’t want to invest money or time in Web3, you don’t have to. As always: Do your own research.

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