Is blockchain necessary for the metaverse? | Pocket Gamer.biz
Selcuk Atli is CEO of mobile social gaming platform Bunch.
Many consider blockchain technology to be one of the key elements of the metaverse.
While many others are against the use of NFTs and blockchain in games, I think it’s important to ask the question, “Is blockchain a required foundation for the metaverse?”
To answer this question, it is important to agree on what the metaverse is. Instead of anchoring the definition around technologies like AR/VR or blockchain, I think it’s best to focus on the utility it provides.
In my opinion, the metaverse is: “Digital spaces to come together and move from experience to experience.” Based on this definition, the metaverse is already here!
Hundreds of millions of people hang out with friends in digital worlds on games like Roblox, Rec Room, Minecraft, and Fortnite every day. Meanwhile, popular chat apps like Discord let users meet via text, voice, and video chat, and switch between games.
Under this same definition, they would also be considered metaverse applications.
While emerging metaverse apps such as The Sandbox, Decentraland, and Worldwide Webb leverage blockchain technology, the more popular metaverse apps mentioned above do not use blockchain in any significant way.
So what is the role of blockchain in the metaverse and why is it important?
In my opinion, the metaverse is “Digital spaces to come together and move from experience to experience”.
Metaverse apps like Fortnite and Roblox delight users and bring them back every day, without relying on the blockchain at all. At the same time, metaverse applications may choose to use blockchain to provide significant benefits to their user community, such as “beneficial ownership” and “extensible utility”.
Metaverse apps have rich creator economies with great content that gamers love. However, ownership of these ecosystems works very similarly to platforms like iTunes.
For example, when consumers buy a song on iTunes, they don’t own the song. They just license the song from Apple so they can play it on their devices. Similarly, when players purchase a skin on Roblox or Fortnite, they license that item from the developer so they can use it in-game.
However, we do know that gamers clearly value being able to own their in-game assets. According to a 2020 study published by Newzoo, “75% of gamers interested in skin trading say they would spend more on skins if they had a monetary value outside the game”.
Metaverse apps can use blockchain to allow their players to freely trade or sell their in-game assets such as avatars, skins, and items on open exchanges such as OpenSea, Rare, and Fractal. Through the smart contract, they can even claim royalties from any future secondary sales or pay those royalties to the creators or former owners of those assets.
Yes, metaverse owners could create centralized online marketplaces to facilitate trading of their in-game items without using blockchain at all. However, using blockchain, players can trade these items on any open exchange without permission or involvement from the metaverse developer.
Many people think of “extendable utility” as the fact that players can take items or skins they own from one game to another and use them as they are, without any effort on the part of the game developers. . This kind of universal interoperability is not achievable, at least anytime soon. As Jules Glegg, Principal Engineer at Riot Games, Explain:
Instead, “extensible utility” will be more about applications capable of offering utility for blockchain assets from elsewhere – without having to do business partnerships or custom integrations. A very early example of this is Twitter’s recently launched feature where users can change their profile pictures to NFTs they own.
While this is an interesting example of an extensible utility released to a massive audience, we can expect applications to be able to do even more interesting things with verifiable blockchain assets.
The potential application of the “extensible utility” may be more similar to what we might do with Facebook Connect if access to this platform were not controlled by Meta or another large corporation, but rather it was controlled by users.
Let me explain with two examples.
Example 1: The owner of a bar wants to offer free drinks to Yacht Club members
Imagine a hypothetical scenario where a bar owner wants to attract patrons from a nearby yacht club. And to do this, the bar owner wants to offer free drinks (utilities) to members of this club who visit the bar.
Without blockchain, the bar owner would have to partner with the yacht club to verify that a patron entering is a member with 100% certainty. In other words, it would require an API integration between the bar and the yacht club.
In a Web3 world, the bar owner could let customers who walk in connect their blockchain wallets and verify that they are members of the club and claim their free drink!
The cool thing is that the bar owner could do this without requiring any collaboration with the club, or even getting their permission. Heck, any bar in the world could do the same, or they could come up with their own unique (utility) offerings!
Again, think of Facebook Connect where user data is solely owned and controlled by users.
Example 2: Bunch could make Invisible Friends holders “invisible”
Let’s take a more numerical example. One of the NFTs and communities that I’m personally excited about is Invisible Friends. They got some cool art, over 400,000 followers on Twitterand an engaged community.
At Bunch, we may allow users who own an Invisible Friends NFT to have access to an “invisibility feature” only available to them. To do this, users will need to connect their blockchain wallet to Bunch so that we can verify their ownership of the NFT. Then, once we validate that a user owns one of these NFTs, we could leave them “invisible” (i.e. follow the Invisible Friends theme and art style) in our metaverse at their way.
Obviously, we would want to partner with the Invisible Friends community to do this. But we wouldn’t need any API integration – or ask permission to offer this utility.
Gateways to open protocols
As explained above, blockchain does not guarantee the universal interoperability of assets between different applications. The application that would offer utility around the external asset still needs to do the work to support it.
Let’s call this work “building a bridge”.
What’s new is that blockchain allows scalable utility to happen without two-way integrations, permissions, or business partnerships. Over time, these bridges can become open protocols that support interoperability between various metaverse games and applications.
I remember my first use of an Internet browser when I was 12 years old. As a gamer, my first instinct was to type “Disneyland” into the address bar and be teleported to a digital world with other kids around the world. While the internet as we know it has turned out to be different than my teenage mind imagined, it has changed the way we communicate, shop, play and work online.
We are in the early innings of what may potentially become the next iteration of the Internet. Together we can make it a more natural and human place, without a handful of corporate gatekeepers. We still don’t have most of the answers. I imagine that’s what creating internet products looked like in the mid-90s or the second year of the smart phone. As builders, we need to keep an open mind to new ideas, stay curious, experiment and learn quickly.
One thing is for sure, it’s an exciting time to create new things on the internet.