Metaverse News Roundup — Digital Land and NFTs — Nov/Dec 2021

Virtual Land and the metaverse news (src: ars technica)

Some of you may know that i’ve started at the School for the Future of Innovation and Society in the College of Global Futures at ASU to work on a PhD. My research areas will be, roughly speaking, the emerging metaverse from a set of imaginaries (term that academics like to use for visions from science fiction that are held by collectives of individuals) into a real, living, breathing thing through technological innovation and the social impact of that.

In any case, as part of this I am often keeping track of interesting news stories and tidbits about the metaverse, organizing them around what I call the Threads of the Metaverse. I’ll be releasing a full article and graphic on these threads and how they are woven together into higher level themes of the metaverse in the near future.

But in the meantime, I thought i’d post a few interesting tidbits /articles that caught my attention recently. In this roundup, I ended up focusing primarily on the thread of Venues in the Metaverse, or virtual land, though of course there was a lot of news elsewhere in the Metaverse recently, which i’ll round up in another entry.

The topic of virtual land was in the news this week. Even the New York times wrote about it, showing that the topic has hit the bigtime. I’d say it hasn’t been since the virtual land boom in Second Life in 2007/2008 (with Anshe Chung being the first virtual landowner millionaire — remember?) that the subject has gotten this much attention.

In several articles this week, the news was on the fact that companies (a few in particular, namely Tokens.com, a blockchain investment company) which invested $1.7 million in Metaverse Group, which bought a plot of virtual land for investments of $2.4 million, a record that was broken with a $4.3 million plot in the SAndbox). The companies hope the virtual land will appreciate and which they can rent out just like regular landlords. Where are they investing? Well, it depends on the platform, within Decentraland, which has grabbed a lot of attetion, there is Crypto Alley (their version of Silicon Alley) whereas in worlds like Upland (featured last summer on 60 minutes and disclosure: I am in investor in Upland) and SuperWorld (which was featured prominently in the New York Times article), the parcels of land are based on real geographies — i.e. for example, Manhattan or San Francisco -which are pretty expensive to buy physical real estate in (and soon the virtual versions will be too!). Mostly the focus in these articles has been on using cryptocurrency to buy the land (sometimes in Ether, but more likely verse-specific currencies like MANA in Decentraland, for example), though not all the virtual worlds accept cryptocurrency or use NFTs. Another article showed how adding up sales of land in the top NFT decentralized virtual land subverses added up to a whopping $106 million dollars, according to DAppRadar, which is one of the leading places to aggregate stats for the NFTs and DApps (though this doesn’t necessarily include those verses which don’t rely on a blockhain/crypto/NFT infrastructure), so the actual number may be higher.

Tokens.com tower in Decentraland (src: Tokens.com))

On the subject of venues in the metaverse, there is this idea of the virtual location of real world entities and what they will look like and what you will be able to do there. Within the last few weeks, Seoul, South Korea announced that it wold become the first city with official offices in the metaverse, and will kick off this virtual Seoul with a virtual new year’s eve celebration. Residents will be able to use VR and AR headsets to access goveronment services — instead of going to city hall or waiting a the DMV in person, you can do it with your avatar! “Metaverse Seoul” will include the ability to spend money they are earning in the metaverse. Speaking of money, the city of Seoul will spend some $30 million building this vision by 2026. Not to be outdone, the first “virtual embassy” in the metaverse will be from the island nation of Barbados, which was announced a few weeks ago as well — it will be in Decentraland, SuperWorld, Somnium, several of the companies that were mentioned in the earlier article as well.

The mayor of Seoul in the metaverse (src: Washington Post)

There were some big rounds of funding announced among some of the companies mentioned when teh topic of virtual land comes up. In parciular, The SandBox raised $93 million from Softbank in November, and Gemini (the Winklevoss twins) raised $400 million to build the anti-Meta vision of metaverse (Forbes), playing on the well known fued between the Winklevi and Zuckerburg. This fued gets at one of the central differences in imaginaries of the metaverse — whether the metaverse will be a walled garden, a set of walled gardens, or completely open and decentralized. I’ll be writing more on this later.

This touches on another that i’m particularly interested in is standards and interoperability in the building of the metaverse. Currently, there aren’t really good standards for virtual land, though NFTs have become a standard way to establish ownership on the blockchain.

3D subverses generally use the same kinds of assets (3D assets which have various file formats) but for establishing scenese in the metaverse, there really aren’t generally well established standards. Not that there aren’t standards at all. I’ll do a deep dive someday since interoperability will be key to having “The Metaverse” as opposed to what we have today, which are just a bunch of subverses. Several that caught my eye include Pixar’s USD (Universal Scene Description) and Khronos competing version gITF, neither of which have really caught on yet, though tools like Unreal and Apple support USD and the Omniverse from NVidia support gITF. The trick here is scene hierarchy and lighting and how those assets would be downloaded in real time. Popular 3D formats like .FBX also support scene heirarchy.

Well that’s it for the thread, Venues in the Metaverse for this edition. More metaverse threads and news items coming soon!

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Riz Virk

The Simulation Hypothesis, Play Labs @ MIT, Startups/VC, Sci Fi, Bitcoin, Consciousness, Space, Video Games: visit www.zenentrepreneur.com