In preparing to write about this topic I feel there’s no way I could open without drawing acknowledgement to a well-crafted essay by Piers Kicks on masterthemeta.com covering the same topic.
Why even talk about crypto and the metaverse in this context when someone else has covered it so thoroughly?
I see two simple reasons for it, both coming from perspective.
One, he mentions being born in 1999 and I’m a good decade older than that, so my own view on tech and our (society’s) transition to a digital existence likely has some other observations. Two, he seems like a technical guy and I think his piece reads like (to a fair degree) it’s aimed at other technical people (and is ~12,000 words long). Mine will not be.
First off, something you might be wondering…
What is the metaverse?
None of the rest of this will make sense without us being on the same page here.
Without the window dressing, metaverse is essentially a shorthand for aspects of reality that are “beyond” the physical realm. In this context, that means digital and includes things like augmented/virtual reality and the internet.
There have been a bunch of movies over the years depicting virtual realities where people spend chunks of their lives as digital avatars in an alternate existence of sorts. It’s been talked about and theorized, but until more recently still seemed a bit fantastic.
Maybe to you it still does.
But the tech now exists where it’s less sci-fi and more a question of how we use it. And perhaps, how close do we want our version to play out to that of the movies?
One simple example of a somewhat meta-existence is Nissan’s “invisible to visible (I2V)” tech where the windshield of vehicles would also show various information via an overlay. This way the driver would never have to take their eyes off the windshield looking forward. Of course, how distracting that info might still be remains to be seen.
Other related aspects of the metaverse include augmented reality apps like:
- Where you could take a picture of your backyard and have a gazebo you’re looking at placed virtually into the space and move/spin it around at will
- Virtually trying on shoes (looking at your foot through a phone screen with the footwear layered overtop)
- “Pokemon Go” and “Zombies, Run!”
- Cosmetic brands allowing people to see how shades look on their faces before they buy
- Advances in how doctors can diagnose and treat patients remotely, or making in-person visits simpler (like AR overlays helping doctors locate veins for blood draws, etc.)
The Metaverse and Media
As a lifelong gamer I’ve often found the hobby dismissed by others as either childish, the belief that it’s far more niche than it actually is, and even that it serves no purpose outside of empty escapism.
In response to that I want to highlight on specific point Piers mentions in the article I linked earlier:
Last year, $174.9 billion was spent on video games, having grown +19.6% year-on-year. For context, that is 2x the revenue of film and music combined.Piers Kicks
Let that sink in. This “niche” hobby has had more money put into recent development than movies and music combined.
Thinking of the 90’s when video games were largely still flat and we had those dorky 3-D glasses we were convinced were going to be ubiquitous, pondering how we got from there to here can feel like it sneaked up on us even though it’s been 30 years.
Any comment we could collectively make about how much advancement there would have to be in games to really incorporate the virtual aspect is largely answered by one glance at the budget at play.
But that feels like scratching the surface. It’s one thing to add a VR element to a self-contained experience in a game. It’s another to envision existing in a metaverse even before you launch a game.
As I talked about briefly in my post about digital sandboxes, the concept of walking around digital worlds as an avatar, seamlessly in and out of games available in those maps or hanging with others, is a whole new layer of gaming and free time.
Thinking back to the early days of America Online and chat rooms and how much time some people spent there, it’s pretty straightforward to picture VR chat environments where you’re not necessarily faceless (you’re an avatar) but you’re not entirely you, either.
Advertising in the Metaverse
This feels inevitable, as much as it may elicit a groan from some envisioning what it would be like to disappear into a digital world and still be sold to.
But as much as advertisers are keen to put themselves anywhere the attention is, it’s an interesting counterweight to consider how much decentralization might play into it.
What I mean by that is, if one of the main aims of decentralization is removing the typical middlemen, typical restrictions, or typical “necessary evils” from how we do things online, how would achieving that affect advertising?
Projects still need funding and could probably find allowing certain ad formats a useful way to acquire that funding. But as much as many users will probably view the metaverse as an escape from the norm, how quick to frustration might they be when this aspect of the “real world” follows them in?
Imagine walking down a VR street and seeing VR billboards or signs on the sides of buildings with real advertisements, not simply stand-ins in a video game setting.
As Piers mentions when discussing potential social media on a crypto platform, when the internet as we know it was first conceived there were a series of decisions made without democracy.
Those changes formed the abilities and limitations of the internet for decades.
As much as we might have the temptation to lock out “big dogs” and big business from crypto platforms, or this metaverse at large, a big piece of what made the internet thrive as we know it was commerce.
There are far too many useful applications for commerce on crypto platforms currently to imagine it not driving the way forward. Particularly with NFTs and how they’re increasingly playing into how media is distributed, how artists sell their work, and what “digital assets” even means as a concept. (Read that linked article for more info about how NFTs are already being used in place of traditional methods of trading assets.)
Marketplaces for trading virtual assets often run completely outside of any particular corporate control. For instance, a marketplace in which 2 people trade NFT assets from a game they both play may have nothing to do with the developer of that game.
These kind of decentralized models may open all kinds of doors to other monetization alternatives to traditional advertising.
Shifting Careers and Direct Value in Digital Spaces
The simplest starting example to point at for this is a successful Youtuber who spends their days playing video games and makes a living from their following.
Who would’ve thought that’d be a thing many years ago? And for any parent who might ask, “When are you going to put that aside and get a real job?” the earning potential of these opportunities deserves a second glance. (More on that below.)
That certainly varies by country, too. We don’t see situations like that of Venezuela everywhere we look, which is namely that many people turned to gaming and selling in-game currency for real currency. Some of them even started earning more than doctors in the country.
For a brief catch-up on that point, Venezuela’s political turmoil has reportedly wrecked their economy in recent years and led to starvation. It’s not even an exaggeration when headlines ran about Runescape helping Venezuelans survive.
Inflation ended up outpacing salaries to such a degree that many traditional jobs suddenly didn’t pay a livable wage. In the case mentioned in the above Polygon article, this was a formerly successful accountant-turned gamer.
Just how profitable is that? Well, a 2019 article at the Economist pointed out that proficient Runescape gold farmers could earn $40 per month in countries where minimum wage is equivalent to $7.50 per month. Imagine out-earning your friends by 5x staying home and grinding out video games.
That’s not to make light of the situation, but rather to point out the sudden contrast of where it even made sense for one to be spending one’s time during the day.
Even in more stable regions savvy teens and young adults have turned personal branding and influence into careers.
That’s not to call it easy, of course, but it also doesn’t always require millions of followers or subscribers. In an article by CNBC on this topic they calculated that an Instagram following of 5000 followers and 308 sponsored posts could net you $100,000 that year. Influencers with a million followers could command a quarter million dollars per sponsored post.
For YouTube, apart from the 1000 subscriber minimum to participate in the ads partner program, you’d need to pull in 24 million yearly views (across all your content) to make roughly $100,000, or roughly $7.50 per 1000 views.
For channels with a healthy following in genres with big audiences, making a decent income that way is certainly attainable with deliberate effort behind it.
I can use myself as a simple example of “deliberate effort”. My Youtube channel sat at ~50 subscribers for 3 years after I put out some early content very passively and never did much with it. After returning to the channel this year with a plan, I turned that into 241 subscribers in 2 months.
We’re not talking big numbers there yet, but it’s a proof of concept that becoming a better presenter and picking topics people want to watch can amass more in 60 days than I had done in years prior with a half ass effort.
And because of the way video algorithms work, the more anyone’s content seems valuable, the more subscribers one gets, the more those videos get recommended. There can be a real runaway effect there and I’ve seen it repeatedly on other channels where they quickly go from 5k subscribers to 50k subscribers.
Careers for Developers and Other Motivated Technical and Creative People…
I didn’t want to conclude this section by simply pointing at influencers and YouTubers as the sole ways the developing metaverse creates career paths.
In a more direct way, those with the skill sets needed to develop, shape, and promote these world spaces also have a lot of doors open to them now that didn’t necessarily exist before.
Talking to friends of mine who were earlier adopters of crypto and decentralized projects, I have repeatedly been told some version of, “Projects all over need willing people with skills. Find a way to be involved.”
It’s logical, but it’s also not something that’s ever seemed as overtly true in traditional spaces throughout my own career.
Core Advantages of NFT and Virtual Goods in the Metaverse
The contrast away from physical space and physical goods makes the first few benefits obvious but very powerful:
- Lower cost of production (in some cases possibly zero cost)
- Low to no costs in storing products or transporting them
- Substantially more scalable business models as a result of the first two points
- Ability to test products and make needed tweaks quickly with minimal investment or wasted revenue
Most of these aspects of virtual goods are beneficial for consumers, but especially for entrepreneurs with limited capital. Retail locations are extremely expensive to start.
My own forays into web design and writing were far easier to start businesses around because they involved no tangible products or set retail location. I doubt I would’ve accomplished half of what I have in that space with the additional constraints of retail.
In the same way we discussed earlier that this space is creating new revenue opportunities left and right, it also makes being a straight up business owner selling products (and not simply a content creator) more attainable.
So… Crypto, Decentralization, and the Metaverse
Talking about crypto’s role in decentralization can be a little confusing because it seems to speak to two simultaneous aspects of the topic.
- The blockchain itself is decentralized, meaning it’s constructed to be anonymous and so that users don’t need to inherently trust each other for it to work. It optimizes resource distribution and ensures every member of a network has access to the same data set as everyone else. No one entity has the data and gets to decide who else gets to look at it.
- The ramifications that using platforms like this can have in a larger sense on commerce, money itself, governance, communication, and collaboration.
I feel like #1 is the general understanding most people have if they understand anything about crypto. When they hear “decentralization” they think of how the blockchain functions.
It’s valid and it’s true, but I think there’s a ton to talk about with #2. This post is already pretty long so it’ll be best served in other posts to come.
For this discussion, though, it feels sufficient to point out that it’s opened a lot of eyes about how things could work.
How we don’t always need to rely on banks and traditional financial institutes to make financing or transactions happen.
How we don’t need to look to the government to solve all our problems that way a child looks up at his parents.
How we can bridge the cultural and geographical gaps between us with technology to build things together because the technical barriers are reduced, and because the differences in how our governments see each other becomes less relevant.