The future possibilities of the metaverse are presumably limitless, but is there anything you can do in the metaverse right now?
The metaverse is often couched in such futuristic terms that it’s difficult to understand how you can get involved in it today. But the truth is, metaverse-like worlds have been around for decades and it’s possible you will have already experienced some of them without necessarily being aware of it.
What is the metaverse again?
Drawing on venture capitalist Matthew Ball’s framework, the metaverse is a persistent, online world that blurs the lines of reality and virtual reality. Far more than a Call of Duty match, the metaverse refers to a 24/7 online world, inhabited by economies that incentivize a new network of creators and infrastructure providers. Crucially, this economy revolves around in-game assets that are interoperable. This concept diverges greatly from the “walled gardens” – closed ecosystems – of which we’re used to today; Ball provides the example of a skin for a CounterStrike gun that could easily be turned into a decoration for a Fortnite weapon.
While Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta (formerly Facebook) has its own ideas about the metaverse, the cryptocurrency community thinks blockchain technology is a perfect fit for this novel online world. Crypto games like The Sandbox and Decentraland offer early visions of how a creator-led, crypto- and NFT-powered economy could function. So, here’s what you can do in the metaverse today.
Build, explore and play in virtual worlds
Games like Minecraft and Roblox have been providing metaverse-like experiences for the better part of a decade; both Second Life and Eve Online have been alive and kicking since 2003, and World of Warcraft sprang to life in 2004.
Second Life is one of the closest metaverse analogs due to its creator-led economy and sprawling sandbox world. You can do anything you like in Second Life, and some people have been documented to spend their lives in the game, living off the virtual land, harvesting the game’s in-game currency, Linden dollars, and attending events.
In the 2020s, crypto games like The Sandbox and Decentraland are tilting the videogame economy on its head by adding digital assets to the mix. Not only can you import your own non-fungible tokens (NFT) into the games and buy virtual land, but you can also use the games’ fungible governance tokens to alter the parameters of the virtual world you’ll inhabit, explore and build.
Both are powered by cryptocurrencies – The Sandbox uses fungible SAND tokens as in-game currency and uses NFTs to represent parcels of land and other game-native items, the kinds of assets that decorate your avatar, and Decentraland has fungible MANA tokens and equivalent non-fungibles for virtual assets.
To create accounts, you need only connect a crypto wallet such as MetaMask. Though, in Decentraland it is possible to play as a guest without connecting a crypto wallet. The Sandbox is technically in alpha (testing phase), and the first season has closed, so you can’t play it until the Alpha Season 2 is released, the date of which has not been confirmed.
Crypto-economics aside, these games play like any other sandbox game. You can roam around the games’ respective virtual worlds, hanging out with the brands and celebrities that are rushing to corner the market. In virtual spaces, like shopping malls, art galleries or plazas, you can walk around and speak to people, play games, build houses or attend events. Decentraland even hosts its own music festivals. Unfortunately, despite the advancements in modern computer game graphics many of these newer games look no better than Second Life did back in 2003. But the magic is, at least in theory, in the relationships you can forge with your virtual brethren.
Meet people from anywhere for work or play
There are plenty of hangout spaces in the metaverse. While you can certainly congregate in huge open worlds like The Sandbox and Decentraland, you can also play around with custom-built rooms on platforms like Spatial. These apps are purpose built for events, conferences and meetings. You can log into Spatial with a Web 2 login like Google, or with a Web 3 login like MetaMask. Spatial’s virtual worlds are separated into rooms; you can either visit pre-built rooms or create your own. Spatial’s galleries support NFTs. You can move about Spatial’s world on mobile, Steam, on a browser or through an Oculus VR headset.
Virtual reality is strong on one of Ball’s criteria for the metaverse: presence. Strap on a VR headset, like an HTC Vive, Valve Index or Meta (formerly Oculus) Quest, and launch yourself into cyberspace. Meta (formerly Facebook) is building a social hub for its VR headsets, and Steam’s VR software comes preinstalled with a virtual home. Games like VR Chat pre-dated crypto, and allow you to enter rooms full of other people wearing VR headsets, dressed in whatever avatar they like.
Companies like MetaHub are creating virtual hangout spaces for conferences and business events, and Decentraland hosted its first music festival in 2021 – although artists were doing that in Second Life long before it was cool. Hanging out is where the boundaries of the metaverse can start to blur and the marketing spiel begins to unravel.
Is Zoom a fundamental part of the metaverse because of its track record of connecting workplaces and sparking a work-from-home revolution? Or is it, as Mark Zuckerberg mentioned in his Meta keynote, an unconvincing alternative to reality that replaces in-person interaction with rows of faces on screens?
Create a 3D avatar that looks like you … or not
Your avatar is a big part of your metaverse identity. For some, profile-picture NFTs like CryptoPunks or the Bored Ape Yacht Club are sufficient for Discord and Twitter, mostly text-based platforms where a 2D picture is good enough. For 3D realms, apps like Ready Player Me offer composable digital identities that, it claims, can be used in 1,330 apps and games, including Nike’s RTFKT, Somnium Space and VR Chat. You could also buy a NFT sneaker from RTFKT, or an avatar from its upcoming “Avatar project,” although it’s unclear which games will let you “wear” these.
In Somnium Space, an Ethereum-based virtual reality open world similar to Decentraland, you can import a Ready Player Me avatar created from nothing more than a selfie. Following Ball’s framework, this fulfils the criteria of interoperability – the ability to take your digital assets with you no matter which platform or app you are using.
Invest in virtual land, NFTs or tokens
Of course, if you’re not actually interested in parting with reality just yet, you could always invest in the buzzy virtual worlds instead. There are many ways of going about this. You could invest in NFT avatar drops, like those offered by Nike or Adidas. You could speculate on virtual land or in-game items, like those offered on Axie Infinity, Decentraland and The Sandbox.
You could also invest in the fungible tokens offered by those games, which function as in-game currency. If you’re not sure in which token to invest, you could always invest in a metaverse index fund, such as the Metaverse Index (MVI) offered by Index Coop. The MVI rebalances its portfolio in accordance with the largest metaverse coins of the day.
If crypto isn’t your thing, you could invest in the equity of virtual reality and metaverse companies. Meta is one company betting big on the future of virtual and augmented reality – an analyst on Seeking Alpha estimates that the company will have spent $70 billion on the concept between 2014 and 2023. Virtual reality and metaverse stocks, as well as private investments, are also on the table.