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Who Cares About The Metaverse(s)?

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

Everyone is talking about metaverses, and the price of some of the “land” rivals real estate that has actual working toilets. People have been asking me what projects to build or buy in, and whether or not pixelated land should really be priced at the value of a car that accelerates to speeds no human will ever drive (looking at you, LamboLand). Given that it’s a $47.5 billion industry now, and projected to grow to almost $680 billion by the end of 2030, it’s probably worth a few minutes of our time to talk about it.

What is it?

We’re going to leave aside the issues of whether there is one metaverse or many metaverses, or many metaverses wrapped in one multiverse (™ Marvel, DC, and basically every comic ever) – it is one of the mysteries of the universe, like why curling is a sport or teenage boys think no one can smell them. It’s a riddle that’s not meant to be solved. Instead, let’s talk about what a metaverse even is.[1] A metaverse is an artificial (man-made) space that you interact with using an avatar. There’s a difference here between having an avatar and using an avatar. If you’re chatting in a social media space or chat space and you identify yourself with an image of Bugs Bunny, a cartoon penguin, or the Oogie Boogie Man, you have an avatar. You are interacting as yourself (typing or speaking), and just use a different image instead of your own.

On the other hand, if you interact with the world via a body of some sort – hands or a body you can see, you are now using an avatar. It’s not just an image, it’s an image with agency. It can do things. So your cartoon image holding a light saber identifying you on Discord or your friend’s phone: having an avatar. Your hands holding a gun in Fortnight, your pixelated character in Minecraft, and your character in Decentraland: using an avatar. You take the role of that avatar, and interact in any metaverse through the perspective and capabilities of that avatar. (Incidentally, those interactive games like Fortnight and Roblox are actual metaverses, even though they don’t call them metaverses.)

The Good:

So why should you care? Metaverses have some pretty amazing implications. Interactive gaming paired with augmented reality (AR) or even virtual reality (VR) is the clear direction people are heading. Shopping, hanging out, concerts, hanging out at concerts while shopping – all of this either exists or is about to exist in the metaverse.

Also, there’s the possibility of being able to meet, interact, and even date people as the person you wish you were. For marginalized populations, this has the possibility of completely changing the experience they have with other people – and the experience others have with them. Who would you be if you didn’t have “different” as the first thing people noticed? If you presented as able bodied, white, more conventionally attractive, non-disfigured, of “an acceptable age?” Would people respond differently? How would you feel about that? Would you have new opportunities? Would you want to take them?

There’s also the possibility of people taking on a more empathetic perspective by being forced into a marginalized position temporarily. This would be something like a very desirable metaverse that requires you to assume an assigned avatar for a limited period, like 1-3 sessions or 4 hours, before assuming the avatar of your choice. Required avatars may include a marginalized ethnicity for your region, not able teleport to experience mobility restrictions, or conventionally undesirable appearance. (Realistically, though, the odds are probably higher that we’ll see metaverses full of cartoon monkeys and identical tall blondes than some sort of empathetic growth model.)

The Bad:

People are paying a fortune for land in some places,[2] without knowing if their land is in the flow of avatar traffic[3] and is likely to even be found, or if people will actually visit that particular metaverse. Decentralized metaverses, like Sandbox and Decentraland, haven’t been able to hold more than 7,000 players at once. That’s not a very high number. And the idea of renting out your assets (like a storefront on land you own) only works if there are people there who visit the store and buy things.

Worse than that, the use of the metaverse seems to be dropping markedly. Since use and transactional coin value shouldn’t be linked, or should be inversely linked,[4] this isn’t a great sign. The oldest and most developed of the metaverses, Decentraland, had only 19 daily active users (that’s as bad as it sounds), and its subreddit is dead.[5]

Centralized metaverses, like Axie Infinity, Fortnight, and Meta’s metaverse, can hold many more people, and have more to offer currently, but they are basically no different from any other centralized gaming or shopping environment, other than farming out building games to users.

The Ugly:

There are truly ugly parts here, too. The metaverse is only available to people with reliable internet connections and significant graphics capabilities, which leaves out a huge chunk of the global population sitting on the wrong side of the digital divide. All of the financial and entertainment benefits are going to go to the relatively wealthy and privileged, which changes very little in terms of real world benefit and access.

Worse, people have been assaulted and attacked in the metaverse. Anonymity seems to bring out the worst in so many people – like a bunch of Gollums wearing “nice people” masks. Incredibly disturbing things like sexual assault have been reported,[6] including using subprograms to force avatars into sexual acts against their will. The use of haptic suits can make this a true nightmare scenario, and we’re still questioning whether it's even a crime. Virtual rape is now a thing, and personally, I’m questioning whether giving humans opposable thumbs was a good thing. I don’t think we’re doing this evolution thing right.

So, you decide. Which one will drive metaverse uptake in the future: the potential benefits or potential risks? Are we looking at Ready Player One on the horizon? Or is the idea of the metaverse risky and very niche, and for early adopters only, with any real metaverse use years away (or never)?


Check out my podcast, Crypto | Immersion, on Apple, Spotify, and a bunch of other places, and tons of additional content and help on my website, Unbiased, easy to understand information about web3 and finance, for those who know and those who wish they knew. I don’t care what decisions you make – as long as they’re informed ones.

[1] Apparently only 16% of people Meta interviewed know what a metaverse is. Oddly, 45% said they would interact with a brand in a metaverse. I wonder where that other 29% thinks they’re interacting…?

[2] Someone paid $450K for the property next to Snoop Dogg in Decentraland. That’s a lot of money hoping for a block party.

[3] This is why zoning matters in the real world. Think metazoning committees won’t exist? Wait. Bureaucracy finds a way.

[4] When the coin used for transactions on the metaverse platform changes, it shouldn’t impact whether or not people want to hang out in the metaverse – only invest in it. Even more likely is an inverse relationship – as the coin value drops, things are cheaper, so more people will want to buy on the metaverse, which increases the price of the coin, and slows down buying. But a dropping coin value and dropping active users mean it’s more likely the metaverse is primarily interesting for its market value, not some endemic utility or fun people are having in the space.



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