We're committed to providing comprehensive coverage of the NFT market. As such, we had to address Matthew Ball's highly anticipated volume, "The Metaverse: And How It Will Revolutionize Everything."
In an uncertain era for crypto, NFTs, and other blockchain elements, we can be grateful for Ball’s insights. His overview of the build up to the metaverse as it will be lays out the problems it seeks to solve and the problems we must surmount in order to reach its full potential for humanity. Our review of “The Metaverse: And How It Will Revolutionize Everything.” will focus on the big picture issues Ball touches on from the standpoint of NFTs. First, a look at how Ball defines the metaverse.
One of the great strengths of the book is its definitional approach. After two chapters and twenty-odd pages of background on prior global technological disruptions whose effects stretch into the present (Web 2.0, its standards, social media, and metaverse precursors) we receive the following definition of the metaverse:
“A massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds that can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence, and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments.”(Ball, 28)
Ball’s definition touches on all the major points we at nonfungible.com see in the burgeoning metaverse. Yet the definition given does not state an explicit position regarding the open or closed metaverse, however his analysis of what a major-corporation run internet would have been like (15-16) and how much current-day major platforms stifle innovation indicates his perspective on the matter.
And perhaps most importantly for the sake of our review, the latter part of his definition highlights the roles that non-fungible tokens can play in that metaverse.
Who we are, or at least the persona we present online, arises primarily from images — moving or still — and the data behind them. Non-fungible tokens, as Ball explains, allow us to customize our online identities. In the forthcoming real-time rendered virtual worlds many of us will visit, it only makes sense for our avatars to be as distinct as our real-world selves. The current leading uses of NFTs point in this direction. At a minimum, this means an NFT profile photo for social media.
For NFT and metaverse maximalists, this could mean separate NFT avatars for the metaverse worlds we visit, sometimes with separate collections of NFT wearables, yet oftentimes simply bringing the same personalizations across from one world to another. And we’ll be able to import and export wearables and other personal objects across worlds thanks to true, on-chain ownership and interoperability.
Ball places heavy emphasis on gaming, especially from the standpoint of interoperability. He states that many technological improvements that have rapidly accelerated due to the demand of gamers like higher bandwidth, lower latency, more powerful graphics modeling, and more unified standards to name a few must grow by at least a factor of a thousand to bring about the metaverse as he defines it.
Interoperability means that an NFT, game, or app is platform agnostic, and his discussion of the importance of this principle folds in much of the technical discussion of the book. In practical terms, if we’re unable to take our digital native property to another world in the metaverse, we don’t really own it.
For example, if we buy a game on one platform, we don’t necessarily own that game on another platform. We’ve bought a license to access that game on that one platform. By extension, when we buy items in one game world, Ball explains, we don’t own those items. And we’re unable to bring them into another gaming world because they’re stored on a platform’s central server. Part of this strange situation, according to Ball, is that platforms operate on different standards.
He believes that the metaverse will necesitate new standards that will unify different graphics engines and other needed protocols. After all, if the possibility is there, people will want to make the most of their digital native property. And moving one’s identity from world to world with fluid continuity in the metaverse calls out for such standards.
In 2022 blockchain and NFT gaming is limited to browser games. On mobile devices, this limitation significantly restricts the computer a game can access and utilize, which Ball explains in detail. Major platforms like Android and Apple impose the limitation because allowing blockchain and NFT games into their app stores would decentralize those centralized, highly controlled marketplaces. Further, Apple and Google are accustomed to receiving 30% of gaming, so they tend to block what they cannot monetize, and what other people actually own is much harder to monetize.
According to Ball the extreme power wielded by the likes of Google and Apple is a major obstacle to overcome. He appears skeptical of blockchain maximalists who believe their numbers and determination will somehow bend the will of trillion dollar business. Yet he makes a sound case for the utility of more open standards, appealing to both the need for innovation going forward and the organic development of internet standards during the protocol wars of the 1990s.
On the immersive side of gaming, we’ve come a long way since Duck Hunt on the original Nintendo. The tree falling in our 2022 game closely mimics the physics of a tree that might fall in our yard. However, that more realistic 21th century modeling hardly stacks up to the level of detail needed in real time in a metaverse that is always on everywhere for everyone.
To get there, Ball notes that a number of obstacles must be resolved. Among them, he indicates higher bandwidth via widespread, accessible 5G /6G and fiber along with edge computing to minimize latency; standards, as in the internet protocol wars of the 1990s, must be decided upon organically and adhered to across different regions; and computing power must also increase significantly, even by a factor of 1000. Otherwise, a chat in the metaverse with fellow gamers’, friends’, or colleagues’ NFT avatars might look like the worst Zoom meeting you’ve been to mashed up with the uncanniest valley you could hope to avoid visiting. That’s not the metaverse anyone wants.
If the above discussion of immersion feels entangled with digital native property and platform standards in all sorts of different sequences that you’re imagining, plus a variety of other factors, that’s because it is. The metaverse is a stew that we’re making on the fly.
If Ball seems to hedge more that he might need to, it’s because so many possible outcomes are possible in the years ahead. When he appears to repeat himself, the repetition comes from a different angle of the social-technological-historical landscape. He’s trying to do justice to reviewing the stew while he’s cooking it with all of us. All of the blockchain aficionados, the crypto millionaires, the metaverse theorists, pro-centralization skeptics, and novice NFT artists.
We agree with Ball overall on the use cases of NFTs in the metaverse he defines. They’re already how so many of us identify ourselves online. How we make ourselves known to each other in the metaverse that arises is up to us, and so are the workings of that metaverse, in particular its openness. Ball makes that case. Or, if you’d prefer, the benevolent vision of Mark Zuckerberg might allow you into Internet+, one hand opening the door, the other retrieving your wallet.
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