Do we need blockchain for the Metaverse?

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  1. Introduction

  2. Exclude it at your peril

  3. All about people, places and things


While it may not be necessary, omitting the details would be misleading to many. “The Metaverse without blockchains would likely just advance the ball for Big Tech industries.”

The Metaverse is a place in the virtual realm where users can earn, play online games, and take part in simulation exercises such as training surgeons for live surgery with 3D organ models. Aside from these, users can tour locations that have been miraculously restored such as ancient Greece, Rome, and other exotic sites around the world.

The possibilities of the metaverse comes at an exciting time for many online users who are deeply involved in the Internet of Things (IoT). As a result, this new virtual adventure can help them develop careers, communicate, and explore new skills.  

Many stakeholders of the decentralized finance (DeFi) world believe that blockchain technology, along with other innovative technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR), will play a significant role in the Metaverse. But is the adoption of blockchain truly inevitable?

Professor Jeremy Bailenson of Stanford University recently moderated a discussion with world leading thinkers of blockchain and metaverse, at the World Economic Forum. Bailenson is the founder of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. 

The first question posed at the Forum was, “Do we need blockchain for the metaverse?” In the end, the consensus was that the Metaverse could exist without blockchain.

Tonya Evans, a professor at the Penn State University’s Dickinson Law School, wondered if innovation of the internet could possibly enhance further without blockchain technology. The panel concluded at a positive note, that there is a chance that the next version of the internet and metaverse could remain without the help of blockchain.

However, distributed decentralized ledgers and cryptographically protected assets such as smart contracts, are only a small component of Web3 technology. This technology also includes artificial intelligence (AI), 3D printing, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), the Internet of Things (IoT), and other features.

Exclude it at your peril

Although it is possible, leaving out blockchain technology might still be a mistake looking at how centralized many aspects of the internet are. Cutting ties with blockchain means decentralization will be out of the future of Web3 and the metaverse. This was confirmed by Tonya Evans who pointed out, “The Metaverse without blockchains will probably only move the ball for Big Tech at the expense of the same folks left behind by Web2—the exact people that decentralized networks would genuinely empower.”

The founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SuperSocial (a platform that creates games for the Metaverse), Yonatan Raz-Fridman agreed with stakeholders that believe blockchain technology is not essential in the development of the Metaverse. Speaking directly on the subject, he said, “No, you don’t need blockchain to enable the Metaverse. There is no a priori reason why  avatars can’t be designed in 3D and games played with exclusive platforms.”

Though the targets of Web3 are undoubtedly the big tech companies — Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon — with their privately-owned platforms, Raz-Fridman projected that organizations like Meta will need to consider making alterations revolving interoperability if they hope to join the new digital market.  

This entails enabling avatars, along with all of their virtual accessories, to freely move across Metaverse projects. The quote “Why buy garments if you can’t wear them outside of the store” is synonymous to what was recently said by NYU marketing professor Scott Galloway, “If you can’t flaunt your Birkin bag in the Metaverse, why purchase one?”. 

In other words, customers now demand a Web3/Metaverse, where everyone owns their digital assets and has the ability to transport them as they travel from one virtual place to another.

All about people, places and things

Till this day, the “Metaverse” still stands as an ambiguous term; different people have different definitions of it. However, most agree that it combines role-playing games and immersive, three-dimensional virtual environments. 

Bailenson, like several others, has found it useful categorizing the Metaverse into people, places, and items. He sees a possible use for blockchain technology in each of these fields.

He described it as “people are avatars, the bodies we wear while immersed in the digital world.” Blockchain technology can thus offer the “crypto DNA” that “ensures a one-to-one mapping of person to avatar,” according to the article. 

It may be used, for instance, to prevent someone from inhabiting ten avatars at once or to let someone else “take my avatar for a test drive”. Bailenson added, “That we can use blockchain technology to validate clothing for avatars and jewelry, but we believe that its key highlights are to record and authenticate human animations”.

If the Metaverse is to realize its full potential, the lack of compatibility, which is a hallmark of Web2, must be fixed. According to Lik-Hang Lee, the assistant professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science, and Technology, this consists of the least of the following components:

  • A virtual environment that can connect to the rest of the Metaverse should be able to be created by anyone;
  • If the device satisfies the basic technical requirements, they should be able to access the Metaverse.
  • Digital asset ownership should be tracked and maintained across many servers and clients;
  • The ability for one avatar to converse with avatars on other servers;
  • Within the Metaverse, people should be able to create, display, acquire, and exchange their digital assets.

It is key to integrate standardized systems, as there are a growing number of metaverse projects that are not compatible with each other. 

However, interoperability might not come easily. Large tech companies like Meta, Google, and other companies will battle hard not to lose their share in the market.  

The current  internet may take some time to adapt to the web3 space fully, but once they do consumers will demand more control in their online movements. Then, FAMGA firms will have little choice but to compromise on compatibility.

We predict after further development of the Metaverse, there will be many extraneous applications of blockchain technology. But as time goes on, “a set of apps will emerge where blockchain is the only way to perform the job efficiently.”

All in all, it is both conceivable and feasible to have a Metaverse without blockchain. But if the goal encourages democratization of the Internet, accessibility, transparency, composability, and platform interoperability, then we believe that the Metaverse must integrate blockchain.


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