The Digital Web3 Metaverse Is Not Real (Because You’re Already In It)

17 min readMar 23, 2022

The metaverse is a concept once considered to be entirely hypothetical as it operated in the realm of futurisms.

Creating digital connections worldwide, a Metaverse brings reality to the digital space as players and contributors can lead and make the world they are an avatar in. The ability to achieve things never before possible in a digital plane while maintaining all the beautiful intricacies of a real-world system is finally unlocked.

  • The metaverse is where you escape from reality.
  • It's where you go to connect with digital friends halfway around the world.
  • The metaverse is the place where barriers are "supposed" to disappear.

As consumers in the market, we can’t be surprised as we watch it consistently dominated by venture capitalists that operate with a purely financial mindset. Simply following the opportunistic model of accumulating as much wealth as possible, the metaverse doesn't and won't exist today.

We know that the quality of technology available to developers is not the limiting factor. Countless game ecosystems have seen massive levels of adoption without even needing to introduce financial incentives or deliver jaw-dropping graphics. Let’s figure out why the favored model for a Web3 metaverse is flawed in many ways. To do that it is essential we start at the beginning: The players.

Without users, no existing system can continue running while delivering actual levels of value. There must be a benefiting party for value to be realized and thus exist. This is true for video games and all systems of return. This is true for business, for teams, for nature.

That means that every existing metaverse will only ever be as good as its players. The critical nuance to a metaverse living a long life is that a player cannot stay a player throughout their playing lifecycle — the goal is to make them a contributor as rapidly as possible. Contributors lay the roads of culture; players choose which fork in the road to take.

Unfortunately for many, any significant contribution level has been gated by multiple thousands of dollars and complicated Web3 requirements that prevent players focused on the experience from entering the ecosystem, much less contributing to it. In most cases, even being an active player won't return any kind of financial means to become a contributor, and thus a new *poor* player must spend their time and their money. It's impossible to have a healthy on-ramp when the entire culture of the ecosystem revolves around ownership and compensation. Still, this is the dream sold by venture capitalists with more money than they know what to do with.

This issue is only compounded by developers that have never taken a second to study market design as they attempt to increase the price of all consumables in the network. As the price goes up, so does the barrier of entry for new users. The caveat being the creators of the metaverse must make the price go up. They have holders that are constantly screaming for the next update while every person involved in the situation knows that no valuable system can be built in months. Even more importantly, no long-term system can.

The angered roars of impatience continue as the next metaverse to die is born. That reality is ignored, though. Instead, we continue to see a new metaverse launched every week as holders are swamped with the same buzzwords they've heard a million times before. As excitement grows, holders begin to understand the system better, begin to research more profound, begin to model out their potential returns, and that is when they realize that they were lied to.

The grand notion of a digital ecosystem with an active financial lifeline was false from the very beginning. It wasn't just a few white lies of feature differences along the way. The idea was fundamentally misrepresented the very first time it was proposed. No matter how you rework the numbers, none of it works without players, and strapping headsets to the players' heads changes nothing fundamental.

A Metaverse at its core is just a culture contained within a little digital jar. A microcosm of day-to-day activities that the participants of the system define. A method of inputs and outputs that are designed to be constantly flowing as the lifeblood of the larger ecosystem. The solution lies in building an experience that individuals want to be a part of in a more profound way than just the potential of a financial return. When gamers say they don't need NFTs, this is why. They aren't playing for ownership; they're playing for the experience.

Fundamentally, a metaverse is just a slow-paced video game. One cannot abandon all the concepts of what makes a great game when trying to make a great metaverse. To build a better product, we need to focus on culture. Unfortunately, that is precisely what is happening today.

The success of a metaverse is not defined by its technology; the economy does not define it; the brand image does not define it. The success of a metaverse is entirely dependent on the culture created.

Hop in the bus, let's go on a field trip. Let's leave the realm of Web3, go back to the glory days of video games, and look at Modern Warfare 2.

At the dawn of first-person shooter video games, a massive wave of players from every demographic and age poured into the same game lobby. Screaming vulgar atrocities at each other for the release of a bit of dopamine and the satisfaction of being better than the team they were matched against. With the ever so rare breaks of appreciation and communal respect, Modern Warfare 2 dug out a niche the size of a crater as the culture lingered in the minds of its players.

A culture that was so strong and eventually nostalgic for players that the developers remastered the game and released the same game ten years later. The technology had evolved, the strategies used in playing were very different, but the one thing that didn't change was the culture.

Culture is persistent and reliable. A culture so clearly defined that competing game studios began stealing pieces from Modern Warfare 2 in hopes of recreating that same culture. Yet, it's never happened and likely never will.

Even with certain game studios going so far as to use the same audio codec for voice chat, it rings true to the sound stored in our heads from 2012. Yet, no one loved the community because of the sound; it was the culture. Still today, it's not rare to see a digital native say the words "I miss MW2 lobbies" as longing for a video game culture half as strong spreads through the minds of every player that sat in the lobby waiting for the game to start.

Voice chat is not the controlling factor of culture manifesting, though.

The continued and growing releases of all Souls Games (Dark Souls & Elden Ring) carries a culture formed around being skilled enough to beat the bosses that challenge and test everything the player has been learning.

A culture so deeply ingrained into the way things are done that the developers had to teach their players a lesson within minutes of starting the game.

FromSoft, the publishing studio of these games, has a reputation and player expectation of creating genuinely challenging and fun games. So, the second you start the game, you're faced with an unsuspecting enemy that is many levels too high to have any chance of winning a fair fight against.

It teaches that some things aren't meant to be fought yet. Train and come back when the player is ready because the challenge will be impossible otherwise.

With the continued awareness and understanding by the developers of the culture that exists, the pride and fulfillment from finally winning are far more substantial. In a culture that's grown so loud, some players even belittle those that can't beat the challenge. That is the sign of a deeply integrated and clearly defined culture.

With this culture, every single release in the series has broken the records set by previous releases. This time, FromSoft expected 4 million copies sold in the first week. Instead, they went on to sell 12 million.

Culture isn't just an output of challenge, though. An incredible illustration comes from one of the few real Metaverses, Minecraft.

As a game, Minecraft stands on its own in an industry littered with look-alike copycats. Yet, the copycats never perform to any level of success beyond copyright-infringing that comes through the improper utilization of the Minecraft brand.

Through the last 15 years, Minecraft has evolved from a simple block-building game into an ecosystem that supports unique experiences never even imagined by the developers.

The path-led culture starts 12 minutes into the first playthrough of a single-player world. Night comes, enemies come out, and you need to build a dirt hut.

Not only does every player share that first experience of building their dirt hut on their first night ever, but this experience only deepens as players progress into their first playthrough.

  • That feeling of getting your first iron set of tools.
  • That feeling of finding your first diamond.
  • That feeling of digging straight down into the lava.
  • That feeling of suiting up and pillaging villages.

The experience is slightly different for every player, yet the exact outcome of personal appreciation, impact, and creation is robust. The creators of Minecraft understood that and took this even further by allowing external developers the luxury of building within their code base and sharing new experiences with tens to hundreds of players at a time.

Quickly came fully customized servers that anyone could join for free. Growth was fast as they created a community that wasn't just passionate about creating but playing, sharing, and being part of a truly communal experience.

With this, we saw mini-games like Hunger Games:

Inspired by the top-rated book series, 50 players would spawn around a circle as they go on to explore the land, get their armor and weapons, and fight to be the last one standing. Minecraft ran Battle Royale servers five years before the first Battle Royale game went mainstream.

Community servers like this were one of the first successes of Minecraft in the early days. Servers couldn't handle a lot of players and could barely handle vanilla processing, yet wholly unique servers with entirely custom functionalities were built and became incredibly popular.

The culture of Minecraft was inspiring to hundreds of new developers (many of which are now in Web3), and a burst of creativity and experiences swept the community as the culture took hold. Overnight, there was:

  • Capture The Flag
  • Prop Hunt
  • Narrative Adventures spanning 100s of hours
  • Cops & Robbers

The culture was being solidified as each new idea launched and expanded on the original culture of communal creation and experience. Still, in 2022, the community of Minecraft continues to grow on the initial appeal that so many players have experienced further. That is culture.

A fine point of consideration one cannot forget is that incredible depth plays a minimal role in the cultivation of culture. A system can be relatively simple and still foster a culture that turbocharges the velocity of growth and player integration.

Take Among Us, the game that swept the world amid Covid-19.

Success was not immediate for Among Us. With a rocky launch in 2018, it wasn't until the culture took hold that the game saw a booming increase in players. It took literal years for the culture to form, and many will attribute the lack of culture to why it sat dormant for so long.

Among Us is not a new type of game or concept, yet it would go on to be the game within this niche that found the most success. Why? The culture created.

There exist countless other games that adopt the model of Clue. For Among Us, the catapult was the videogame live streamer adoption that enormously facilitates the spamming of the same thing over and over in chat while pumping out the content on as regular of a basis as possible.

These two things combined provided rocket fuel to a game otherwise quite ordinary. Although no one could have predicted Among Us would be the target, these dynamics of digital content often form the foundational pillars of a videogames culture. The rhetoric of the streamers evolves and is inclusive to someone's interest, and suddenly, a new piece of culture has been created through the communal interaction of all the players.

For Among Us, this was "sus" as it seeped into the real-world happenings of every family that had a child playing the game.

The interesting thing? Sus is not mentioned in the game. This vocabulary was a creation of the culture that had formed around the game. The term found its way deep into the oddest places of conversations as suddenly the game's growth wasn't coming from ads being run by the publisher.

For you blockchain nerds, culture is the consensus of human emotion. This is amplified to impeccable heights when we live in a digital world. Yet, when we step into the Web3 territory, suddenly it's a desolate field of projects that have abandoned any hope of creating an authentic culture.

When looking at all of the metaverses that have been launched before, the remarkable lack of culture makes an incredible amount of sense. The desire for ownership is not culture.

With the primary appeal of a metaverse being ownership, the focus of the player appeal is known to have played second fiddle. This becomes more apparent as you wander about the barren wasteland with no activity to do beyond walking the treacherous grounds of graphics from the 1990s.

  • Everyone wants to own land and make money.
  • No one wants to be an actual player.

This is a complex and challenging situation to have an unbiased conversation about for many. With venture capitalist money driving many higher-value collections, it isn't easy to talk about the idea that the market is propped up by money that should not be there.

That doesn't mean we ignore it or pretend that our money isn't being siphoned by organizations worth tens or hundreds of millions, right? Instead, we can have a little bit more clear perspective on what reality is.

Being dominated by VC money and the absolute detachment from reality, the Metaverse industry sees very little player interaction. It is mainly dominated by that those most financially well off. So, the market continues spiraling in the opposite direction that is needed by exploring the likes of digital landlords and digital billboards that no one will ever see or be converted by.

  • Many solutions to gobble money that doesn't exist.
  • Few solutions to create a fun experience or authentic culture.

Yet the dream of digital real estate ownership continues to be pushed on by opportunists leeching their most passionate followers. They are not pushing the players' vision being empowered or unleashed of previously placed limits, though. Instead, it is the dream to generate the most significant profits for the initial organization offering this platform, Animoca.

These platforms are not made for fun or player interaction; they are made for money extraction, which means there will be no metaverse that sees major success until that changes. The crux of this issue stems from the idea that fun is an equation of challenge and time.

  • You can't have fun if something happens super fast with no challenge.
  • You can't have fun if something took you 19 hours and there are zero rewards.
  • A financial barrier is not a challenge.

But most importantly:

  • You can't have fun if there's nothing to do.

Sandbox is an excellent example of this as they are fundamentally built on the idea of having every user be a contributor with land plots. You can create and customize the experience much like you can in the massively popular game Minecraft.

Introducing consistent financial cost is an extreme detriment to adoption, especially when it is a required cost of participation. The thing that many fail to see and that many 'gamers' understand is that there is no need to add a financial return to make something that is incredibly appealing. Nor does a player need to own imaginary assets to have fun in a video game. In systems like this, the quality of experience that a player can have is immediately stunted. That experience detriment only grows as that player has less and less buying power which is inevitable thanks to the design of these systems.

From the very beginning, the digital metaverse was a creation of capitalistic tendencies and desires aimed to extract the most extreme amount of value out of a self-created system. These systems are not designed in a way that allows a player to come in with zero skill, become skilled, and walk out with profits earned. Instead, they're designed to reward the richest.

To capitalistic business people, congratulations. This is perhaps one of the best and most clever methods of capital extraction that the modern digital world has ever seen.

  • This is not just a bubble.
  • This is not just a market overvaluation.

This is a fundamentally flawed idea that makes little sense when placed in reality for many reasons. It's the situation of taking a mental model that never should have existed. It is an idea so ideological that one cannot place it into the confines of physics and financial expectations while maintaining harmony.

There is no system in which the poor are rewarded while the rich are also awarded. If one person is becoming more prosperous, one person is becoming poorer. That is the nature of reality and every digital metaverse that is dependent on financial appeal.

The fundamental perspective shift here is that if you are bullish on the general concept of a metaverse. Then why do you not have an absolute massive accumulated amount of Roblox stock? Fundamentally, they are a metaverse that has been operating not just for years but has a living ecosystem, living players, living SDKs, the living ability for players to contribute or convert users to contributors. They are the realized metaverse, yet becoming a profit-turning business has proven difficult for them. Even with a massive number of players, they remained unprofitable for decades. And today after literal decades of crafting the system, it’s a system led by players aged 6–16. It is not adults making thousand-dollar investments.

Web3 is very different. Instead of the business remaining unprofitable, many collections have gone on to mint for thousands of ETH. The money doesn’t stop with the initial mint either. Almost every popular Web3 metaverse has processed several million dollars of secondary royalty fees. The problem is solved! … but it’s not.

Finally, these platforms can get the money they need to build a better system, yet they never seem to deliver an ecosystem of nominal difference. No matter the funds available, an ecosystem can’t spawn a culture without the proper environment. So, where’s the Web3 metaverse? You’re in it already.

Me writing this article, you reading it and contemplating it is the metaverse—the culture of trying to define connectivity at a greater level than ever before possible. The digital connection between human beings has seen massive communities form and prosper with people who have never met.

The ability to contribute real value to the greater ecosystem we are all a part of without leaving the house is new and hard to understand. Welcome to the real Web3 metaverse. The metaverse is where reality is better than the digital world that has been concocted while builders can realize their dreams to the grandest extents.

Many developers and even more holders in Web3 have learned and realized this. The actual definition of the metaverse is not apparent without having the personal experience to base the truth in. Even this article will have doubters that cannot fathom that Web3 has a hint of culture. Yet, the insatiable desire for growth, progression, and outlets of creativity have worked their way into the deepest forks of Web3. The minor details of every person's experience in the greater Web3 metaverse are different. Yet, the driving force of the most passionate in the industry can be generalized to these few focuses.

The consumer market is inefficient, though. Ignoring the realities, venture capitalists have become more aggressive with value extraction as another copy-paste clone is deployed by the same funds. Most recently, we've seen this happen to Bored Ape Yacht Club. Animoca, a venture capital fund “specializing” in blockchain games, has set its target on BAYC with the release of its social token and the upcoming metaverse.

Animoca now steps into the playground of repeating the same playbook while using the most affluent community on Ethereum, BAYC holders, as exit liquidity. Introducing the BAYC Metaverse:

Like every other community-focused metaverse, there will be a public codebase and system that allows other NFT projects to create "VX" models of their tokens for use in the land.

Built on Unreal Engine, the aim is to grow beyond the pixelated visuals that much of the market has grown used to, thanks to, you guessed it, Animoca.

With the introduction of 100,000 initial land plots, they've chosen to create digital scarcity for a few 0s and 1s. At the same time, there is no travel time, there is no real value in proximity, there is no means of monetization or genuine return beyond the superficial desire of the rich wanting to be richer through the financial vehicle of speculation and FOMO.

Yet, they need to sell all their plots to get their 200 million dollar payday, and they will do everything in their power to make that happen. Digital scarcity is an easy way to achieve this when very few holders slow down enough to consider the reality of the situation they've been proposed.

The push for hype doesn't stop at creating a perception of scarcity. Let me introduce you to Kodas. The following method of hype generation used to secure initial mint funds for BAYC investors (not holders, investors):

Being found on 10% of the first 100,000 plots minted, there are 10,000 Kodas up for grabs by those minting come the big day. The release of Kodas is not a method of value delivery for holders. This is hype delivery so that the drop is more sure to sell out.

Notice something here?

  • The conversation isn't about the Pangea each piece of land is a part of.
  • The conversation isn't about what you do.

Everything is about creating as much speculation and hype as possible.

The interesting outcome of this structure is that it is nearly certain that the entire supply of BAYC land will be minted within minutes. The market is highly inefficient, which won't change before the release. Animoca has found what appears to be an endless faucet of money, and the extent to which they are exploiting is genuinely impressive. Honestly, it is a work of business art.

But we have another Metaverse that exists because VCs and holders wanted to own it, not because holders wanted to play in it.

  • Does the community of Bored Apes have a strong enough culture to be the first that can find this spark?
  • Will there be enough players that provide exit liquidity to the owners of the assets?
  • Will holders care to have yet another "VX" model for another metaverse?

Regardless of anyone's opinion on the costs and methods associated with the BAYC metaverse, it is impossible to deny that it has supporters. Supporters in the form of holders and investors. Will the culture be strong enough to make the BAYC metaverse something special? We will soon find out.