- There’s a battle brewing for the future of the metaverse, between crypto die-hards and Big Tech companies like Facebook (now Meta).
- Crypto-focused metaverse games such as Axie Infinity and The Sandbox have been drawing people in over the last year.
- But crypto fans worry that tech behemoths will soon move in and start to dominate with more centralized models.
Facebook is charging into the metaverse and a lot of people aren’t happy about it. Just ask Keanu Reeves.
“Can we just not have metaverse be, like, invented by Facebook,” he told The Verge earlier this month. “I’m just like, come on man.”
Reeves’ view is widely shared in the crypto community, where companies such as The Sandbox are picking up speed with their own metaverses.
In fact, a battle is looming between cryptoland and the colossal tech companies such as Facebook — which is now called Meta — and Microsoft. Crypto fans worry that their vision of a decentralized world of rules-free creation and non-fungible token trading is at stake.
What on earth is the metaverse?
There’s little agreement about what the metaverse is, or even if it’s going to become a thing.
Right now, the fuzzy term refers to virtual worlds in which people in the form of avatars can play games, socialize, work, watch virtual events, and create, buy and sell items. Sometimes they can be accessed through virtual-reality headsets.
For many true believers, the metaverse is a chance to get away from the domination of the internet by Big Tech, and therefore has to be “decentralized”. That is, it has to run on blockchain technology that allows the creation of networks without giving any one entity overall control.
Metaverses such as The Sandbox and Decentraland are already using crypto technology. Non-fungible tokens, which allow ownership rights to be permanently saved on the blockchain, are at the heart of their creating-cum-gaming models.
“I think you need that openness,” Jon Jordan, blockchain specialist at venture capital firm Hiro Capital, told Insider. “Adding virtual-reality glasses to do what we’re already doing [on the internet] is not really changing anything.”
Goldman Sachs analysts said in a recent note crypto technology will be central to the metaverse as it allows users to securely own assets, and move them across different platforms without a central party’s permission.
Facebook is going all in on virtual worlds
Facebook is also convinced the metaverse is the future. It’s even rebranded as Meta. Microsoft and other big players are also getting involved, while non-crypto metaverse games such as Roblox are already huge.
Meta’s metaverse is in its early days. Mark Zuckerberg released a long video in October in which he laid out some big ideas, including that people should be able to create and sell their own content.
Yet in his hour-long talk, although he briefly mentioned cryptocurrencies, he didn’t say “decentralized” once.
Read more: ‘We are clearly in a bubble right now’: A Wharton blockchain and digital assets professor breaks down why the metaverse and web 3.0 are still ‘too early to be real’ — and why investors should expect a crypto shakeout in the year ahead
Many enthusiasts who want decentralized virtual worlds fear that the company’s financial firepower means it could dominate the metaverse just like it dominates social media. Meta did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
“My biggest concern is how some of the ‘Web 2.0’, or centralized actors, like Meta or Fortnite or Roblox, are trying to claim the title of metaverse themselves and just offer a closed environment fully controlled by themselves,” Sebastien Borget, a co-founder of The Sandbox, told Insider.
Crypto fans worry that a big-tech metaverse will become like an app store, where creation is closely controlled.
The coming battle is going to be an uneven one. Millions of young people are already spending hours a day in non-crypto virtual worlds such as Roblox or Minecraft.
And the financial heft of Meta is mind-boggling: it’s already said investment in its virtual reality section is set to cut profits by $10 billion this year, and that’s before it really gets going. If the likes of Apple or Amazon get involved, it could be game over.