ThesisPDF Available

An Inquiry into Designing Metaverses

Abstract and Figures

In its simplest form, a metaverse is a set of interconnected virtual worlds that have some shared properties. Metaverses have the potential to change game design and the way we interact with the internet; however, they also pose significant challenges. This dissertation is an attempt to define metaverses and to describe the possible virtual worlds from which they are made. We will then discuss the main considerations that go into designing a metaverse. These include the way in which virtual worlds are structured within the metaverse, the communities they will create, the issues around moderating them, their economies, and some of the reasons why metaverses should be made. Finally, this study looks at potential projects that could evolve into the first stages of a metaverse. The aim is to provide an introduction and inquiry for anyone interested in the creation of virtual worlds and metaverses. 3
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An Inquiry into Designing Metaverses
Daniel Murray BSc
Submitted in partial fulfilment for the degree MSc Serious Games and Virtual Reality
School of Simulation and Visualisation
The Glasgow School of Art
May 2021
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Abstract
In its simplest form, a metaverse is a set of interconnected virtual worlds that have some
shared properties. Metaverses have the potential to change game design and the way we
interact with the internet; however, they also pose significant challenges.
This dissertation is an attempt to define metaverses and to describe the possible virtual
worlds from which they are made. We will then discuss the main considerations that go
into designing a metaverse. These include the way in which virtual worlds are structured
within the metaverse, the communities they will create, the issues around moderating them,
their economies, and some of the reasons why metaverses should be made.
Finally, this study looks at potential projects that could evolve into the first stages of a
metaverse. The aim is to provide an introduction and inquiry for anyone interested in the
creation of virtual worlds and metaverses.
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Table of Contents
Abstract ..................................................................................................................................2
Table of Contents ...................................................................................................................3
List of Figures ........................................................................................................................5
Glossary .................................................................................................................................6
Acknowledgements ................................................................................................................7
Declaration of Originality ......................................................................................................8
1 Introduction .........................................................................................................................9
1.1 Audience................................................................................................................................. 10
1.2 Reason for this Dissertation ................................................................................................... 10
2 Literature Review ..............................................................................................................11
2.1 What are Virtual Worlds? ...................................................................................................... 11
2.1.1 Player-hosted Worlds versus Developer-hosted Worlds ............................................................... 13
2.1.2 Worlds with Purpose ...................................................................................................................... 14
2.2 What is a Metaverse? ............................................................................................................. 15
2.3 What are Players? ................................................................................................................... 17
2.4 What is Player-generated Content? ........................................................................................ 19
2.5 What is Structure? .................................................................................................................. 21
2.6 Case Study The Web as a Virtual World, JanusVR ............................................................ 23
3 Considerations for Metaverses ..........................................................................................25
3.1 Cultures in Cyberspace........................................................................................................... 25
3.1.1 Moderation ..................................................................................................................................... 26
3.1.2 Accessibility ................................................................................................................................... 27
3.1.3 Populations Lost in Space .............................................................................................................. 27
3.2 Structure and Size................................................................................................................... 28
3.3 Worlds within the Metaverse ................................................................................................. 29
3.3.1 Mono World ................................................................................................................................... 29
3.3.2 Puddle Worlds ................................................................................................................................ 30
3.3.3 Leaf Worlds ................................................................................................................................... 31
3.3.4 Glass Worlds .................................................................................................................................. 32
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3.4 Content of the Metaverse ....................................................................................................... 33
3.4.1 Scarcity .......................................................................................................................................... 33
3.4.2 Production ...................................................................................................................................... 33
3.4.3 Real-World Economy .................................................................................................................... 34
3.4.4 Crypto-technologies and NTFs ...................................................................................................... 36
3.4.5 Concept Living Content .............................................................................................................. 36
3.5 Reasons for a Metaverse ........................................................................................................ 38
4 Indie Worlds on the Web ..................................................................................................40
4.1 Exploration Interfaces ............................................................................................................ 40
4.1.1 Netgardens Online ......................................................................................................................... 40
4.2 Virtual Galleries ..................................................................................................................... 42
4.2.1 Entrance or Exit ............................................................................................................................. 42
4.2.2 VideoGame Reader: The Game TXTreader #3 .......................................................................... 43
4.3 Further Notes on Indie Worlds ............................................................................................... 44
5 Creating a Web-based Virtual World ................................................................................45
5.1 Pre-dissertation Work ............................................................................................................. 45
5.2 Extended Dissertation Work .................................................................................................. 48
5.3 The Future of this Project One Brick in a Metaverse .......................................................... 49
6 Conclusions .......................................................................................................................50
6.1 Topics not Covered ................................................................................................................ 50
6.1.1 Artificial Intelligence (AI) ............................................................................................................. 50
6.1.2 Augmented Reality (AR) ............................................................................................................... 50
6.1.3 Copyright in a Metaverse ............................................................................................................... 50
6.2 Conclusion .............................................................................................................................. 52
7 Bibliography ......................................................................................................................54
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List of Figures
Figure 1 shows yay.tim.org:5440 as seen in 2021, a MUD-type world that has been operating since
1990. The room being explored is an example of player-generated content. ................................... 11
Figure 2 shows Sony SAPARi, an early 3D virtual world. .............................................................. 12
Figure 3 shows players in the game Minecraft, which uses a player-modified server. The statue in
the right background is not native to the game; these players have all cooperated to modify their
games in a compatible way to allow this extra content to exist. ...................................................... 14
Figure 4 shows a view of Second Life in 2021. In the centre is the player avatar looking out over a
communal plaza. The conversation window open on the right is a multiplayer chat. ...................... 16
Figure 5 shows the Facebook group “We Pretend It’s 1453 Internet”. There is a focus on content
provided by many people, while the structure is provided by Facebook. The culture of this group
can only be expressed through members’ content, which contrasts with the structure. ................... 20
Figure 6 shows dokodemo.neocities.org in April 2021, a modern website made in the fashion of an
old site. This site is a combination of its content and its structure, both working together to create
its aesthetic. This is the work of one individual without formal web development training. ........... 20
Figure 7 shows Borromini's Corridor, Rope Drawing # 103 from 1995 by Brian O’Doherty, at the
Crawford Art Gallery, Cork. ............................................................................................................. 22
Figure 8 shows a white cube gallery on the left and a white cube UI on the right from apple.ie. ... 23
Figure 9 shows a view of JanusVR. The room represents the Reddit website. © JanusVR ............ 24
Figure 10 shows the illustration section from the cover of The Magician's Nephew. It features the
world that connects all worlds, depicted as puddles in a forest. The characters are being pulled out
of one of these worlds. © 1970 Macmillan Publishing Company .................................................... 30
Figure 11 shows Netgardens Online, an interface where websites are represented by tiles. ........... 40
Figure 12 shows a selection of Netgardens Online’s different user interfaces................................. 41
Figure 13 shows an empty virtual gallery space prior to an imminent exhibition. .......................... 42
Figure 14 shows a view of the TXTreader #3 virtual exhibition exploring video games. Accessible
for free on the web. ........................................................................................................................... 43
Figure 15 shows the creation of a world model for MelonEngine in 3DSMax 2020. Most objects
have a low poly-count or low complexity to assist them loading quickly on the web. .................... 45
Figure 16 shows Ozway. The scene shows the player’s avatar in the lower centre overlooking a
meeting area where players can gather. ............................................................................................ 47
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Glossary
Term
Definition
3D model
Three-dimensional representation of an object as a digital file.
3DSMax
A 3D modelling program by Autodesk Inc
Client
A programme used by a person to access a digital service.
Game engine
An underlying block of code used as a foundation when
creating a game or virtual world.
Game Jam
A type of game design competition where participants will
attempt to make a complete game in short time frame.
glTF
A file format standard for 3D models.
HTTP
A standard used to send data over the internet.
JavaScript
A programming language used on the web.
Library
A collection of code fragments
Photon
A common multiplayer package available for Unity.
Server
A programme used to provide a service on the internet.
UI / UX
Acronym for computer-user interfaces.
Unity
A popular game engine developed by Unity Technologies.
Virtual reality
A means of accessing a virtual world using a stereoscopic
headset and other motion controls.
VRML / X3D
An XML-based 3D model standard.
WASD
A common game control scheme where the W, A, S, and D
keys are used to move the player’s avatar.
Web 1.0 / 2.0 / 3.0
Recognised technical and cultural eras in the development of
the World Wide Web.
Web3D Consortium
A non-profit standards group for 3D web content.
WebGL
A technical standard allowing websites to utilise the graphics
hardware of a computer.
Webmaster
A person who maintains a website.
XML & HTML
Markup languages used to define structured data, often for
internet transmission.
Zine
A short informal magazine.
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Acknowledgements
Special thanks to Dr. Daniel Livingstone for supervising this project.
Special thanks to Penny Iremonger for her work copy editing this text.
Thanks to Michelle Selwa and InvisibleUp for discussing their projects and virtual worlds
in general with me. Additionally, thanks to members of Neocities.org,
and the wider web
revival community
for their inspiration and encouragement.
Thanks to the Glasgow School of Art staff and student halls staff for their work both
before and during the covid pandemic. I would also like to thank the other students of the
Simulation and Visualisation School for their good conversations and thoughts.
Finally, thanks to family and friends who put up with me over the months this dissertation
was written and provided feedback and support along the way.
https://neocities.org/browse
https://melonking.net/thoughts/webrevival.html
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Declaration of Originality
Name: Daniel Murray
Course/Programme: Serious Games and Virtual Reality
Title of Work: An Inquiry into Designing Metaverses
I confirm that all this work is my own except where indicated, and that I have:
Clearly referenced/listed all sources as appropriate
Referenced and added inverted commas to all quoted text (from books, journals,
web, etc.)
Given the sources of all pictures, sound, data, etc. that are not my own
Not made any use of the report(s) or essay(s) of any other student(s) either past or
present, or lifted extracts from web pages without appropriate referencing
Not sought or used the help of any external professional agencies for the work
Acknowledged in appropriate places any help that I have received from others (e.g.,
fellow students, technicians, statisticians, external sources)
Complied with any other plagiarism criteria specified in the Course Handbook
I understand that any false claim for this work will be penalised in accordance with
the GSA regulations
Signature:
Date: 6th May 2021
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1 Introduction
When I first heard the word metaverse in May 2020, the term had a Google Trends index
of 7; in April 2021 its index was 100, when compared to the previous seventeen years of
search history.
This spike in popularity highlights the need for further study on this
subject.
The aim of this dissertation is to question some of the assumptions made about metaverses
and offer guidance to those interested in creating them.
In its simplest form, a metaverse is a set of interconnected virtual worlds that have some
shared properties. This interconnection changes the way these worlds are designed. Virtual
worlds within the metaverse become components of a greater experience, which offers
players and developers the potential to achieve things that would not be possible in isolated
projects.
The tools for creating 3D virtual worlds and spaces are more available than ever before.
3D modelling programmes, such as Blender, and professional grade game engines, like
Unity, are freely available to everyone. Tutorials and documentation to learn how to use
these tools are also freely accessible. Support communities and chats can be easily found to
help any new world builder get started.
It is reasonable to assume that with these new forms of accessibility we will see new kinds
of people developing virtual worlds, with new ideas and expectations concerning how their
worlds will evolve. Metaverses may not only be designed by traditional game developers
but also by interested individuals.
Over the course of this dissertation, we will look at these aspects in greater detail; by
understanding the elements that make up a metaverse we can begin to comprehend how
such elements can be designed and how they can successfully fit together. Moreover,
virtual worlds can have unique personal meanings for their players. We will explore what
these meanings could be and how they influence the creation and culture of a metaverse.
https://trends.google.co.uk/trends/explore?date=2004-05-04%202021-05-05&q=%2Fm%2F054_cb
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1.1 Audience
This dissertation should be of interest to developers of large-scale metaverses, individuals
interested in metaverses, and those who are drawn towards virtual worlds. This is not a
technical discussion although some technologies will be mentioned. Some familiarity with
virtual worlds, the internet, and the World Wide Web is assumed.
1.2 Reason for this Dissertation
Work on this dissertation was inspired by a number of questions posed while I was
working on a web-based game for a college game jam. The game implemented its own
multiplayer system, and after seeing this system in operation I found myself asking:
If you can sync players between one world, why not multiple worlds?
If you can sync players between multiple worlds, why not multiple games?
If you can sync players between multiple games, why not games using multiple
game engines?
If you can sync players, why not sync everything?
This dissertation is an attempt to answer these questions; if the answers to all of them is
‘yes’, then a metaverse is the type of system that might exist. The web-based game that led
to these questions will also be discussed in greater detail in chapter 5.
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2 Literature Review
This literature review will explore the basic definitions of Virtual Worlds and Metaverses.
It will then discuss the ideas supporting these definitions, asking questions such as what is
player-generated content and what is the player? The purpose of this is to establish a clear
understanding of the definitions and ideas surrounding metaverses. Once these definitions
are clear we can start to construct the framework around which this dissertation will
unfold.
2.1 What are Virtual Worlds?
Virtual worlds include both game worlds and digital social worlds. They are online and
connected multiplayer spaces. Richard Bartle is regarded as having co-created the first
virtual world with the Multi-User-Dungeon (MUD) programme in 1978 (Bartle, 2009).
It is worth noting that both the definition and example of the first virtual world were
created by Bartle himself.
Figure 1 shows yay.tim.org:5440 as seen in 2021, a MUD-type world that has been operating since
1990.
The room being explored is an example of player-generated content.
TinyTIM, website and history, http://www.tim.org/
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MUD-type programmes, as seen in figure 1, are entirely text based and have little or no
visual element. The mid-1990s saw the arrival of 3D virtual worlds, such as Worlds Chat
(1995) by Worlds Inc. These were primarily social worlds, where players would meet and
chat. Figure 2 shows Sony SAPIRi, an early 3D virtual world; note that it still has a heavy
dependency on 2D and text-based UI elements. Other more gaming-focused virtual worlds,
such as Ultima Online, arrived in 1997. Gaming-focused worlds offer more clearly defined
objectives for players.
Figure 2 shows Sony SAPARi, an early 3D virtual world.
Text-based worlds could be modified by players quite easily, however most early 3D
worlds had limited capacity for players to modify them. This started to change with games
like Minecraft in 2009, where it is possible for the player to modify every aspect of the
world. This was made feasible by the game’s use of a voxel-based world structure,
although Minecraft does not use voxels to render the world to the player.
The simplicity
of Minecraft’s world may also have contributed to its success, creating a distinct divide
between its world and the real world, affording players a degree of self-reinvention. Since
the arrival of modern Virtual Reality (VR) headsets, there have been several virtual worlds
aimed at VR users. These worlds include VRChat released in 2014 and JanusVR, also
released in 2014, which we will explore later in a case study.
For further reading see Sony SAPARi, https://kokoscript.com/sapari.html
Voxel Wikipedia entry, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voxel#Computer_games
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A virtual world is a simulated world. It is different from an imaginary world because it
must have some sort of clear definition. This differentiation is described by Bartle in the
following way: the real world, that which is”; an imaginary world, “that which isn’t”; and
a virtual world, “that which isn’t, having the form or effect of that which is (Bartle, 2020).
Bartle also describes a set of requirements for what he calls a true virtual world. First, the
world must have defined physics. Physics refer to the way the world functions and the way
the player can interact with the world. They should not be confused with the physics of
matter. Second, the player must be represented by an individual character in the world.
This character does not need to be humanoid, however, it does need to be unique to the
player. Third, the world must be live action, in other words, it cannot be turn based.
Fourth, the world must be multiplayer; multiple players must be able to inhabit the world.
Fifth, the world must be persistent. This means that changes made by a player must remain
after the player has left the world. There is some implication here that the world allows the
player to modify it. Finally, the world must not be reality; if it is reality then it is not virtual
(Bartle, 2004).
An alternative, although related, delimitation is that a world is a perspective. Two possible
definitions for world are “someone’s individual way of life or range of experience and “a
particular area of activity” (Chambers, 1999). A persons world is viewed from within the
bounds of their human life. That person might have a pet bird; the birds world shares a
similar location to the person, however the world it views is quite different. This is relevant
because it is helpful to understand that a virtual world is not a virtual location. As we will
see later in the section on connecting worlds, a virtual world can take the form of a
simulated perspective. A virtual world can be the sum of the locations, objects,
interactions, and experiences that a particular player has.
2.1.1 Player-hosted Worlds versus Developer-hosted Worlds
There is a difference between player-hosted virtual worlds, or small servers, and
developer-hosted virtual worlds, or big servers. Minecraft is a multitude of many small
player-hosted servers, some interconnected, some not. A large game like World of
Warcraft is developer-hosted. These two kinds of worlds can have very different traits.
Minecraft servers can be player modified, in other words, the players can edit the games
code to add their own new features. This is called modding and may have contributed to
Minecraft’s success. Figure 3 shows a Minecraft world which, at first sight, appears
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standard but which in reality contains modded elements that have been blended seamlessly
into the world. In contrast to this, according to the World of Warcraft terms of service,
players attempting this form of modding could be banned from the game and face further
legal action (Blizzard, 2020).
Some large virtual worlds, such as Roblox, simulate the ability to modify the underlying
game code by providing a modifiable or scriptable layer to the world. This layer is
typically bound by rules defined by the developer, unlike a truly modifiable game which in
theory has no limits. OpenSim is an example of a platform which attempts to remove these
limits. Players can modify the underlying code as much as they wish; the risk they face is
modifying the code to a point where its no longer compatible with other parts of OpenSim.
Figure 3 shows players in the game Minecraft, which uses a player-modified server. The statue in
the right background is not native to the game; these players have all cooperated to modify their
games in a compatible way to allow this extra content to exist.
2.1.2 Worlds with Purpose
In many cases a virtual world will have a single purpose, such as to race cars in a racing
game or explore dungeons in an adventure game. Minecraft offers potential for more open-
ended experiences; however, these experiences still lean towards having a purpose. One
example of this is the Minecraft server Magister Craft.
This server provides a virtual
world that is a simulation of ancient Rome. Interactions with the world are conducted
https://www.magistercraft.com/
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through classical Latin. The worlds purpose is to teach the language and history of Roman
civilisation, a purpose that is quite different to the original design of Minecraft.
The idea of purpose could be considered a contrast between a virtual world and a
metaverse. A virtual world has a purpose, a metaverse has many purposes.
2.2 What is a Metaverse?
The metaverse is a synchronously shared and persistent three dimensional context where
players, embodied as characters, navigate immersivity and interact through direct
presence. (Shah, 2021) This is a definition provided by Duality Robotics, a small studio
which receives funding from Epic Games. While concise, this definition does not appear to
differ much from the definition of a virtual world. This suggests that there is some
confusion as to what exactly a metaverse is.
The original term metaverse was coined in Neal Stephensons 1992 science-fiction novel,
Snow Crash. In the book he describes a virtual world that resembles a complete analogy of
reality. His metaverse is a vast city street that spans a planet. On this street players can do
anything that they can also perform in reality. Stephenson's metaverse is accessed using a
virtual reality headset and is owned by a single corporation. Land within the metaverse is
finite and although it’s a virtual world it enforces the same scarcity-based economy we
experience in the real world (Stephenson, 1992).
Another definition of a metaverse is a network comprising many interconnected virtual
worlds (Dionisio, Burns & Gilbert, 2013). This could also be called a virtual multiverse.
The nature of the connection could vary greatly. In most examples of this type of
metaverse, the player remains the most consistent element. The player will usually be able
to travel between these worlds while retaining their physical appearance and many of their
abilities to interact with the world.
Second Life, an actively developed virtual world, could be considered a proto-metaverse or
a MetaWorld a term defined by the IEEE Metaverse Standards, although the website
listing those standards is no longer active. This can be taken in contrast to a platform like
OpenSim, which is described as a MetaGalaxy due to the fact it is a set of virtual worlds
or MetaWorlds following a standard set by a single authority (IEEE Metaverse Standards,
2011).
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Second Life operates on a similar model to what is described in Snow Crash. Linden
Research, its primary developer, sells virtual land. Ownership of land is required in order
to modify the landscape and build structures. Players can also create and trade virtual
objects, potentially making a profit in the process. They do this using Linden Dollars, a
virtual currency that can be purchased from Linden Labs at a market exchange rate
(Castronova, 2001).
Figure 4 shows a view of Second Life in 2021. In the centre is the player avatar looking out over a
communal plaza. The conversation window open on the right is a multiplayer chat.
Second Life’s structure follows the traditional approach taken by proto-metaverse
platforms. It has a single game engine with fixed standards. Worlds made on this platform
must be constructed within the bounds of this engine’s standards, which enforces some
consistency between them. Figure 4 shows a view of Second Life; while the fidelity and
complexity of the world has advanced, its interface and design does not differ greatly from
the early 3D world shown in figure 2.
Tim Sweeney, the CEO of Epic Games, recently raised one billion US dollars to fund their
vision of a metaverse. In an interview for GamesBeat, Sweeney describes a metaverse as
“a place where you can actually drive the cars around and feel the experience of it. You
can use a Corvette in the game.” (Takahashi, 2021) Although he does not clarify what
driving a Corvette has to do with connected virtual worlds, or how a metaverse would
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change the experience of driving a car in a virtual world, it’s possible he is referring to a
metaverse as an advanced virtual reality interface. This highlights a potential confusion
between a metaverse and the means of accessing a metaverse. While Snow Crash
described a metaverse that was accessed via a virtual reality headset, the metaverse itself
existed separately from its means of access.
We are left with the question, how does a metaverse differ from a virtual world? A loose
analogy may be the difference between a city and a town. There is a myth that traditionally
a city has a cathedral and a town does not; however, most modern city definitions are
based on population count (Rosenberg, 2020). This is a difference between provision of
services and size. Is a virtual world with many players but no services a metaverse? Is a
virtual world with many services but few players a metaverse? As mentioned in the virtual
worlds section, the answer may come from the diversity of both. A metaverse should offer
many different services or purposes, and a wide range of communities.
There may be some confusion between a combination of many worlds defining a
metaverse versus many purposes defining a metaverse. If each world provides a different
purpose, then, by proxy, the collection of worlds definition is the same as the Snow Crash
definition. The key difference is that defining a metaverse as a set of connected worlds is a
technical perspective, while a metaverse defined by many services is an experiential
perspective.
With this in mind, a purpose is a world, a perspective, a service, and a community all in
one. I will conclude this section by stipulating that a metaverse should at least meet the
following requirements:
There must be multiple purposes.
Players must be able to create their own purposes.
Some or all content must be accessible for all purposes.
There must be multiple overlapping standards for purposes to follow.
2.3 What are Players?
Players are the real people inhabiting and interacting with a virtual world. There are a
number of steps that make up the connection between a player’s human self and their
presence in the virtual world: the human, the computer, the programme, their avatar, and
the world.
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There is no guarantee that a player is a single person. A player account accessing a virtual
world could be accessed and operated by many people. A player and an individual may be
quite different things (Dibbell, 1994).
All these steps play a role in the players sense of embodiment within the virtual world.
Embodiment is their sense of presence, their physicality within the virtual world. That
sense is the product of the player physically interacting with their computer, the physics
that define the virtual world, the visual appearance of their avatar, and the players own
personality creating a story for their avatar.
There is a feedback loop between the player and their avatar the player defines the avatar
but the avatar also defines the player. This is discussed in The Social Life of Avatars where
Frank Biocca describes a physical body, a virtual body, and a phenomenal body, the
phenomenal body being the individuals mental representation of their body (T.L. Taylor,
2002). In their argument, the phenomenal body is warped away from the physical by the
existence of the virtual.
This description could be considered a little biased towards physical representation. A
person’s identity can exist quite separately from any physical form. Biocca’s phenomenal
body could be regarded instead as inner identity. This identity is formed from all personal
experiences in reality, from media and dreams to virtual worlds. A person is both actively
constructing their identity as well as being constructed unwillingly by events in their life.
This raises interesting philosophical debates. If a person’s identity is formed by the sum of
their life experiences, including virtual experiences, is it right for the developer of a virtual
world to dictate what those experiences should be? In the physical world most societies
have laws, but those laws can be broken. Virtual worlds have laws too, however, unlike
reality, the virtual laws are built into the structure of the world. Laws can become physics.
Should players have the right to break laws in a virtual world? (Dibbell, 1994)
There is also a distinction between players and developers. Traditionally, a developer is a
person who makes the game or virtual world, and a player is a person who accesses that
game. Increasingly the line between these two has become blurred. A player may become a
partial developer by creating player-generated content. Equally, many developers play the
games they are developing, which poses the question, is all content player-generated? The
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simplest definition is that a developer is the person who defines the structure of the world,
while a player is operating within the bounds of that structure.
2.4 What is Player-generated Content?
One feature of both virtual worlds and metaverses is player-generated content. This refers
to the player’s ability to create content within a virtual world. This content can be anything
including, but not limited to, text, 3D models, sounds, images, or gameplay. Player-
generated content is not supplied by the developer of the virtual world; however, the
developer may provide tools to help the player create this content.
To understand player-generated content, let’s look at the World Wide Web, the most
ubiquitous space of player-generated content available. In the context of the web the term
user is more common in place of player. However, player will be used here for the sake
of consistency with virtual worlds. Primarily, the web is an interconnected platform for
sharing information and for many people it has become a platform of self-definition. Tim
Berners-Lee, the creator of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) on which the web
operates, defined it as “a collaborative medium, a place where we all meet and read and
write (Berners-Lee, 2005).
Silver’s article for Forbes Magazine, “What is Web 3.0? is a discussion about the future
development of the web. It describes a common narrative: the early web was difficult to
use and only a small number of developers could create content on it; the web today offers
more freedom, as players can upload content and become creators; the web tomorrow will
be nothing but player-created content (Silver, 2020). Figure 5 illustrates Silvers vision of
the web today, with freely uploaded content; however, this content must conform to a
predefined structure which the player does not have the freedom to modify.
Olia Lialina presents an alternative and inverse history in her article “From My to Me”.
She talks about freeform early web development, where players created their own websites
from scratch. She goes on to describe a partial loss of freedom as player uploads became
standardised by structures in the social media age. Finally, she theorises that the Web 3.0
era could be characterised by a total loss of player freedom, being populated only by
content provided within developer-made structures (Lialina, 2021). Figure 6 shows a
modern interpretation of Lialina’s freeform early web, which is in direct contrast to figure
5. There is a distinct conceptual and asthetic diffrence between these two web spaces.
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Figure 5 shows the Facebook group “We Pretend It’s 1453 Internet”. There is a focus on content
provided by many people, while the structure is provided by Facebook. The culture of this group
can only be expressed through members content, which contrasts with the structure.
Figure 6 shows dokodemo.neocities.org in April 2021, a modern website made in the fashion of an
old site. This site is a combination of its content and its structure, both working together to create
its aesthetic. This is the work of one individual without formal web development training.
21
The truth between these two histories may be somewhere in the middle; however, the
comparison raises key questions about player-generated content. How player-generated is
that content? How regulated is it? How regulated are the tools used to make it? What does
creating, uploading, and sharing of player content mean to the players and the platform?
How do the players associate themselves with this content in this scenario? How does the
website or structure that holds this content also define the content and the player?
In the case of the web today, there is significant backlash against platform-regulated player
content. This can be because of privacy, or for political or other reasons. Perhaps more
interesting to our discussion is the backlash against platform-provided structures. A
structure, in this case, is the way the content is held and displayed for the player. Facebook
is an example of a rigid structure where the player has little ability to modify the
appearance or interaction of the Facebook site. The player can only control what content is
on display, within Facebooks rigid structure.
2.5 What is Structure?
In the previous section, Facebook was described as a structure. When discussing virtual
worlds, we are primarily discussing the structure of the virtual world. If a virtual world had
no structure, it would be an imaginary world. There is a distinction between content and
structure.
Structure goes beyond the visible parts of a virtual world; it refers to the worlds interface
but also the underlying technology that supports it. Structure allows the virtual world to
exist. Structure also defines the final experience that world will provide and the kind of
communities that will form within it. For example, if the underlying technology of a social
network does not allow you to upload images, that changes the nature of the experience.
Rather than focus on technical structures alone, lets take a moment to consider a real-
world physical structure. An art gallery is analogous to a virtual world it’s a definable
structure that primarily exists to be populated with player-generated content, the artworks.
In his collection of essays Inside the white cube, published in 1976, Brian O’Doherty
questioned the idea of the white cube art gallery. This is the concept that an art gallery
should be a neutral and somewhat standardised space. This is beneficial to the gallery as it
means artworks can be moved between different rooms and displayed in a standard way.
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O’Doherty’s argument was that this process is not neutral; isolating the artworks from the
gallery’s structure influences and defines what kind of art will be created and promoted
(O’Doherty, 1999). O’Doherty attempted to challenge this idea by creating works that
included their structure. Figure 7 is an example of this, showing an artwork that is within
the room, but which is also the room. The artwork can only fully function when viewed
within this structure.
Figure 7 shows Borromini's Corridor, Rope Drawing # 103 from 1995 by Brian O’Doherty, at the
Crawford Art Gallery, Cork.
In computer interface design we see a similar philosophy. Modern websites tend to be
white cubes. The prevailing view is that the interface should be invisible, leaving only the
content. Even the word interface is often replaced with experience; UI is changed to
UX (Lialina, 2012). However, like O’Doherty’s white cube gallery, such invisibility
influences the content it is not invisible. This is illustrated in figure 8 where both
structures shown have an implied consumer focus. The structure has been made invisible
to showcase the content: without structure the content becomes a defined product.
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Figure 8 shows a white cube gallery on the left and a white cube UI on the right from apple.ie.
The article “Beyond the White Cube, by Oliver Jameson, brings O’Doherty’s ideas up to
date and applies them to virtual worlds. Jameson talks about virtual worlds as artworks,
and as tools for the artist to gain control of the structure within which their art exists
(Jameson, 2020). An important conclusion is that the virtual world becomes the artwork,
the structure becomes the content. The two cannot be separately defined. We will see later
that this has implications for any economy in a virtual world. This also suggests that for a
virtual world to be fully realised the player must feel they have as much ownership over
the structure of the world as the content within it.
2.6 Case Study The Web as a Virtual World, JanusVR
3D worlds on the web are not a new idea. VRML, an XML markup language like HTML,
was launched in 1995. It evolved into the modern format X3D in 2004 and is still being
developed and maintained by the Web3D Consortium (Web3D Consortium, 2020).
There is a leap that must be taken from a 3D world to a virtual world. As defined above, a
virtual world must be a persistent multiplayer space. Second Life and other proto-
metaverse platforms were discussed as examples of these kinds of spaces.
An alternative approach was taken in 2014 by a company called JanusVR. Their approach
was to generate 3D spaces out of existing websites. An attempt to convert the Reddit
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homepage into a 3D space is shown in figure 9; although the space is 3D, the content
shown on the walls is still 2D. JanusVR created their own markup language similar to
X3D, called Janus Markup Language (JML), for describing these spaces. The company
would then convert existing websites into JML using their own behind-the-scenes process.
Webmasters could also perform this process themselves, creating custom 3D versions of
their website that could be supplied to JanusVR.
Figure 9 shows a view of JanusVR. The room represents the Reddit website. © JanusVR
JanusVR also provided multiplayer services. Players exploring the platform could see and
interact with other players. Modifications those players made to the world would remain in
place after they had disconnected. In this sense it was a true virtual world and a form of
proto-metaverse.
In late 2019 JanusVR was dissolved. James Mccrae, the CEO, wrote in an open letter on
Reddit (later deleted) to the community about the dissolvement. He described high
operating costs maintaining its servers as the primary reason, despite the service having
“hundreds of thousands of players” (Mccrae, 2019).
The project was open sourced and is currently being operated as a community project
called JanusXR. The ongoing fate of this project is unclear.
Taken at face value, the issue here was that a single company could not afford to maintain
the technology needed to support a metaverse on its own. The source of their content was
third party or player generated. However, the structure connecting that content was a
centralised financial business. It was that business which failed.
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3 Considerations for Metaverses
This chapter will highlight some of the key points and issues related to metaverses and
metaverse creation. It will conclude with some thoughts about the reasons and
justifications for creating or using a metaverse.
3.1 Cultures in Cyberspace
The culture of a community exists in a feedback loop with the structure that supports it.
Here we will briefly discuss the relevance of culture within a virtual world. The goals,
interests, and commonalities that communities share will come from how they can interact
with the platform on which their community exists. The study of online communities is
well established in both virtual worlds and social media (T.L. Taylor, 2002) (Tierney,
2013).
When considering the kind of culture that is being formed by a virtual world or metaverse,
the key question is, what does this platform mean to the people who comprise this culture?
“The Third Place” is a term coined in 1982 by Raymon Oldenburg. He defined the home as
the first place and an office or worksite as the second place. The third place is a social
space, a place where work is not performed and there is general equality between the
people who use the space (Oldenburg & Brissett, 1982). A third place encourages
individual self-expression, but there is no focus on any one individual. Some examples of
third places in society are pubs, churches, and parks, however, many virtual worlds, social
networks, and online chat rooms also act as third places for people.
When considering the culture that will evolve within a space, it is necessary to take into
account how that space will be used. The structure needed to support a virtual third place
will be different to the structure required for a virtual workplace and, likewise, the culture
that structure produces will be different.
An important question this raises is how does a virtual world define the players within it?
How is a person influenced by that world? The answer is different for every virtual world.
In a metaverse, a player has the potential to become anything offered by each of its worlds,
as well as by any number of subsets or remixes of those worlds. However, in many cases a
player will also want to define what others become by making their own worlds and having
other players visit them.
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3.1.1 Moderation
Moderation is the art of guiding a community culture to grow in such a way that is healthy
and beneficial to all its members. The job of a moderator is the same as the host of a party;
the moderator ensures maximum enjoyment with minimal visible effort. One simple
example of moderation in Snow Crash is avatar size. Who or what stops a player from
making their avatar ridiculously large? Is that something that should or could be regulated?
An obvious answer might be that it should; however, suggesting such a thing assumes a
great deal about the design of the worlds and the communities within them. A metaverse is
not bound by real world physics, so what right does anyone have to say you can’t be a
giant?
There are two kinds of moderation that take place in any online community: hard
moderation and soft moderation. Hard moderation is the formal rule structure and
management of the community. An example of this is when a person does something that
is explicitly forbidden within the community and is punished for it by a moderator. Soft
moderation is enforced by subtle community cues; for example, in a community dedicated
to gardening, a person would be unlikely to suddenly start talking about airplane engine
design. Soft moderation is enforced by the assumed norms and expectations of the
community as a whole.
Hard moderation is expensive in time and effort and can also be inaccurate. If its badly
enforced, hard moderation could punish those who do not deserve it and miss those who
do. In any community, its preferable to favour soft moderation over hard moderation.
However, soft moderation can be elusive; it relies on trust within the community. Often the
harder the moderation, the less trust will be present, and the weaker the impact of soft
moderation.
Cultures have expectations around behaviour in certain spaces. These expectations are
formed as the culture evolves and discovers its own values and faults. In a new metaverse
this culture has not yet formed. How can the expectations of a culture be moderated if they
don’t yet exist? Its very possible that for the culture of a metaverse to grow it must be
allowed to make mistakes. In this case, the purpose of moderation is to watch and learn
from those mistakes, then decide how to moderate in the future.
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3.1.2 Accessibility
If a metaverse becomes a ubiquitous utility, what rights do the population have to gain
access? Typically, these kinds of rights are enforced by city or government regulations on
public spaces and businesses.
Imagine a metaverse has become very popular, with many businesses and services
available. A local government deems that disabled people, such as the blind, must be able
to access the metaverse. If the metaverse is totally decentralised, would individuals with
limited technical world-creation experience be responsible for making their spaces meet
regulations?
Additionally, what computing resources would be required to access the metaverse?
Would a person have the right to access a computer in order to access the metaverse? Who
would be responsible for supplying that computer? The metaverse designers would be
responsible for creating the metaverses structure. Such a structure may heavily impact on
the kind of computing resources needed to run it and, therefore, its accessibility.
If a metaverse does become a ubiquitous public utility this topic will rapidly become an
issue for everyone involved. Its possible these questions cannot be answered until the
problem itself is present; nevertheless, this whole area warrants further study.
3.1.3 Populations Lost in Space
It is worth mentioning that while virtual worlds can be big, metaverses can be
exponentially bigger if they combine many large virtual worlds. The size of the metaverse
can grow, however, the number of players within it will always be limited by the number
of humans willing to use the metaverse. This poses a significant design issue.
The larger the metaverse grows, in terms of physical space, the more dispersed players will
become. This tends to result in large numbers of players gathering in particular areas,
leaving the rest of the metaverse abandoned. Maintaining abandoned spaces can be costly
for developers, but it also damages the community. This happens because a player
exploring a world that they perceive as empty may conclude that the world is unpopular
because it is flawed or unappealing.
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This same issue occurs when developers attempt to release new platforms or versions of
their products. Imagine a popular virtual world that is running on older technology. A
developer might wish to release a new virtual world to replace it. In most cases, this will
result in a split, with some players staying on the old world, while others leave for the new
world. This split reduces the population count and leaves both the old and new worlds
feeling more abandoned.
3.2 Structure and Size
This section explores some of the issues related to how technology or structure needs to be
considered when designing a metaverse.
In the JanusVR case study we saw that while a metaverse platform can be popular and
technically possible, operating costs can be prohibitive. Creating a platform that’s easy and
cheap enough to develop and operate is vital to a metaverses success.
When approaching size, we have to assume that the metaverse can and will grow
indefinitely, in terms of the player-content generated within the metaverse, as well as the
complexity of that content.
Growth occurs in two forms: as a volume of content and as a temporal evolution. This
temporal evolution takes the form of player technical and cultural expectations. Put in
more practical words, in year one a player might be very happy with certain technical or
graphical limitations. However, ten years later those same limitations may have become
totally unacceptable.
When designing the structure of a metaverse, it must not only be able to handle an infinite
amount of content expansion at the time of its creation, but also an infinite expansion of
player expectations over time.
In practice, infinite expansion is not possible. There will always be technical limits to what
a system can handle. Managing the balance between those limits and the players
expectations is one of the key factors in creating a metaverse.
The web is a good example of a relatively infinitely expandable system. It is not known if
the World Wide Web will ever become obsolete. As new technologies and expectations
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appear they can be added to the web. This addition is possible because the web is highly
modular and decentralised. However, this decentralisation also leaves the web at risk of
being inconsistent in its design.
This consistency takes the form of visual styles, player interactions, technology standards,
and physics. It is typically the case that the more consistency is enforced by the metaverse
designer, the more rigid and less modular the metaverses structure will become. This leads
to a possible dissonance between the designers vision of the metaverse and the infinitely
scalable structure required to make a metaverse.
There are some key takeaways from this speculation, the main one being a metaverse
cannot depend on any single service or server and will need to be made up of a large
number of independent services, with redundancy and overlap between them.
3.3 Worlds within the Metaverse
How do worlds within a metaverse interconnect? Are they physically co-related or is the
metaverse a sequence of disassociated worlds? There are several approaches and
combinations possible.
3.3.1 Mono World
This is mentioned briefly to acknowledge its possibility. A mono-world metaverse has a
single unbroken world. It is similar to our experience of reality. All players and content
exist within this single world, which has consistent physics and interaction rules. The
mono-world metaverse is indistinguishable from a very large virtual world.
Sections of the mono world may function like puddle worlds, where an area or district may
have distinct owners and physics. The structure of a mono-world metaverse makes
modular design difficult, although such a metaverse is the closest to what is described in
Snow Crash.
In practice this approach is unlikely to be successful as it does not scale well, and all player
interaction is heavily dependent on the developer. That dependency forces up costs for the
developer and also limits a players sense of ownership of the space. This limitation also
hurts the developer as they are forced to regulate and moderate all content because they are
responsible for it.
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3.3.2 Puddle Worlds
My definition of a puddle world is based on C.S. Lewis’s book The Magicians Nephew
(Lewis, 1955). This describes a world where many disconnected worlds can be accessed by
jumping into puddles or portals. These worlds appear to share many similarities, and
beings and objects can travel between them; however, they are quite separate. The space
that connects these worlds is depicted in figure 10; in the case of Lewis’s book there is
only one connecting world, however in a metaverse there may be many.
Figure 10 shows the illustration section from the cover of The Magician's Nephew. It features the
world that connects all worlds, depicted as puddles in a forest. The characters are being pulled out
of one of these worlds. © 1970 Macmillan Publishing Company
This is the most common form of a linked virtual world. It can be equated to the idea of
levels in traditional video games. Metaplace, a virtual world’s platform, implemented this
approach as an early metaverse design (Koster, 2013) and, today, Roblox and others use it.
Each puddle may have somewhat different physics. One might be dedicated to racing and
contain a racetrack with cars. Another puddle may be more socially focused and offer
many mini-games or other social entertainment.
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Puddles, in these cases, are connected by a number of potentially shared properties. They
are typically accessed through the same client so movement between them has low friction.
The player tends to keep the same avatar in each puddle although the abilities of that avatar
may change. Other services, like friend lists or chat, may be consistent across all puddles.
In a metaverse that has an economy, money or items may be transferred or used in
different puddles.
In player-generated worlds, the player is often only able to modify and create inside
puddles they own or where they have received special permission to work. Players visiting
puddles which they do not own may have limited interactions. This creates a separation
between the creator and the viewer of a puddle.
In some situations, puddles may be non-persistent or single player, while still being a part
of the metaverse structure. In this case, when a player enters the puddle they will be in
their own personal copy of that puddle and will not perceive the actions of other players.
3.3.3 Leaf Worlds
Leaf worlds are puddle worlds with the capacity to inherit properties from a root or upper-
puddle world. This could be considered a treelike-metaverse structure where the core of
the metaverse branches out into puddle worlds, and those puddle worlds branch out into
smaller worlds.
An example of this would be a world dedicated to racing. A player may wish to make a
leaf world that would inherit all the cars and racing physics from a root world, but provide
its own racetrack. Players visiting the leaf world might share their racing stats with the root
world while racing in the leaf world.
In order to maintain compatibility with their root world, leaf worlds must conform to a set
of rules defined by the root world. Such conformity, and the additional content provided by
the root world, are the main differences between leaf worlds and puddle worlds.
A leaf world can be considered a first step towards a glass world. The base world and the
leaf world both act as glass layers.
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3.3.4 Glass Worlds
Glass worlds are a single world made up of many transparent layers or sets of content.
The glass world only exists within the players client. The player displays the layers they
wish to see, one on top of another, similar to the way in which augmented reality displays
virtual content over the real world. The virtual world, in this case, exists only in the
players client and is made up of people and objects pulled out of many worlds, all existing
simultaneously.
An analogy of this can be seen in animation slides. In traditional animation you have many
parts of a character drawn on transparent film, and each glass sheet of film can be stacked
and moved to form a whole character. I am unaware of any active or past implementations
of this type of world connecting in a virtual world; however, it is quite developed in the
field of augmented reality.
The player uses a client which can subscribe to or download layers of content provided by
developers. These layers can be moved around and organised by the player into a cohesive
world. The player may then send these layers back to the metaverse for others to access
and modify. In this sense, the players client can be regarded as a puddle world itself. The
player can freely modify the world within their client in any way they wish and have full
ownership of their experience.
Maintaining compatibility between the layers is the primary challenge to this approach. For
example, a developer may wish to provide a glass world with a building for the player. The
player may want to fit that building into a city supplied by another developer. To
accomplish this, it would be helpful if both developers used a standard size and coordinate
system within their layers. This agreed system might suggest that players are a particular
size, so buildings should be proportional to that size. Developers might also wish to agree
to standardised city layouts, fitting their buildings into an agreed grid or street plan.
As with puddle worlds, we would see some shared properties. All clients may access the
same chat systems or economies, regardless of the layers they are accessing. Alternatively,
properties could be bound to layers. A glass world may contain its own economy and the
player could access multiple economies within their client by accessing multiple layers.
Likewise, multiple chat systems, multiplayer systems, and world physics may co-exist,
depending on the players glass world selection.
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3.4 Content of the Metaverse
In this section we will look in more depth at the idea of content within the metaverse,
which can be developer or player generated. It represents everything that exists within the
structure of the metaverse and, in some cases, parts of the structure itself.
3.4.1 Scarcity
Virtual worlds do not have the same form of limited matter as we experience in reality. An
object in a virtual world can be duplicated infinitely, with very little cost. This is in direct
contrast to reality. For example, if you want to duplicate a car in reality, think of the cost
and expense of that process.
There is, of course, some cost involved in the virtual world; for example, that duplicated
car takes up a small amount of memory, which must be stored on a computer somewhere.
However, the difference is size. There is no fair comparison between the physical
production of a car and the data storage used to describe a virtual car. Equally, there is no
fair comparison between the design labour of a real car and the design of a virtual one.
Objects that exist within a virtual world or metaverse are quite independent from our
concept of a real object. In many cases, the situation is even more extreme, for example, an
object in a virtual world may not be a copy, but a partial copy. That object might share
assets or components with many other objects, just as a plane and a car might share the
same metal textures. This is a further departure from the idea of a distinct physical object.
Even when that object is entirely made up of unique components not shared with any other
object, it still relies on the worlds underlying structure. It cannot exist alone and still be a
usable dynamic object with all the interactions it has in the virtual world.
3.4.2 Production
As mentioned earlier, there is a design labour that goes into creating the first instance of a
virtual object. Modelling work, texturing, scripting, and audio all take a significant amount
of labour. Labour is a quantifiable real-world asset that has a value.
The key question is how does that value relate to the objects presence within the virtual
world? In economics this is a question concerning the exchange between real value and
nominal value. There is a tendency in virtual-world design to consider virtual objects as
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financial resources. An object is made; therefore, it has value and, as such, it should cost
something to acquire. However, as discussed in the section on scarcity above, this is not
necessarily the most natural approach for a virtual world.
If scarcity is not an issue then nominal value becomes very hard to calculate. If a person
spends ten hours creating an object, but that object is reused a near-infinite number of
times, then the ten hours of initial work are nearly irrelevant to the objects use or impact.
In this case, it’s impossible to quantify what that objects real value means to its original
creator.
The flip side of this argument is that because every object has near-infinite potential to
impact the virtual world, everyone who participates in the virtual world, including the
objects creator, has near-infinite potential to benefit from the impact of that object. The
value of the object, therefore, comes from the scope of its existence.
An established idea in economics is that incentives are a key factor in economic success
(Smith, 1776). Thus, the question that arises is what is the incentive for a person to create
an object within the metaverse? Profit, praise, status, and self-expression are all potential
answers.
More practically, this is a question that can only be answered by the culture that exists
within the metaverse and by the structure that defines it.
3.4.3 Real-World Economy
There are two key reasons a developer will try and tie their metaverse into real-world
economies. In this section we will look at both and conclude with some questions.
Firstly, the developer can earn a profit from the virtual world by converting real-world
currency into virtual assets. Those assets could be purely cosmetic, or they could be
intrinsic parts of the virtual worlds gameplay. In social virtual worlds this practice is
generally accepted and considered a key part of the virtual worlds structure. As mentioned
in an earlier chapter, Second Life, allows players to purchase Linden Dollars, which can be
used to buy virtual land or assets from other players. Conversely, in competitive
multiplayer games this practice is nicknamed pay-to-win and is deeply frowned upon by
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the gaming community. In 2017, Electronic Arts had to issue a statement claiming their
game UFC 3 was not pay-to-win after a public outcry (Ruppert, 2017).
Secondly, the developer might use real-world currency to regulate virtual assets. Charging
a real-world currency for a virtual asset potentially gives that asset a nominal value related
to the currency. This means the developer of the virtual world is not fully tasked with
maintaining their own economy. They can piggyback on the stability of a real economy to
manage their own virtual economy. The developer can charge a large amount for a rare
virtual item, thus ensuring that the item remains rare even though, technically, it can be
infinitely replicated. This does not just apply to developer-made content but also to player-
generated content. If the virtual world supports player to player trading of assets, you will
very likely see players buying and selling these assets in the real world.
How necessary is this process? A virtual world does not need an internal economy to fit
the definition of a virtual world. A developer does, however, need income to support a
large service like a metaverse, but only if the structure of that metaverse is designed in
such a way that it requires a large developer. In economics this could be referred to as the
rent cost. The developer can decide the rent of a virtual world by designing it in a way that
reduces or raises the cost of its operation.
Knowing that a virtual world does not need an economy, by definition, and that the cost of
maintaining the virtual world could be very low if the structure allowed, it is valid to ask
the question: does a metaverse need an economy?
Such a question may be beyond the scope of this dissertation. From a game-design
perspective, it is widely considered that players benefit from being able to trade and work
for objects within a virtual world (Ruggles, Wadley & Gibbs, 2005).
However, it could also be argued that while an economy may be necessary, a financial
economy may not. An economy of creativity, where players trade ideas and compete to
produce more elaborate or popular spaces within the metaverse, may be quite successful.
There is a cultural debate here. Typically, financially successful cultural artefacts are
considered more legitimate or mainstream than non-financial ones (Fiske, 1992).
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3.4.4 Crypto-technologies and NTFs
When this dissertation was in its early stages, I did not believe there would be a viable way
to enforce scarcity-based object ownership in decentralised virtual worlds. Since then,
NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) have become hugely popular and may offer one path to
decentralised virtual ownership.
Crypto technologies are a decentralised form of data storage and transmission. They use
the near-unlimited nature of digital space to simulate scarcity. They do this by filling up
that space with many copies of the data they wish to reference. This takes a large amount
of processing, allowing the data to become scarce based on the physical cost of computing
power. This process means that no central authority is needed to regulate the data, yet it is
very reliable because so many copies of it can be cross-referenced (Zheng et al., 2018).
There are numerous issues related to crypto technologies and many solutions proposed to
those issues, one of the most pertinent being scalability. As more data is stored within the
crypto system, that data must be copied and cross-referenced each time it is accessed or
modified. The computing power required to maintain the crypto data expands indefinitely
(Zheng et al., 2018).
When discussing metaverses its easy to suggest that crypto technologies are the solution
to scarcity of objects, and it is possible that such a suggestion is correct. Currently, there
are a number of virtual worlds offering crypto-based land ownership, including
Decentraland and Cryptovoxels, with an estimated market value of millions of US dollars
(Howcroft, 2021).
However, it is worth repeating, as discussed earlier, that financial value does not define a
metaverse. Enforcement of scarcity is not a metaverse requirement. Crypto technologies
offer a solution to something that does not need to be solved, and so an overfocus on these
technologies can be misleading when designing a metaverse.
3.4.5 Concept Living Content
Living content is a concept about how data within a metaverse could be shared and
replicated. This is intended to complement the glass-world approach to connecting worlds,
although it could be used with any other.
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There are many established asset stores, such as the Unity Marketplace. These stores allow
people to create and share models, scripts, textures, and sounds between different projects.
It could be argued that a group of virtual worlds created in Unity, all using the same set of
shared assets from the Unity Marketplace, is a kind of very loose metaverse due to the
worlds’ common components. Within a true metaverse there would almost certainly be
some analogy of the Unity Marketplace, a system of sharing assets between connected
virtual worlds. However, in a metaverse, assets do not need to be static.
A metaverse is a living space and, as such, shared content within it can also be living. In
most cases, a virtual object has a number of components: its model, its textures, its scripts,
and the data that describes what its state is in the world. That data may be its location or its
size. It could also be more specific information, for example, regarding a virtual person,
their health or their mood. Most asset stores work by copying the models, the textures, and
the scripts into a programme’s structure, then creating data within the programme. In a
metaverse there is no need to copy this information. Each virtual world is already
connected to the metaverse, so it can access all these things from the network. This means
that the data describing a virtual objects state is also accessible.
This suggests a potential shift in the approach to world design within metaverses. Rather
than developing a world out of static objects, worlds could be constructed out of dynamic
living objects that change, based on what is happening to them in other worlds. For
example, one world could get the live location data of virtual characters from another
world and render those characters into its own streets, instantly populating them. A proxy
effect of this would be encouraging compatibility of street layouts and object sizes. Having
common standards would make integrating live data much easier.
There is also the potential here for collective processing. In this situation, complex
calculations could be distributed across many virtual worlds. For example, if there are a
hundred virtual worlds, and each generates the data for one simulated citizen living their
life, that data can be combined and each of those hundred worlds can benefit from one
hundred complexly simulated citizens.
What this potentially does is provide an artistic and economic incentive to make your
virtual world a part of a metaverse. The metaverse can provide a structure which allows
vast and complex worlds to be created from the combination of many other worlds. An
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individual with very little skill could use this data to create spaces which they could never
have made outside the metaverse. Additionally, access to this data could save developers
huge amounts of production time. In this situation, the metaverse would be defined by an
economy of abundance rather than an economy of scarcity.
3.5 Reasons for a Metaverse
Something that has not been previously discussed in much detail is the purpose of a
metaverse. What can a player do in a metaverse? Why would a person interact with a
metaverse rather than with another digital platform, like a video game or social media site?
In section 3.4.3, it was suggested that the economy of a metaverse was its own content.
Freely shared content in the metaverse would allow participants to create things which they
would never have been able to create on their own. For example, an individual working
alone can build a house, but a community of individuals can build a city. This feedback
loop of creation may be the most unique and powerful feature of a metaverse. All content
could be freely available to be remixed and reused, including objects, music, scripts, and
animations.
There is also a social aspect to a metaverse. Tim Sweeney believes that hanging out with
friends may be the single most important feature of a metaverse (Takahashi, 2021). While
socialising will be a large part of the metaverse experience, it is competing with both social
media and real life, which puts it at a disadvantage due to the added friction of accessing a
complex simulated 3D world. Perhaps a stronger community aspect is the exposure a
metaverse can offer. An individual can create a small virtual world, which on its own
would not afford much appeal; however, within the context of a metaverse and all the
features a metaverse can offer, this small virtual world could become a far more popular
world.
A metaverse can also leverage the unique aspects of being a digital world; such worlds can
simulate complex theories that are outside our normal experience. A metaverse could
possess multiple realities. A situation that occurs in the metaverse could be simulated with
many possible outcomes, with the player moving between those outcomes. Additionally, a
metaverse could implement a form of time travel, where the player could move backwards
through past events. Both scenarios could be made possible through structural choices,
such as logging data that flows through the metaverse, although the volume of that data
39
could be very large. It is possible that the more a metaverse embraces its abilities in the
realm of fantasy, rather than limiting itself to resembleing our reality, the more interesting
it could become for players.
This departure from reality also gives a metaverse the potential to act as a bridge between
real-world cultures. The TV show Star Trek, originally conceived by Gene Roddenberry,
depicts a vast and diverse universe. The Federation within this universe is an organisation
of many worlds who have overcome the limits of material need and instead focus their
energies on discovery and creation. Star Trek can also be seen as an analogy for our own
world, where we explore the interactions and challenges our societies face. A metaverse
provides a platform where groups of people can work together to build new worlds, learn
about existing worlds, and discover the diverse cultures that create those worlds. Like Star
Trek, a metaverse can provide a means to explore ourselves and what we, as a species,
hope to become.
40
4 Indie Worlds on the Web
This chapter will look briefly at several projects under development on the web today. The
purpose of this is not to focus on projects aiming to become metaverses but, instead, to
focus on worlds which have the potential to become parts of a freeform web-based
metaverse. These projects are all from independent developers in order to make the point
that a metaverse may arise from many such independent works rather than any one large
organisation.
4.1 Exploration Interfaces
Some projects are interested in creating worlds, while others are interested in connecting
those worlds. This section briefly considers an alternative form of connecting worlds that
might prove more immersive for a player.
4.1.1 Netgardens Online
Figure 11 shows Netgardens Online, an interface where websites are represented by tiles.
Netgardens Online is a project currently being developed to create a visual landscape of
websites.
In Netgardens, each site can claim a tile and decorate it as they wish (see figure
11). The tiles use an isometric perspective and can be combined to produce larger designs.
Netgradens Online, https://netgardens.online/
41
Clicking a tile can provide information about who worked on the site and how to access it
(see figure 12), along with additional controls allowing a visitor to claim new tiles or
explore existing ones. Visitors to the Netgardens can explore sites as if they were physical
locations. They can also search by creator, which links together and encourages site-
design collaboration.
Figure 12 shows a selection of Netgardens Onlines different user interfaces.
Different areas of the Netgardens may have different atmospheres, climates, and
associations. In practice, this means a website dedicated to spooky things might be placed
in a dark gothic part of the Netgardens. Visitors exploring this area of the garden will
already have some idea of the kind of sites they will find there.
In a brief interview with the projects lead, InvisibleUp, they expressed a desire to
“Recreate that experience of walking down the street, but on the internet”. They see the
Netgardens as a kind of third place of web exploration. However, when asked about their
views on 3D worlds versus 2D websites they expressed concerns about accessibility,
stating “[3D worlds are] a lot harder to navigate and properly present information in”.
42
4.2 Virtual Galleries
There are a number of artists and arts groups creating virtual gallery spaces. These spaces
tend to focus on the players experience rather than any set goals, like a traditional game
does. The art world has a culture of collaboration which makes these projects well suited to
exist in some form of metaverse-like system.
4.2.1 Entrance or Exit
Entrance or Exit is a project to create a series of 2D and 3D art exhibitions on the web.
The projects creator, Michelle Selwa, hopes the spaces will encourage new kinds of art
making, and help foster and build a community around the gallery spaces. Each gallery can
be accessed as a multiplayer world, simulating the experience of viewing art in a public
space with others around you. Figure 13 offers a view of one of these spaces; note the total
departure from the traditional ‘white cube’ approach to gallery design.
Figure 13 shows an empty virtual gallery space prior to an imminent exhibition.
In a web conversation Michelle describes her gallery as an extension of exploring the web:
... maybe my virtual gallery would be just another rest stop where you can discover other
artists! This could be seen as directly opposing the idea of a virtual world as an all-
encompassing programme.
Entrance or Exit, https://entranceorexit.net/
43
4.2.2 VideoGame Reader: The Game TXTreader #3
Figure 14 shows a view of the TXTreader #3 virtual exhibition exploring video games. Accessible
for free on the web.
Created to complement the third instalment of the TXTreader, a group zine project by
TXTbooks (an independent publishing group), this virtual exhibition celebrates video
games and what they mean to players, which is the subject of the zine collection.
The
project was initially conceived as a real-life exhibition but was pushed into being a virtual
show by the coronavirus pandemic. The project was created as part of the 2021 Printed
Matter’s Virtual Art Book Fair.
Figure 14 shows the players view when they arrive in the virtual world. There is a
building on the right which contains the zines that the player can read. Surrounding the
building is a dense collection of video-game, pop-culture icons. The structure of this world
is intended to invoke an idea, and to propel the players thoughts towards the content the
world is promoting, and the discussion that content wishes to have. By doing this the world
becomes a new expression of the subject it is attempting to discuss.
TXTreader, https://www.txtbooks.us/special-projects/
44
4.3 Further Notes on Indie Worlds
Projects like this are partly made possible by the ubiquity of free 3D modelling tools and
game engines. Entrance or Exit and TXTreader are made in Unity and can be accessed on
the web due to Unity’s ability to export WebGL projects.
It’s also worth noting that many other non-Unity engines exporting to the web all use the
same underlying WebGL technology, they all exist on webpages, and they all share some
way of accessing JavaScript functions. It’s possible they could all access the same standard
syncing library made in JavaScript, allowing some standard form of connection between
them.
Most devices with web access today are also capable of displaying 3D content with ease.
This combination of accessible production tools and a large market makes 3D worlds an
appealing area for artists and other creatives to move into.
45
5 Creating a Web-based Virtual World
This chapter discusses my own work on web-based virtual worlds. We will look at Ozway,
a simple multiplayer world that is integrated into a website, and conclude by considering
what steps are necessary for this world to become a component of a Metaverse.
5.1 Pre-dissertation Work
This project was started prior to the start of this dissertation and was an attempt to create a
template for 3D websites that would allow web developers to easily create 3D rooms and
spaces. These spaces could then be uploaded to a website and navigated by site visitors.
There were several basic requirements needed for this idea to be practical:
Interaction with the world should not block the users interaction with the site
The world had to load extremely fast
Creating content for the world had to be easy for a single developer
Two of these requirements are depicted in figure 15: a world with simple low poly models
could be made rapidly by a developer and load extremely fast for a player.
Figure 15 shows the creation of a world model for MelonEngine in 3DSMax 2020. Most objects
have a low poly-count or low complexity to assist them loading quickly on the web.
46
The early development of the project centred around creating a simple game engine using
the Three.js JavaScript library. This engine was intended to act as a drop-in foundation for
any future world building.
MelonEngine initially provided a number of features including:
A preconfigured game loop and start-up functions
A preconfigured character controller and camera
Functions to simplify loading 3D models and sounds
The ability to assign scripted interactions to world objects
The engine allowed a world to be deployed on a website with minimal scripting compared
to a typical Three.js scene. Additionally, the separation between the world, the engine, and
Three.js also meant that code changes in Three.js could be compensated for in the engine
without the need to update each world.
When dealing with player controls on web-based 3D worlds, the traditional approach is to
lock the mouse into controlling the view or head of the player’s character, then use keys
such as WASD to control movement. The problem with this approach is that it interrupts
the player’s ability to continue using the site. They must first disconnect their controls
from the world to regain their mouse’s ability to click on other things. This project
provided an alternative set of controls that avoid locking the mouse, instead relying on the
player to hold down the mouse buttons in order to interact with the world.
The workflow involved in getting 3D models into the world proved to be a weak point of
the design. The project used glTF models that were created in the programme 3DSMax,
which required a custom exporter (Babylon.js) to support glTF files. There are several
versions of the glTF format, each with different features and capabilities. At the time of
development, exporting lighting using Babylon appeared to have some compatibility issues
with the Three.js importer. This may have also been a result of scale differences between
the models from 3DSMax and the expected lighting scale in Three.js.
This highlights the challenge of workflow in world design. If the workflow involved in
creating a world causes more friction than the perceived value of the world, the project
fails. In this case, the concept was successful, but the process required to create it was
arduous.
47
After a three-month hiatus MelonEngine was repurposed as a game jam engine in late
April 2020.
This was viable because the expected workflow of a game is more forgiving
than a website. Typically, a game will often have a final world design, whereas a website
requires constant small updates. This comes from the difference between the kind of
information presented by a website and a game world.
Figure 16 shows Ozway. The scene shows the player’s avatar in the lower centre overlooking a
meeting area where players can gather.
Gravity and complex player controls were added, demonstrating that a Three.js-based
world had the potential to be expanded as a richer game world. This is illustrated in figure
16: the player is standing on a world with a range of surfaces they can walk on; between
those surfaces is empty space that the player must fly between. Additionally, a basic
multiplayer implementation was added. This worked by sending HTTP requests from the
player clients to a server programme, with each request updating an index of all player
locations. My past experiences working with multiplayer systems in games involved
proprietary systems, such as Photon. In Photon it is unclear how the multiplayer code
works as it’s hidden from the developers view.
Ozwomp is Arriving”, submitted for Ludum Dare 46, https://ldjam.com/events/ludum-dare/46/ozwomp-
is-arriving
48
The idea of a simple web-based world, running on an open-game engine, and
synchronising its data to a simple non-proprietary server, provided the inspiration for this
dissertation. If a single virtual world can be created in this way, imagine the potential for a
larger metaverse of such worlds also created in this way!
5.2 Extended Dissertation Work
My previous work prompted the questions that led to this dissertation; however, answering
those questions proved to be far more complicated than first anticipated. When I began this
project, the plan was to expand the services offered by the MelonEngine server and explore
the idea of micro-services and web technologies as a basis for a metaverse.
However, it became clear that regardless of my technical approach to creating a metaverse,
my project was going to suffer from the same issues that affect all metaverse projects a
lack of definition about what a metaverse is, and a lack of understanding about the
components that go into a metaverse. For example, when I initially approached the idea of
creating a micro-service to provide an economy between multiple virtual worlds, I had no
obvious distinction about why a virtual world should have an economy, and what resources
would be traded within that economy. The qualities that appeared to make up a metaverse
were primarily based on assumptions made by many people creating metaverse-like
platforms, each with their own separate definition of a metaverse.
This dissertation became a project of defining and discussing some of the key points of
metaverses. More than any technical demonstration of a metaverse, what was needed was a
grounded and broad questioning of some of the fundamental assumptions about
metaverses. It was only towards the end of this dissertation that I started to acquire the
necessary information allowing me to return to my original project.
For this dissertation the original MelonEngine code has been restructured, the server has
received a total rewrite, and a demonstration world was created. It is now capable of
syncing any information from a single world selected by the worlds developer. However,
this is at most a demonstration of the potential of web-based virtual worlds; it is not a
demonstration of metaverse design.
49
Notwithstanding this, the previous chapters in this study have suggested that a metaverse
of web-based virtual worlds is a possible scenario. Moreover, this project has clearly
demonstrated that web-based virtual worlds themselves are also possible.
5.3 The Future of this Project One Brick in a Metaverse
The server that syncs MelonEngine data could be expanded to include information from
other worlds. During this process it would acquire the ability to move information, such as
player data, between these worlds. There is no reason why the information stored on the
server must come from a game running MelonEngine; it could be any engine.
This approach, however, still suffers from the size issues suffered by other metaverse
models: the more data syncing across the system, the slower and bulkier it becomes. There
is still just one server syncing data, but there is no reason that server could not be broken
up into multiple distributed pods of servers. This project initially set out to explore the idea
of micro-services as metaverse tools, and that idea is still valid. This form of syncing could
be one of many micro-services within a wider group forming a loose metaverse.
Would such a metaverse conform to the Snow Crash metaverse definition of a single
world? No, it would not. It would be a set of loosely connected virtual worlds with some
common components. However, as previously discussed in this paper, there are paths to
enable those worlds to begin to cooperate in ways that would more closely resemble a
metaverse. Seamless movement between worlds, for example, would blur the line for
players. Layering technologies turning worlds into glass worlds would blur the line further.
MelonEngine is best at providing a simple virtual-world making tool that is easy to learn
and modify. Ideally, further development on this project would be to expand on those
qualities. Crafting a tool that allows people to create and host their own virtual worlds,
with some minimal connection between them, is the first step towards turning those worlds
into something more like a metaverse.
50
6 Conclusions
The following conclusions are derived from all previous sections. They consider the
definitions described in the literature review, the subsequent considerations on metaverses,
the landscape of personal virtual-world projects in development today, and my own project
which posed the initial questions that triggered this research.
6.1 Topics not Covered
Here, some significant areas related to metaverses, not covered in this dissertation, warrant
some discussion. These may offer potential areas for further study.
6.1.1 Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AIs could play a key role in metaverse operations. One of the major challenges of
designing a metaverse is maintaining some form of compatibility between disparate
worlds, worlds that may be running on different engines made by different developers. It
would be possible for an AI to act as a translator between these worlds, taking standards
and assets and adapting them to fit into new worlds as the player moves between them,
particularly within the context of glass worlds. Research in this area would potentially
remove some of the restricting factors affecting metaverse design today.
6.1.2 Augmented Reality (AR)
This dissertation has not discussed the topic of metaverses and augmented reality. AR is
not a part of the typical metaverse debate because reality is not considered to be a part of a
virtual world. This does not mean reality cannot participate in a metaverse. It is possible
that metaverse worlds and content could be overlayed with reality. If the metaverse uses
glass worlds, then reality could be considered one of the glass layers of the metaverse.
Alternatively, parts of reality could be augmented into the metaverse as leaf worlds. AR is,
at this time, a new technology that has had limited mainstream success. As this technology
improves there may be greater pressure to integrate it into existing virtual worlds.
6.1.3 Copyright in a Metaverse
If the majority of content in a metaverse is freely replicable and reusable, then existing
ideas about copyright may be incapable of functioning correctly. The simplest approach
might be to suggest that everything put onto the metaverse must remain in the public
domain; however, as players can freely create anything in a metaverse, there is no way to
stop them using copyrighted material. This suggests that at some point a full review of
51
copyright laws in relation to metaverses may be necessary, and a proposal for new
metaverse-friendly copyright laws could be required.
One semi-solution that I would propose is a universal attribution system. Content on the
metaverse could contain some information about who originally created it and who had
since modified it. A player interested in a particular piece of content could then look up the
original creator and see what else they had worked on. It might also be possible for the
original creator to search for some of the worlds currently using their content.
52
6.2 Conclusion
In this dissertation we have defined a metaverse as a group of connected purposes. These
purposes are the combination of worlds, perspectives, services, and communities, all rolled
into one. This definition was created to separate the idea of a world as a technology from a
world as a concept; in other words, to highlight that a metaverse itself is a concept rather
than a technology.
The aim of this is to reduce some of the ongoing confusion in relation to the term. This
confusion has been highlighted by Tim Sweeney’s comments in section 2.2, and it
potentially hinders the ability of further study to advance the development of metaverses.
Such studies may allow those who create metaverses to explore more diverse concepts of
what their creations might become. Additionally, this lack of understanding sets a
dangerous precedent; metaverses could be vastly influential, while at the same time
remaining deeply misunderstood.
Metaverses will form their own unique cultures, and those cultures will be defined by the
players’ diverse social and technical backgrounds. As such, the cultures of a metaverse will
be impossible to predict in advance. Moderation and management of these cultures may
become a near-impossible task for any single organisation. This suggests that the structure
of a metaverse will have to allow worlds to fully moderate themselves. This could be seen
as a form of self-governance, in which case a metaverse is more like a group of nations
rather than a single nation.
A metaverse may be technologically very large, like the World Wide Web. The web is the
sum product of the work of many smaller entities. In this case, an individual person can
run a web server; however, no organisation or government could run the whole web.
Likewise, it is unlikely that any organisation will be able to run a large metaverse while at
the same time remaining financially stable. With this in mind, this dissertation has
suggested that there should be multiple technical standards created by multiple
organisations. This ensures that no single organisation is tasked with maintaining any
singular irreplicable part of the metaverse.
Its possible that rather than being created by a single organisation, a metaverse could
evolve naturally from the cooperation of many independent virtual worlds. This could be
facilitated by making metaverses a taught subject in creative institutions, such as art
53
colleges, rather than existing as purely individual or corporate projects. Each world, in this
case, would supply its own player-generated content to the metaverse, and benefit from the
supply of content it would receive from other worlds. In this way, the metaverse would not
just be populated by player-generated content, but also by player-generated structure.
An economy is not a necessary requirement to fulfil the definition of a metaverse.
Additionally, the structure of virtual worlds makes them poorly suited to scarcity-based
economies. This suggests that replicating a real-world economy is not the best way
forwards for a metaverse.
As discussed in sections 3.3 and 3.5, the worlds that make up a metaverse and the players
perceptions of them could be heavily influenced by the way those worlds are connected.
For example, a player could be following the physics of a different dimension, while still
being present with other players who themselves are within other dimensions. A successful
metaverse may follow a set of rules that is not based on the human perspective of the real
world. With this in mind, I would suggest that the concepts behind a metaverse should not
be so earth bound. Throughout this discussion there have been earthly examples made,
such as driving cars or building cities. These examples are helpful when describing a
metaverse; however, a metaverse should not be defined by such things.
Finally, as illustrated by the definition of the word ‘meta’ meaning beyond and ‘verse’
taken from universe a metaverse is beyond the universe. To return to the Star Trek
analogy, it is an off-world realm that exists in the shadows of the undiscovered. A true
metaverse presents endless opportunities to use play to explore our ideas, our identities,
and the potential of our societies, while at the same time being free from the limits of daily
life.
54
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Online fan communities are an important element in the market success of a videogame, and game developers have begun to recognize the importance of fostering online communities associated with their games. In this paper we report on a study that investigated the techniques used by game developers to maintain and pro- mote online communities within and around their games. We found that game devel- opers consider online communities to be important to the success of both single-player and online multiplayer games, and that they actively support and nourish these com- munities. Online community building techniques identified in the study are catego- rized and discussed. The results represent a snapshot of current developer thinking and practice with regards to game-based online communities. The study augments existing research concerning the relationship between design features, online commu- nity and customer loyalty in new media, Internet and game-related industries.
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In March 1999, a small number of Californians discovered a new world called "Norrath", populated by an exotic but industrious people. Having just returned from a dangerous exploratory journey through this new world, I can report a number of interesting findings about its people and economy. About 12,000 people call it their permanent home, although some 60,000 are present there at any given time. The nominal hourly wage is about $3.42 per hour, and the labors of the people produce a GNP per capita somewhere between that of Russia and Bulgaria. A unit of Norrath's currency is traded on exchange markets at $0.0107, higher than the Yen and the Lira. The economy is characterized by extreme inequality, yet life there is quite attractive to many. The population is growing rapidly, swollen each each day by hundreds of émigrés from various places around the globe, but especially the United States. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the new world is its location. Norrath is a virtual world that exists entirely on 40 computers in San Diego. The entire dollar-based economy is underground, since the owning company, Sony, considers everything created in the world to be its intellectual property. Unlike many internet ventures, virtual worlds are making money -- with annual revenues expected to top $1.5 billion by 2004 -- and if network effects are as powerful here as they have been with other internet innovations, virtual worlds may be the next step in the evolution of internet (and possibly human) culture.
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Social media is restructuring urban practices–through ad-hoc experimentation, commercial software development, and communities of participation. This book is the first to consider how practices contained within social media are situated within a larger genealogy of public space, including theories of communal identity, civitas and democracy, the fete, and self-expression. Through empirical research, the actual social practices of participants of networked publics are described and analyzed. Documenting how online counterpublics use the Internet to transmit classified photos, mobilize activists, and challenge the status quo, Tierney argues that online activities do not stop in online conversations; they are physically grounded through mobile GPS coordinates which are then transformed into activities in physical space—the street, the plaza, the places where people have traditionally gathered to demonstrate and express their opinions publicly.
Weaving a Semantic Web
  • T Berners-Lee
Berners-Lee, T. (2005) Weaving a Semantic Web. [Online]. 2005. Available from: http://www.cbpp.uaa.alaska.edu/afef/weaving the web-tim_bernerslee.htm.