With $120bn investment in 2022, the metaverse has soared ahead of the crypto space. But with attention from major players like Facebook and Microsoft, it's natural to worry how original the technology will be. Randy Ginsburg dives into Webaverse, the democratised, interoperable, and cross-platform software that CEO Ahad Shams plans to turn into the operating system of the open metaverse.
Although the broader crypto market has seen a significant downturn, the metaverse is vying for its position as one of the top buzzwords of 2022. Corporations and investors alike are pouring money into metaverse-related companies – $120 billion in the first five months of 2022, to be exact, more than double the $57m invested throughout 2021 – aiming to get in on what’s promised by many to be the next major shift in how people use the internet.
Only made possible by a foundation of emerging technologies like VR/AR, blockchain, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence, the metaverse is widely expected to unlock new business models and transform interactions between customers and companies. Virtual and augmented reality lies at the core of the metaverse, providing the technology that underlies newly immersive experiences, but it is just one component of a full metaverse vision. This vision for the future of the internet also relies on blockchain to transport digital assets across different digital worlds, Internet of Things technology to connect the real world with their digital twins, and artificial intelligence to augment the creativity and operational capabilities of those active in the space.
But given the nascency of the technology, the true nature of the metaverse remains largely undefined and leaves much up for interpretation. What is the metaverse? Truly, nobody knows.
Yet even with its loose definition, few organisations are working as hard to define – and bring about – its future than Webaverse.
While many metaverse maximalists envision a Ready Player One-Esque future where humans will spend the bulk of their waking hours interacting within fully immersive digital worlds, the Webaverse team see a different path.
Webaverse co-founder and CEO Ahad Shams describes his view of the metaverse as simply a merging of the virtual and digital worlds. Rather than building the internet completely anew, Ahad proposes a different future: one in which our 2D text-based applications will evolve with new user experiences around interaction, engagement, and immersion.
Bringing this to reality will require a delicate balance of user-generated and AI-generated content, capable of being experienced across platforms, and allowing any user to guide AI-design tools and create their own worlds. “The less crazy part is what humans experience in digital worlds, the more consequential part is how virtual beings and digital content (not made by humans) proliferate across all mediums,” he predicts. This is exactly that vision that Webaverse is working tirelessly to bring to life.
Founded as a collective of artists, builders, and creatives, Webaverse is the world’s first browser-based metaverse-ready engine. Built around open-source ingredients and standard file formats, Webaverse can be experienced across any format you can think of, from 2D and 3D, to more futuristic ambitions like virtual and augmented reality, and across any platform, whether it’s a laptop, a phone, or a console.
Webaverse’s ultimate goal? Become an open-source operating system for the metaverse, allowing users to build fully customisable and immersive worlds, games, and applications with no technical experience.
Having paired a drag-and-drop builder with L1 and L2 multi-chain support, anything can be minted as an NFT, while integrated AI features allow for algorithmically-generated worlds and automated NPCs powered by artificial intelligence.
At the same time, Webaverse is solving many of the prevalent issues with today’s multi-siloed and fragmented internet landscape, providing users with radical transparency around user data, democratising access through open-source code and cross-platform access,the democratization of technology, and a frictionless right of exit, being built on public chains and standards, allowing for the sale of game assets.
‘For us, it was going back to the ideals of the basic internet,” says Ahad. “Open for all, accessible, no walled garden. This isn’t built on Unity or Unreal (two major 3D game development platforms). We know that the next evolution of computing will be cross-platform and cross-medium. We’re making it super easy for user-generated content to exist in conjunction with the app.”
In our ever-evolving world of abundance, content and data have become king. But in most cases, citizens of the internet own neither. Instead, big tech companies and major gaming studios have all of the power, dictating how our data is used and how content can be shared.
This is no better illustrated than in the gaming world, where a massively disproportionate one-sided value exchange between gamers and game creators exists. For years, gamers have invested ample time, money, and effort into their games of choice with little to no ability to generate value from their contributions or in-game performance. Now, by bringing user-generated content and in-game assets onto the blockchain, players can finally own and receive ongoing value from their digital assets.
And with the rise of open-source AI content generation engines like Stable Diffusion, the barrier to entry for creativity has never been lower. Within seconds, users can generate mind-blowingly detailed images by inputting a single line of text. Building in-game assets inside procedural worlds are the only logical next step.
While building an engine for creators to launch their own games, Webaverse is setting the tone with a game of their own, Upstreet. Dubbed as Final Fantasy meets Roblox, Upstreet is a 3D, evolving, massive multiplayer online (MMO) experience where creators and different communities can build and monetise their own worlds, games, and immersive applications.
Set in a world approaching technological singularity, Upstreet releases new elements of the storyline in a season format, where users have the ability to create user-generated content that influences the plot’s trajectory. As the first few seasons conclude, all the data will be fed into Webaverse’s internal AI engines to procedurally generate the next season.
While much of Upstreet is still under development, the Webaverse team has big plans for the game and its supporting marketplace, along with a separate 2D game that will be released later next year. Upstreet relies heavily on the blockchain for microtransactions and immutability with respect to digital ownership and provenance.
“We’re not trying to look at traditional games and make a better game with crypto. We are making a genre of games that haven’t existed,” he said. “Not only will we make the game, but the entire engine, so that all games built on the engine will be interoperable.”
This interoperability will begin within the Upstreet ecosystem itself, allowing players to bring their same avatar, inventory, and assets to both Upstreet and Webaverse’s soon-to-be-announced 2D game. And in the future, all other games built on the engine too.
But ambitious visions like the Webaverse come with no shortage of skepticism and growing pains. Building a fun and exciting, interoperable version of the metaverse on internet-native principles also means fending off the web2 juggernauts who envision the metaverse as part of their existing internet conquest. It also means navigating many of the same societal issues that these tech giants still face today, few less tangible than content moderation.
As the Webaverse opens up the floodgates of society's collective imagination, there will need to be strategic guardrails in place for moderation. And given the ethos of openness and decentralisation in the web3 space that Webaverse calls home, this may be a tough pill to swallow for some.
“These are things which our entire team thinks very deeply about. I’m pro-freedom in general, and principally we want to be completely open, but pragmatically how do we do it in such a way which doesn’t go too far? We want to build a safe and positive community, but these are difficult things to solve for.”
“We’re not trying to look at traditional games and make a better game with crypto. We are making a genre of games that haven’t existed.”
— Ahad Shams
It’s important to note that while Webaverse has released a handful of impressive teasers, the project is still very much under development. Its grand vision won’t appear overnight, and it will even take some time for the ideal user experience to materialise across platforms. Still, that hasn’t stopped early users from enjoying and building on the platform.
“The metaverse should be a sum of our collective imagination.”
— Ahad Shams
In the meantime, the Webaverse team will continue to innovate, launching smaller products along the way, all of which will feed into the larger world-building experience, and continue to improve Webaverse’s AI model.
Ahad blossoms with excitement. “Within the next year or two, thanks to tools like the Webaverse, creativity will flourish. We will see an abundance of AI-generated content, movies, and virtual productions.
“AAA games which used to have budgets of 50 to 100 million will come down significantly. The metaverse should be a sum of our collective imagination and we are finally headed in that direction.”
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