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A Cartridge In A Code Tree

A Reflection Of A Year In The Messaverse

What a mess this year was! Crypto crashes, scammy messiahs, useless fashion, and NFTs with an identity problem. The metaverse has had a few growing pains it must be said. I wanted to go over some of the highs and crashing lows of a year that was much the same as 2021 and 2020. What’s the problem with everything metaverse? It’s obviously not you, dear user, you just want to dive in…. It’s ego. And ego is killing the metaverse.

Photo by Dimitar Belchev

Deja Vu-lnerability

We started 2022 with a great deal of hope. The hope, centred solely on the fact that we were going to do something really special this year, the likes of which have not been tried before. My tongue is planted firmly in my cheek as I write this because only one or two things happened in actualité. As I sit here in December, I'm still waiting for that special thing to happen. What started in January, which was hopes and dreams, managed to get crushed massively. My take is that a lot of it was focused on overreaching expectations, and those expectations were literally too great. When you're developing systems, mechanics, and gamified experiences, they don't just come out of thin air. They have to come from a place of a great deal of thought after all games are borne out of the metaphysical.

Late 2021, early 2022: I was working on a platform that was destined to fail because of leadership. And because it wasn't that good, everybody had to walk around with shit-eating grins, pretending that this thing was going to be amazing. Ego is the albatross around the necks of everyone trying to build better social spaces because social is such a Palo Alto buzzword isn’t it? Previously it was simply CEO psychopathy, in games at least, the industry was (and still is) filled with psychos. Men, mostly men in my experience, who, drunk on VC money, trail a blaze (that’s the right way to say it) through the world of games like Dexter: killing projects and hiding bodies in the name of brohood. But now it has bled into the world of the metaverse because everyone wants to announce their project as “the first metaverse to raise abandoned ponies” or “the first metaverse to use walkpads to power the adventure” (yes, this is really a thing).

If you have been following for a while now you will know that I’m salty, and a bit bitchy about your silly metaverses, but I don’t have an arrogance especially because I don’t know everything and I want to learn. Of course, the things I do know about I will fight you over until you die on that hill. I like the things that I really like and I am impassioned by those things. So it's always very shocking to me to come across experiences that fail, just on account of someone's blind unabated ego. And this is becoming more and more habitual in technology, some might say it was always so.

Tony Montana's Living Room

As tech lovers and visitors to this space, we've seen quite a deal this year of projects that have failed catastrophically. Did they fail because of the value offering or because the leadership was weirdly messianic? How did FTX go for a burton? It was scandalous and really unnecessary after the “lessons learned” from TerraLUNA. It was already too late.

I regularly joke with a close friend of mine in technology about an event we went to at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year. We found ourselves gathered in a small room where the bar was free (YASS!) and the wine was awful but flowing. This was an NFT launch for a wine brand, or, as I joked with my friend, was it really a wine launch for an NFT brand? As it turns out, the latter was true. The wine tasted awful, but the CEO’s announcement was the worst. He referred to his employees, some of whom are POC, as Sherpas. I asked my friend, “did he just say that?” My friend nodded. Suddenly the wine tasted even more disgusting. It was the same day that a semi-famous TV presenter actually disappeared into the toilets mid-conversation with me because she had an offer of coke. I wonder what she needed to do to access the goods?

This is the metaverse, crypto, web3, games and all that and all of us mere mortals feel like a square peg in a round hole in here. We’re just trying to make it fun and accessible for our users, but wow the coke, the wine, the egos we have to cut through to get there is wrong.

The FTX scandal (and that weird wine experience in Davos) follows and will lead to just another load of experiences in this industry vertical that seem to be nothing more than vanity projects. I myself created a Spatial room for Thinking Heads, but for sheer fun and to learn a bit more about integrations, I turned it into a bit of a vanity project. However, I see a growing concern of so many projects in the metaverse burning up server space to satisfy someone’s LinkedIn post or comment. They have no idea how they're gonna get people into the experience. They have no idea how they're going to retain the user.

When I think about what it is that we create, I lean on really fantastic words from marketers, growth hackers, and ad campaign managers, and I try not to listen to the words of CEOs or thinkers who have created absolutely nothing but words in this space. I'd rather spend some time fucking up with a great deal of strong evidence that supports my claim, rather than fucking up off the back of something that has crashed catastrophically because a CEO was banging one of his assistants at a Christmas party and she just happened to mention that she’d love her own metaverse. That IS a true story.

The View From Nowhere

How do we get out of this weird groundhog and what is happening right now to help us grow our (excuse the pun) horizons? Some really great metaverses launched last year that will develop over time to be really functional I think. And it’s the functionality that we have to put first here. Metaverses should offer the following:

  1. Integrations - can I plug things in?

  2. Flexibility - can I take it anywhere with me?

  3. Open - can I just enter without sign-up? (there will of course be natural limitations such as age restriction)

  4. Interoperability - can I move my inventory between worlds or metaverses?

All these things should be possible. The latter is a difficult one to surmount, but that’s nothing more than an ego to climb. Most metaverses, games studios and publishers are jealous gods with walled gardens the size of their egos. What are they making up for with size I wonder? Anyway, I’ve done so much research into this space that I can conclude this is about networks and money rather than scenes and dimensions.

Look at Ready Player Me, they have had an incredible year but what are they actually doing to drive interoperability forward? Well, quite a lot, but what is holding them back are all the platforms that wish they were Ready Player Me. And while MetaMask is sitting pretty now, their model and UX are both ugly and limited to crypto bros only for the most part. We expect some mainstream products next year that allow us to move seamlessly through e- and g-commerce, cloud storage, games and fashion.

Fashion, that has to be interoperable doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? For a few years now, I have been oft-quoted and have banged on and on about digital clothing, fashion and wearable being interoperable and more importantly less wasteful. I’ve told you a million times that I have always been too fat for a Chanel jacket but I can rock one in the metaverse. I’ve waxed lyrical about wearing digital fashion for a while before buying them, and you are telling me these things like you just thought them up? Yes, we know you have a wonderful range of metallic wings that I will never wear IRL but I can’t wear them in Final Fantasy Crisis Core either so what’s the point in buying them at all? Think about it, fashionistas - your designs are mostly crap.

NFTs need a rebrand, don’t they? God knows they need something. It’s not actually the NFTs that suck, I mean, they do, a lot of them are pointless but it’s the smart contracts isn’t it? They are simply awful. We need something that provides much more utility but we need to reflect the use case with an interoperable (that word again) smart contract. I developed that standard back in 2021 to explore the possibility of what NFTs could do and how they could be used as much more of a digital asset class, than, say, buying something off your local stock exchange thing. Listen, I’m 49, and even I don’t quite get stocks and shares so why would a 20-year-old? Think about it, financial idiots, and young people want a valuable stock or investment that reflects the hard work they have put in. For them, an MP5 NFT containing the memory of 10m kills from Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 is going to be way more valuable than a 20c sin stock. We need to move with the times and right now? We’re stuck.

What do we think about crypto? At a time when everything has value because the value of everything is dying in real life, it’s great that we have something paradoxical to lean on. I worked in blockchain and crypto years ago, and I remember a colleague of Transformers Universe telling me back in 2011 that he’d invested in Bitcoin. I wonder where that guy is now? My take on crypto is simple, it has to get even more virtual to get trusted. Supercell, SYBO, Rovio, Activision, EA, and Ubisoft are all pioneers of solid game economies. Game economies are the very foundation of banks and financial markets of the future. I stopped using cash for obvious reasons during the pandemic, and almost a year out of the final lockdown, I still don’t use cash. We don’t live in a cash-based system anymore. We live in a world of Revolut, Wise and Neon, these banks rely upon Forex to make dollars on the ETH: as we move forward we will find our favourite game coins listed alongside the Won, the Baht, and the Franc. Is it so hard to believe that we can trade or exchange GP?

Casting a predictive view over the next 12 months, the sensible money is going to go into tools, and the silly money will continue to go into vanity. Through amazing analytics we can really measure meaning against money in 2023, it’s pretty exciting, don’t you agree? Finally, the racketeers, ripoff merchants and rogues will be exposed as the charlatans they always were. Yes, we need this analytical system to allow choice to navigate us through what might continue to be a bit useless and messy. A messaverse.

The Last Of Us

We absolutely have to change our thinking about the metaverse and all it has to offer us in 2023. I will continue to be curmudgeonly about everything in this industry vertical because no one else will hold you to account but me. But we will be ultimately left behind if we don’t move the hell away from those things we held so dear during web1 and web2: those gifts are sent from egos. We can’t do that anymore, we have to focus on moving the change toward the people, you know like how much joy we put into music with MySpace? Why did we drop it for another social media site? We did it because that social media platform had evolved beyond MySpace. Why are we hanging on to old things? Why are we so nostalgic about the 00s? Because we’re afraid, because recent egos have proven that their products cannot be trusted. That this brave new vision of the future that they promised was not led by women, but men!

How much has the metaverse given us that we can identify with? I don’t recognise a single element of myself in Meta, BAYC, Roblox, HAPE or Metahero, but I can assimilate to Star Atlas, My Neighbor Alice, and ByteCity. Demographics aside, a lot of these strange metaverses require the end user to spend money (or virtual currency from fiat exchanges) before you even get to the joy. In the case of Meta, the end user has to spend actual fiat cash on a headset. No one needs to spend money on getting into the metaverse - Decentraland and The Sandbox are the OGs of this, and is the current mack daddy. The metaverse is free: it always should be, and we will vote with our digital wallets to find the places that we can recognise ourselves in. I like to talk about our identity when we talk about finding the perfect metaverse, whether we are creating a psychological comfort zone for ourselves or whether we are more casual with who we are, the metaverse must reflect these things in all it does from coins to fashion or we will never find it.

Exploration is the causality of curiosity, and vice-versa, can we please build experiences that do something? There’s nothing worse than trying to navigate under or over a dead weight. And can we please move the hell away from throwing VC money at just dudes? There are so many other genders doing absolutely incredible things to shape the future.

This year I have felt like a Cartridge in a Code Tree, part connoisseur, part savant, part educator, evangelist, and enlightener. I make experiences, I get my hands dirty, but I’m not a CEO. I write about experiences and I live them, but I’m not your guru. I’ve not really been able to fit into anything, and it gave me quite a lot of pause for thought. But feeling out of place, I realised, isn’t something to cry about, in fact, it’s something to celebrate. All of us are out of place in this weird space! We’re not rich kids with impossible dreams that only VCs can make a reality, we’re actually visitors to this industry vertical: we want to be serviced however we desire and if we like you, we’ll stay, and who knows, we might actually pay.


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