Why I Hate the Metaverse
Updated: Sep 8
Warning: This opinion post will contain political language that you may find disagreeable or perhaps even hypocritical. Please note that it is part of the underlying vehicle that informs this opinion. Disagreements are welcome; attacks are not.
With the discussions around Meta née Facebook's attempt at creating the definitive Metaverse (and, undoubtedly, eventually trying to take ownership of the name), there's been a public reckoning around NFTs, cryptocurrencies in general, and the Metaverse more specifically.
While lofty goals and high-minded ideas are the bread and butter of what makes games push the envelope, the concept of the Metaverse, to me, has never held much water.
A Metaverse not tied to NFTs and crypto? Perhaps, although Second Life has something to say about this "up-and-coming technological marvel". Escapism isn't exactly new, and Second Life tried to cash in on it well before cryptocurrencies were even a sparkle in Satoshi's eye(s).
But more to the point, I want to explore the ethical concepts linked to NFTs, crypto, and metaverses (Metaversi? Metaversen?).
NFTs Are Bigger Fool Scams
If an NFT were minted solely for the purpose of granting the user explicit, transferrable access to a game or region, then the problem would be mitigated. More succinctly, it could be done in literally any other way, but the appeal of NFTs is their increase in perceived value as the game grows.
If the sale of the NFT was to a third-party that actually wanted to use it, the problem could be minimized. but this industry has attracted speculative buyers hoping for a return on their investment; the NFT has to continue to increase in value so they can sell it for profit. This is a hypercapitalist economy at work; everything must have value and it must all be traded for profit. Anything that can't be sold for dollar signs must either be assigned a value or purged.
Everybody buys an NFT trying to sell it to everyone else who wants to buy an NFT, and those buyers themselves want to resell at a higher value. It's the housing bubble of 2008 all over again. It's a speculative market that seduces good people by teasing them into buying from, sometimes, other good people who just need money.
The danger, though, is in the investment firms who are pouring millions of dollars into coins and NFTs to capitalize on an unregulated wild west market.
This has created an entire ecosystem toxic to the apparent intent of NFTs, so much so that the original intent is irrelevant, especially when the developers of the NFTs have no control over how, when, and to whom they're sold.
There are "smart contracts", but restrictions on specific entities purchasing the NFTs, whether possible or not, eats away at the heart of what pro-crypto evangelists argue are the benefits of NFTs in the first place.
And this potentially toxic ecosystem identifies another problem inherent to games that attempt to leverage crypto.
NO VALUABLE PRODUCTION OFFSET
There's no productive offset to the value generated in the coin.
If you build a house, someone who needs a place to live will buy it. They may sell it later because they want a different house, but the demand levels remain about the same, and there's a product that is received in exchange for currency. You want money, they want a house.
But in a crypto market, you want to make MORE money, and the other party wants to also make more money. Your double-coincidence is the same, which leads to one party attempting to screw over the other until, inevitably, someone is left holding the bag.
But with a transaction like buying a house, the worst that can happen is that you overpay for something you already need or want. That's not how it works with crypto. If it crashes, you overpaid for something you wanted, and now you don't get the thing you wanted at all.
It's not an investment in a company or a product; it's a gamble in a line continuing to go up, with each gamble ensuring that it does until people decide to cash out.
METAVERSE WITH ALL OF THIS BAGGAGE
Part of the appeal of the Metaverse is the implementation of the crypto and NFT side of "Web 3.0". So the Metaverse cannot be adequately criticized without first levelling critique at those two elements of the chain, so to speak.
The Metaverse has all of the problems of cryptocurrencies, blockchains, and NFTs, with no discernable innovation over what modern games are able to achieve. The "sense of ownership" for players is just that; a "sense" of ownership. It's still not ownership; if the games' servers shut down, or if the resource identified in the token succumbs to link rot, then the digital product they "own" is still as useless as any character cosmetics in Warframe that would be phased out when the time came.
There is no innovation in the Metaverse to combat this, because it relies explicitly on the promises that crypto and NFTs trade on. You can have your own apartment, your own house, your own flying car in the Metaverse.
But that's literally no different from Second Life, which doesn't need to rely on these technologies to provide an experience that users will flock to. So what benefits can the Metaverse provide that aren't already present literally anywhere else?
The only, and I mean only, discernable advantage is in my biggest issue with crypto and NFTs in general...
When players know they can earn a currency or a token and sell it for whatever they want, they're incentivized to play in a way that optimizes the market potential of the NFT, or to grind for NFTs to sell to other people getting into the game.
While it has been framed as a way of "retaining value" of time spent playing the game, the ethical conundrum is that the capitalist hellscape we currently inhabit is teaching us that even our entertaining hobbies need to be monetized. The value you extract from play should be about the fun you had while doing it, not the money you can make by selling part of your experience to someone else.
But because people are scared and some are even destitute, there are stories like the one about Axie Infinity, where thousands of Filipinos were earning above minimum wage playing the game. The part of the story that was inevitable, but not nearly as visible in the crypto circles, was that the bubble eventually burst and those players, essentially owned by whale investors, started earning well below federal minimum wage shortly after the crash in the market.
The game existed solely as a vehicle for financial value to be passed around until it was eventually absorbed by the whales when the crash occurred. It shouldn't come as a surprise; cryptocapitalism was always going to work this way.
In the end, my opinions will not stop a train from following a track. But the track is clear, and it's frustrating that pointing out the logical conclusion to the route is seen as desperate, bitter, jealous, or malicious towards the people on the train.
But, despite their feelings, despite if they get off early or sell their ticket for more than it's worth, the final stop on that rail line remains the same.