No more walled gardens – pushing for decentralisation in the metaverse

If the metaverse is to succeed and become the ideal evolutionary successor of the internet, it will need to come with a bulldozer to knock down all the walled gardens.

15 November 2022
Abby Beckley

Life in the garden

Robin presses the ‘leave’ button from her last AR work meeting of the day. With that done, it’s time to get ready for the concert she’s attending along with her sister who lives on the other side of the Pacific, best friends, the next town up and her cousin who’s away working on an offshore wind platform. She goes into her extended reality closet to choose an outfit. She’ll be going as an alien warrior-knight — you never know who might challenge you to a duel whilst you’re travelling out and about. As she makes her way to the concert, an advert for an upgraded version of her utility belt catches her eye, she has some tokens that she earned from another world but when she tries to use them to buy the belt, the application doesn’t recognise them. Slightly disappointed but still upbeat, Robin carries on towards the concert. A message alert comes through, her best friends are meeting up for pre-concert cocktails in a newly opened metaverse bar which creates drinks that give you a surprise magical power based on your avatar in the metaverse and courier an actual cocktail to you wherever you are within a certain radius. When Robin tries to transport herself into this new space as her avatar she gets blocked. She will have to come out and sign up to a different platform, recreate an entirely new avatar, losing all of the special features she has earned or paid for on her alien warrior-knight version in order to be able to join her friends at the cocktail bar. 

Walled gardens

Where avatars created, digital purchases made, tokens won or cryptocurrency earned are strictly limited for use solely on the systems that they were purchased in. The digital equivalent of being all dressed up with nowhere to go. But the problem with walled gardens goes further than this. 

Right now the makeup of the internet is based on a centralised infrastructure, siloed platforms host information, provide services on and determine access to centrally-owned private servers, access which can be taken away if the hosts decide that users are not adhering to the platform’s terms. 

The fact cannot be argued that these various systems have offered much convenience to our lives, however, there is a certain compromise that users have to accept in order to use them. None of us actually own the profiles we set up, we simply rent them for as long as we sign up and maintain our accounts. The digital personas we create and information we have on them is lost to us once we cancel the subscription or even more frustratingly, forget our login details. We have to sign in to make purchases or access certain information, on other sites there are pay or data walls before you can see what you’re searching for which become deterrents and put people off proceeding. 

IRL you don’t need to share personal details to go into the local supermarket, home goods shop, department store, fashion retailer or sporting goods store. You also don’t find yourself locked out of your local supermarket, department store or any of those other places as a normal occurrence should you forget your personal identification. 

If the metaverse is to improve on the limitations and closed systems of Web 2.0 then ease of movement via interoperability as well as the freedom for developers and creators to have ownership of the design and features of their work within the space must be key predicates. 

The problem with centralisation

Centralisation also runs the risk of metaverse experiences being monopolised by the more powerful players in the tech space. Considering user journeys on the internet and the way the system operates right now, when you go onto a browser to search, let’s say, for a birthday gift, suddenly your eye is caught by a link on the homepage to a headline that is related to the news story you were checking out the day before, you click on it to find out whether it elaborates on the story and down the rabbit hole you go till you find you’ve gone and purchased yourself a MAGA cap on the other side. 

The algorithms that are feeding us information are not serving our purposes but benefitting the big tech companies who have created them. Content is there to drive clicks and these clicks are intended to lead to profits whichever way they can, meaning that more often than not our feeds are filled with the more inflammatory headlines that are intended to draw attention and illicit reactions. Each reaction equals data capture which then gets sold on to the highest bidders, who are hungry for insights on each and every single one of us. 

Not learning from mistakes

The metaverse, in order to be successful, needs to ensure that our digital personas aren’t as beholden to these entities or as vulnerable to some of the more toxic messages that are out there, as we have seen in Web 2.0. 

There are various standards bodies that are now emerging who are attempting to establish the building blocks for an open and less centralised metaverse. An example is the not long established OMA3 which stands for Open Metaverse Alliance for Web3 that’s led by well known players in the metaverse space such as Decentraland, Sandbox and Animoca, a metaverse standards consortium of sorts and one that claims to be guided by the principles of inclusiveness, transparency and decentralisation however, this is what they have to say:

“We will build infrastructure to ensure the metaverse operates as a unified system where digital assets (such as NFTs), identities, and data are permissionless and interoperable for all and controlled by users, not platforms. Users will immutably own these assets and transfer them to any OMA3™ virtual worlds freely, without needing the platform’s permission.” 

Users, it seems, are allowed to own and transfer their assets but only between OMA3 virtual worlds. The work they are doing is heading in the right direction but perhaps they would better drive their message home by opening up access to other metaverses and building bridges externally to ensure they do not become another walled garden, or perhaps in their case it would be a walled park. 

Build new, build better

There is a chance, more than that, a very real opportunity to move away from these machinations to create a new, improved evolution that better mimics reality especially with regards to the freedom to operate and navigate by one’s agency rather than where some coding has determined you should go. It is crucial that we learn from mistakes of the past and avoid repeating them as the foundations of Web 3.0 are being formed. There is also the convenience factor that these siloed systems are inhibiting. It makes very little sense for retailers to sign up to commercial licences across different platforms just to ensure they have correct reach? Or for consumers to have to sign in to different platforms each time in order to access specific purchases?

The walled garden phenomenon further highlights the need for universality and interoperability — once someone creates an avatar within the metaverse then this is the same one they should be able to use throughout the space. 

There is an opportunity to improve on this administrative step with the right avatar set up. The need for security is of course paramount but once again this is where the right, well-secured avatar set-up comes in. 

Setting up the right foundations

The metaverse will only work if and when it works for all. Hadean is a member of the Metaverse Standards Forum whose mission states that: “the potential of the metaverse will be best realised if it is built on a foundation of open standards” and provides a venue for cooperation between standards organisations and companies to foster the development of interoperability standards for an open and inclusive metaverse.” No other addendums or lock-ins there.

To this end, we are providing the infrastructure that will better enable interoperability, decentralisation and an open, non-siloed experience. 

How? 

Concurrency – right now, virtual worlds that exist have a participant cap as the technology can only manage a limited number of concurrent users within that world leading to headlines such as the ones being written about Meta’s Horizon Worlds

Interactivity – levels of interactivity are reduced as a result of limited networking and processing power getting to the point of requirement. This often means that experiences end up being siloed leaving only a very limited amount of interplay within and between virtual worlds. 

Stability – convergence zones or areas that have a dense level of activity run the risk of simulation crashes. These crashes offer a poor user experience and even worse, can turn into PR disasters which end up discouraging further adoption.

Our Hadean Platform provides the infrastructure for building virtual worlds that tap seamlessly into the power and flexibility of the cloud. It allows users to achieve performance at previously impossible scales with millions of entities and tens of thousands of concurrent users. Another contributing factor to why the Platform best supports open and decentralised usage is because it is tech-agnostic and leverages open architectures that can integrate third party applications and interoperate with other virtual worlds. It can also process and distribute massive amounts of data in real time which creates fluid access on a wide range of devices. We can network the open metaverse by orchestrating interest based data between players and worlds, we bridge the different virtual worlds, for an accessible extended reality and smooth user experience within and across virtual spaces.  

One of the flagship purposes of Web 3.0 is its ability to disintermediate third party data brokers, so that we are no longer beholden to the algorithms of the tech behemoths. Blockchain technology which allows digital assets to be owned and controlled by the individual can also be thanked for enabling a more equal system of ownership. Placing this in combination with Hadean’s unparalleled infrastructure, it becomes possible to see how the path is being paved towards true interoperability, decentralisation and an open metaverse. One which will be driven by the creator economy rather than being a tool that can be monopolised by big-tech. 

Back

Subscribe to our latest blogs