The metaverse needs to embrace capitalism
As big brands flock to the next digital realm, individuals need to participate as more than just digital marks
Ever since the company formerly known as Facebook announced their name change to "Meta," big brands from Walmart to Nike have been accelerating their strategy for the Metaverse and Web3. Even actress and entrepreneur Reese Witherspoon is thinking ahead, recently tweeting, "In the (near) future, every person will have a parallel digital identity. Avatars, crypto wallets, digital goods will be the norm. Are you planning for this?"
While this potential next digital evolution may represent a tremendous money making opportunity for corporate America, where does it leave you?
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First, you may be thinking that the metaverse is a band you saw play back in the 1980s. It is not. As currently defined, it can be thought of as a series of immersive, digital worlds, or the next step in digital connectivity. The idea is that instead of the more two-dimensional interactions you currently have on the internet, you will be interacting in three-dimensional worlds, likely with the assistance of hardware, such as a virtual reality (VR) headset or something similar.
Big businesses are seeing this as a way to transform interactions and get more money from you. For example, you may enter a world built by one of the big tech companies, and have an off-the-shelf avatar to represent you as you move through the world. Where the opportunity comes is, not unlike current video and interactive games where you can make in-game purchases, these companies will want to sell you digital goods and services that supposedly enhance your digital life. Perhaps you buy your avatar designer digital sneakers to replace the off-the-shelf ones that comes standard with every avatar. Or you buy a digital high-end car to help your avatar move between digital worlds in style. Each one of those comes with a cost, and the biggest brands want to be there first to sell to you.
This may sound far-fetched, but it is a stone’s throw away from the way many people are already interacting in games and online. According to IronSource, in 2021, in-game purchases for iPhone and Android alone amounted to $79.5 billion. This opportunity was likely a rationale for Microsoft’s recently announced acquisition of gaming company Activision Blizzard as well.
In other areas of the world, people are even more entrenched in digital life. It’s not a leap to see how younger generations who are digitally native—they weren’t around before the Internet existed- would be interested in immersive digital experiences. Moreover, those who are disenfranchised with their real life may seek refuge in a world where they can escape reality and reinvent themselves.
This issue for individual access to opportunity and property rights becomes how does the average person participate in these new, parallel worlds?
If the worlds are owned by big tech, then they control the platform, its access and its rules, becoming a de facto digital government. Will you as an individual, be able to buy digital property and resell for a profit, or open a small boutique and offer goods and services (with big tech, of course, taking a cut)? Or will that opportunity be reserved for big brands and partners with significant money and clout?
Once you "own" something digital, do you really own it? Can you port it to another digital world? If you get kicked off a platform for any perceived violation by its big tech ownership, will you be forced to sell or even forfeit your digital goods? Do you really own anything or are you living in a licensable world where you, once again, are the product?
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Or perhaps, you are not invited to even participate at all and since a private enterprise is the gateway, there is nothing you can do.
Certainly, there are decentralization efforts that underly the Web3 evolution, including various cryptocurrencies and open-sourced digital platforms. However, it remains to be seen if those efforts will be able to be a force against big tech companies and their allies that have a lot of cash and a lot of clout.
In a time when the World Economic Forum’s The Great Reset plan is touting, "you will own nothing and be happy," when we have endured a historic wealth transfer from Main Street to the already wealthy, and technology is becoming the self-appointed arbiter of "truth" speech and access, it is critical that individuals be proactive in thinking through the implications of the upcoming trends and demanding appropriate access to participate.
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The best outcome is a capitalistic one; one where everyone, not just those with scale and money, can participate in the wealth creation opportunities of the metaverse and Web3. This also means that individuals can make money in these new worlds if they choose, not just be a source from which big companies siphon money. This means thinking through property rights, access and other digital rights as technology and the world evolves.
If we don’t each start demanding to be a part of what’s coming, you may end up being a subject of a big tech kingdom or find yourself a digital outcast.