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Internet 2021— The Metaverse — Internet of 3D Virtual Worlds project video thumbnail
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SEK 67,795 pledged of SEK 6,500,000 goal
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By Kim Nevelsteen
SEK 67,795 pledged of SEK 6,500,000 goal
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About this project

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If you have seen the main Kickstarter movie it is safe to skip this Introduction. 

Already in 1995, the movie Johnny Mnemonic visualized the Internet of 2021 as spectacular 3D virtual world, rather than a bunch of web pages. In 1992, author Neal Stephenson, in the book “Snow Crash”, introduced the Metaverse concept, which can be defined as: a system of interconnected worlds, typically user-generated, and all accessible through a single user interface [Frey et al., 2008]. We still haven’t even gotten close to achieving such a massively connected virtual world. Initial attempts at creating the Metaverse usually concentrated on achieving some level of realism, allowing users to chat and interact, but all work on the Metaverse seemed to have stagnated in 2009. Developers seemed to have had the utopian dream that everyone was going to be using their one and only platform. Many of the worlds were built like walled gardens, to lock customers. After the successful Kickstarter campaign of Oculus Rift in 2012, there is now a massive amount of focus on Virtual Reality experiences. This is great momentum, but unfortunately, still nobody is talking about interconnecting worlds. They are all just isolated experiences.

The proposal in this Kickstarter, is a project that runs exactly 3 years. A small team of highly skilled and highly motivated individuals, building the technology needed to interconnect existing virtual worlds. And, after the 3 years, all project work for interconnecting worlds will be released to the general public in the form of open source. This Kickstarter, is to gather together those people who are interested in influencing the development process, beta testing and receiving early releases. The various rewards offer various levels of influence and participation.

In their publication, authors Dionisio, Burns III, and Gilbert [2013] provide a thorough overview of the Metaverse state-of-the-art and its history. Their publication identifies four pillars for a ‘viable Metaverse’: Realism, Ubiquity, Interoperability and Scalability.

  • Realism is a question as to whether the user feels “psychologically and emotionally immersed in the alternative realm”;
  • Ubiquity means the Metaverse is accessible through all existing digital device and that the user’s identity remains intact when transitioning between devices;
  • Interoperability concerns itself with the interconnection of virtual worlds e.g., can digital items be exchanged between worlds;
  • and, Scalability means that the Metaverse architecture is sufficient to enable a massive number of users to occupy the Metaverse.

Related to research on the Metaverse is that of ‘multicloud’ research, involving the interoperability of various cloud services [Singhal et al., 2013] and the hybridization of cloud and peer-to-peer architectures [Yahyavi & Kemme, 2013].

At least four major obstacles can be identified that keep the Metaverse from happening:

Hard to Monetize

Similar to the Internet, a system of interconnected virtual worlds is really hard to monetize; once the Internet existed, it was easy to monetize things like access to the Internet and Internet services, but the Internet had to first exist. In the words of Philip Rosedale, former CEO of Second Life, “there are sometimes great ideas, which don’t get built for a long time because nobody can finance them or come up with a way to make money on them” [Rosedale, 2009]. This is a major reason to run a Kickstarter campaign, looking towards people like you, for support in making the Internet of 3D Virtual Worlds happen.

Proprietary = Lack of Freedom

A reason it is hard to monetize the Metaverse itself is that the Internet of 3D Virtual Worlds needs to be non-proprietary. Singhal et al. [2013] clearly state that it is in a companies’ best interest to lock clients into their platform, which is precisely a contradiction to the concept of the Internet i.e., you want to lure customers to your website, but locking them there would be considered malware by today’s standards. In 2008, the then VP of Systems Engineering at Second Life, Ian Wilkes, recognized this, stating “we recognize that Second Life [a proprietary Metaverse] cannot truly succeed as long as one company controls the grid, so we must work toward opening the platform” [Wilkes, 2008]. If the Metaverse is a proprietary platform, that means for someone wanting to do something new (that doesn't perfectly fit into the prescribed platform) they basically have to ask permission and/or possibly pay a fee to implement it. A proprietary Metaverse is problematic for companies that want to post their own proprietary content in the Metaverse, but not lose control of their own data i.e., each individual virtual world can be proprietary and monetized, but the Metaverse framework that determines the shared Metaverse infrastructure needs to be non-proprietary. Not to mention that it is unthinkable for one company to maintain the infrastructure for the entire Internet: Philip Rosedale corroborated this by his statement that, “there is just such an onslaught of things people want us to do and fix [on Second Life]” [Rosedale, 2009].

Lack of Critical Mass

Even if there was already a truly remarkable implementation for the Internet of 3D Virtual Worlds, if it isn’t accepted by mainstream public, then the Metaverse will remain a fantasy. Examples of mainstream virtual worlds that should be a part of the Metaverse are: World of Warcraft and Minecraft!

Premature Focus on Realism

Out of the four pillars described by Dionisio et al. [2013], many companies attempting to build the Metaverse have been concentrating on Realism. This has led to lots of virtual worlds that essentially all look the same. Companies have not been focusing on scalability and interoperability, ensuring that the shared infrastructure for the Metaverse comes into existence. Which is exactly the point of this Kickstarter!

The aim of this Kickstarter is to overcome the first two obstacles in the problem statement, monetization and proprietary control; this means gathering those individuals who are interested in making the Metaverse happen and having the funding to build the framework to interconnect worlds. The framework needs to be open and proprietary so that companies can easily setup a (possibly proprietary) virtual world (if they don’t already have one) and add it to the Metaverse. A growing Metaverse framework will foster ideas for others to monetize new services through an existing shared Metaverse infrastructure.

A promising way of tackling the problem of critical mass, is by piggybacking on the success of existing virtual worlds. On February 25, 2014, for example, Minecraft reached 100 million registered users [Wikipedia.org, 2015, Minecraft] and “for more than 20 years the Doom community has been one of the most active and creative in gaming” [Push Square, 2015]. Just interconnecting individual instances of those two games would be an amazing success. Not to mention what large corporations like Blizzard and Wargaming.net could provide if the Metaverse infrastructure was made interesting for them. By dropping the notion that the Metaverse should be a homogeneous graphical 3D chat channel and concentrating on interconnecting virtual worlds, it should be possible to obtain critical mass.

Doomcraft? Nether portal to Doom3 in Minecraft.
Doomcraft? Nether portal to Doom3 in Minecraft.

A project called BlueMars [Wikipedia.org, 2015, Blue Mars (video game)] was an attempt to implement a Metaverse with high-end graphics for Realism. Unfortunately, the project stagnated and has been reduced to a 3D virtual world chat channel, rather than a Metaverse. This brings us to the last problem, realism versus scalability and interoperability. In order to tackle this problem, realism and ubiquity are enhancements that must evolve over time after an existing shared Metaverse infrastructure exists. If the Metaverse is to support a massive amount of users with a ``potentially quadratic’' [Yahyavi & Kemme, 2013] number of interactions, the focus of building a Metaverse must be on scalability first, followed by interoperability so that virtual worlds can actually be interconnected to form the Metaverse. Otherwise, all Metaverse implementations will remain isolated virtual worlds.

This Kickstarter will provide the resources for a small highly skilled team to develop the advances needed for existing virtual worlds to interconnect. This means architecting a framework for a Metaverse infrastructure that allows for scalability and developing tactics for interoperability. This Kickstarter will enable research and development towards an open and non-proprietary framework for a shared Metaverse infrastructure, that can be used by private persons and companies alike to offer services. Individual virtual worlds can be proprietary and closed, but the mechanism by which they interconnect (the Metaverse framework) must be open.

Several colleagues and I, have been following Metaverse developments and discussing a possible architecture for over 10 years now, but we assumed that with Second Life and There.com in the market space in 2004 (and later other companies), the Metaverse would have already come into existence. We assumed wrong, and so it is time to make a push of our own! 

Our team currently exists of a senior systems architect, a graphics guru and myself, concentrating on research and development, and coordination of the project. Depending on the success of this Kickstarter, more will be added to the team. This is a highly ambitious project and so the funding goal has been set appropriately; all funds will go into the research and development of Metaverse technologies that will end up in the community in the form of open source. 

 To summarize the above...

  • previous Metaverse attempts have all ended in isolated virtual worlds;
  • together with the Virtual Reality movement, it is time work on a shared Metaverse transforming the Internet into a system of interconnected virtual worlds;
  • realizing the Metaverse depends on the fours pillars of: Realism, Ubiquity, Interoperability and Scalability;
  • problems that keep a Metaverse from existing are: monetization, proprietary control, lack of critical mass, and the premature focus on realism rather than interoperability and scalability;
  • this Kickstarter solves the problems of monetization and non-proprietary control; piggybacking on the success of existing virtual worlds solves the problem of critical mass, and we plan to focus properly on scalability and interoperability first, rather than realism;
  • this Kickstarter provides the resources for a small highly skilled team to research and development towards a framework for an open and non-proprietary shared Metaverse infrastructure;
  • our team currently exists of a senior systems architect, a graphics guru and myself for R&D, with more added depending on the success of this Kickstarter.

Releases could be in the form of a new client or browser to surf the 3D Internet, plugins for existing worlds (e.g., Minecraft), different frameworks SDKs, protocols, etc... Three levels of participation, towards the development process, are offered as rewards: alpha, beta and “backer only” releases. Alpha release are designed for those you are interested in influencing and tightly following the development process. Beta releases are for those who aren’t necessarily interested in development, but would like to help us test the technology, being among the first to try the technology. Backer releases will be semi-stable releases that are easy to install and execute.

Of course, to be able to test our technology, we shall have to create a virtual world of our own, creating one piece of the Metaverse; think of this as our default landing space. Our world will be divided into 2 different areas:

Residential Area

A residential area will be created with various plots of space that can be owned. The pledge amount will determine the precedence of choice for the various plots of space; the higher the pledge amount, the higher the precedence. Backers within the same pledge reward tier will be on a “first come, first served” basis.

Commercial Area

A special commercial area will be created where businesses can reside to provide services to visitors of the virtual world. Remember, this is the Metaverse (and not Second Life), these spaces can lead to servers that are controlled by your company! Plots will be on a “first come, first served” basis.

And finally, the point of this Kickstarter is to gather those people who are interested in creating a scalable Metaverse. To promote this, at: 

  •  7.5m SEK, we shall be organizing a developers conference related specifically to a scalable Metaverse, differentiating from conferences dedicated to creating interesting virtual or augmented reality experiences.

Acknowledgements

A special thank you to Björn Falkevik for his help and expertise with the videos. Thanks go to Grfx Martin for his tips on OpenGL; Joel Norman for his old school Doom playing skills; Jim Wilenius for his support and reviewing; and Tim Kaelen for his attention to the audio on such short notice.

Sources for main video:

Johnny Mnemonic [TriStar Pictures, 1995], Guild Wars 2 [ArenaNet/NCSOFT, 2012], World of Warcraft [Blizzard Entertainment, 2004], Active Worlds [ActiveworldsEurope, 2009], There.com [VirtualVikki, 2013], Google Lively [AmiBeattie, 2008], OpenSim [Pia Klaar, 2009], Blue Mars [ebiichimayo, 2009], Second Life [2011], High Fidelity [Shipwreck Studio, 2014], COLLIDER [Funktronic Labs, 2014], Dysco [Russell, 2014], Minecraft [WesterosCraft, 2015], No Man’s Sky [IGN, 2015], Project Spark [Xbox, 2014], Doom [Push Square, 2015].

REFERENCES

Risks and challenges

There is no failure in this project, because all funding goes to research and development, and all research and development goes to the community in the form of open source. There are, however, risks and challenges.

The Metaverse concept is a HUGE endeavor. The sum (potentially) raised by this Kickstarter is only enough to operate a small team for the entire 3 years, so it is possible we will not have the resources to tackle all the hard problems we would like to. Aside from scalability and interoperability, there are serious problems to be faced in the areas of:
– consistency: users of the shared Metaverse see the same content
– persistence: the Metaverse is resistant to server down times
– security and privacy
– and more ...

Building the Metaverse is both a social and technical problem. To interconnect worlds, a minimum amount of technology must be adopted by existing companies and so companies must be willing to collaborate. It is our job to make sure that there is enough incentive for companies to want to interconnect. Although there is no failure in the research and development of the technology, if we fail to provide the incentive to interconnect, we might also fail to achieve critical mass. In such a case, we can only hope that the results of our labor will lead to future developments in the form of open source.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge SEK 50 or more About $6

    – get a special forum badge/avatar label: SUPPORTER
    – get access to ``backer only'' updates
    – our gratitude by visibly displaying your backer name on the web and in our virtual world

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    Pledge SEK 250 or more About $30

    EARLY BACKER
    – get a copy of our Metaverse software, ``backer only'' releases: connect to the Metaverse; or, setup your own virtual server to add to the Metaverse
    – get a special forum badge/avatar label: BACKER
    – get access to ``backer only'' updates
    – our gratitude by visibly displaying your backer name on the web and in our virtual world

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    Pledge SEK 350 or more About $41

    – get a copy of our Metaverse software, get ``backer only'' releases: connect to the Metaverse; or, setup your own virtual server to add to the Metaverse
    – get a special forum badge/avatar label: BACKER
    – get access to ``backer only'' updates
    – our gratitude by visibly displaying your backer name on the web and in our virtual world

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    Pledge SEK 600 or more About $71

    EARLY BETA TESTER
    – get a copy of our Metaverse software, get beta releases: connect to the Metaverse; or, setup your own virtual server to add to the Metaverse
    – join in beta testing
    – get a special forum badge/avatar label: BETA TESTER
    – get access to ``backer only'' updates
    – our gratitude by visibly displaying your backer name on the web and in our virtual world

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  5. Select this reward

    Pledge SEK 800 or more About $95

    – get a copy of our Metaverse software, get beta releases: connect to the Metaverse; or, setup your own virtual server to add to the Metaverse
    – join in beta testing
    – get a special forum badge/avatar label: BETA TESTER
    – get access to ``backer only'' updates
    – our gratitude by visibly displaying your backer name on the web and in our virtual world

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  6. Select this reward

    Pledge SEK 1,200 or more About $142

    – own real estate in the residential area: 3rd_precedence, ``first come, first served'' within this reward tier: Virtual real estate plots will be for a 5-year contract, with an option to renew, subject to the success of the project
    – get a special forum badge/avatar label: RESIDENT
    – get access to ``backer only'' updates
    – our gratitude by visibly displaying your backer name on the web and in our virtual world

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    Pledge SEK 3,500 or more About $413

    EARLY ALPHA DEVELOPER
    – get a copy of our Metaverse software, get alpha releases: connect to the Metaverse; or, setup your own virtual server to add to the Metaverse
    – access to source code
    – get access to the developer forum
    – get a special forum badge/avatar label: ALPHA DEVELOPER
    – get access to ``backer only'' updates
    – our gratitude by visibly displaying your backer name on the web and in our virtual world

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    Pledge SEK 4,500 or more About $532

    – get a copy of our Metaverse software, get alpha releases: connect to the Metaverse; or, setup your own virtual server to add to the Metaverse
    – access to source code
    – get access to the developer forum
    – get a special forum badge/avatar label: ALPHA DEVELOPER
    – get access to ``backer only'' updates
    – our gratitude by visibly displaying your backer name on the web and in our virtual world

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    Pledge SEK 7,500 or more About $886

    – own real estate in the residential area: 2nd_PRECEDENCE, ``first come, first served'' within this reward tier: Virtual real estate plots will be for a 5-year contract, with an option to renew, subject to the success of the project
    – get a special forum badge/avatar label: SILVER RESIDENT
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    Pledge SEK 22,000 or more About $2,599

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    – get a special forum badge/avatar label: GOLD RESIDENT
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    Pledge SEK 50,000 or more About $5,907

    – own real estate in the commercial area: ``first come, first served'' within this reward tier: Virtual real estate plots will be for a 5-year contract, with an option to renew, subject to the success of the project
    – get a special forum badge/avatar label: COMMERCIAL SPONSOR
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Funding period

- (30 days)