Article written by Felblob…
The Virtual Blockchain World (VBW) ecosystem is a complex web of related, yet unconnected projects. Players move between games with little friction, but their identities don’t follow. VBW users exist within separate ecosystems connected by their ability to afford land. Players pack their .ETH username and their NFT art and act as virtual pioneers, forced to re-stake their claim in each game they visit. With the popular VBW’s all using Ethereum it feels awkward that the worlds do not interact much. Let’s explore what the landscape looks like today and what is being done to glue the lands together.
Art at the Heart
Art binds Decentraland, Cryptovoxels and Somnium Space. The wearables, avatars, and progress in the world do not carry over. In some cases sharing these assets would not make sense. For example, I would not expect Somnium space to start allowing users to import their Cryptovoxels wearables anytime soon. But for some assets it seems like a logical next step. Being able to share your .ETH username or simple data such as the parcels you own in other worlds would create a unified community. Larger features such as avatars from DCL imported into Somnium could also be a good fit. The possibilities for interoperability are limitless. If creating portals between the worlds in an eventuality, let’s bring our identity with us.
The fact that the main VBWs are all Ethereum based has allowed for easy verification of Ethereum based art NFTs regardless of the game. Players in each game can display their KnownOrigin, Raribles, or other ETH based art with ease. Users of other blockchains have much less connectivity; not even their art can be on display in the top metaverses. Enabling better interoperability within ETH and outside of it will turn the worlds into one vibrant multiverse.
Sorry, We’re Busy
Metaverses are too focused on their own progress to worry about connecting to other projects. The native interoperability of NFTs on their own chain is usually where their attempts to connect end. Attracting more daily users while also dealing with the intricacies of the nascent technology has them with their hands full. For an ecosystem that is about as niche as they come, the fact that each world is starting to develop independent of one another may not be the best idea.
Many find blockchain when it grabs them from their normal stream of digested content. Often a specific post or video about a project sparks their interest before they know about blockchain. They are unaware that other blockchains or projects exist and can form a bias towards that first one they interact with. This was not an issue for VBWs until recently when projects on EOS and WAX began to onboard new users. There is now a significant amount of blockchain users discovering that the VBWs do not interact with EOS or WAX. Beyond not displaying their NFTs, they also need to create new Ethereum wallets and learn how a new blockchain functions. These new users might look to solutions outside of Ethereum if the world doesn’t provide a way for them to access their non ETH assets.
Blockchain is not user friendly and the spikes and barbs of the technology stick out the more you use it. As a blockchain gamer, the friction is immediate. The high cost of entry and steep learning curve to most metaverses is not normal for most gamers. Players expect to be able to pick up a game and access most features with either the cost of the game or some amount of grinding. They deal with this friction because the technology promises provable ownership of their assets. The benefits of ownership diminish if those assets only work in one world. If the world closes, your assets might as well be gone too. Unless those assets work in every world.
Where many saw only Bitcoin, Ethereum, and altcoins, now they see a growing ecosystem of chains. On each of these chains is a unique set of games and projects capturing the attention of users. Metaverses need a focus to unite the players on boarded through these projects. Metaverse interoperability is the solution.
What is Interoperability?
Depending on who you ask you might get a different answer to “what is interoperability." It often refers to the ability to exchange and make use of information. For blockchain gamers it is transferring, duplicating or sharing data between games. In simple cases it could mean being able to display NFTs owned by one wallet across Metaverses. Interoperability allows projects to share avatars, metadata such as levels or stats, as well as wearables. Interoperability is also the means by which assets from chains like EOS will be usable inside the Ethereum VBWs. The ability for chains to mesh together is crucial and goes deeper than allowing a special frame around our ETH assets.
Somnium Space recently added a way to use the native client to control Cryptovoxels and Decentraland. This is a huge first step towards linking the VBWs. It is important because interoperability should not diminish any unique features. Somnium has created a way to control these games while still using your Somnium Space Avatar. This allows the deep VR functions in Somnium to extend beyond the game and into CV and DCL. We could see similar functionality in DCL and CV soon.
The largest trading space for NFTs, OpenSea.io, displays NFTs from one base chain, Ethereum. The issue is of course not with a marketplaces decision to focus on Ethereum. With most projects living on the ETH chain it makes business sense to focus energy there. Unfortunately with VBWs also residing on ETH, they tend to only focus on assets that display on OpenSea. This means any NFTs that do not display on the site will not display in certain worlds. It works when your audience wants to see only ETH assets, but not if your audience has interest in other chains. Reliance on third party platforms to verify assets in VBWs is an issue when scaling a project’s interoperability.
Users will always gravitate to the platform that provides them the least friction. With Ethereum gas prices spiking to incredible levels in 2020, many spend their time and money outside of ETH. Artists in particular have made an easy transition to EOS and WAX due to the lack of fees on the platforms. As art moves into collectors hands they will want to show off their wares to their friends in the VBWs. Collectors will expect that if they have a parcel it will allow them to frame their NFTs even if those NFTs are from a different chain. If Ethereum worlds don’t make an effort to support these users it is possible that a new world will emerge on one of these different chains.
Imagine OpenSea incorporates Wax and EOS assets into their marketplace. Existing users of OpenSea have ETH wallets and will expect these new assets to work in their games. Yet, these assets will need a new wallet to store them. A new wallet they cannot associate to their identities in Decentraland, Cryptovoxels, or Somnium Space. The first step for interoperability might be verifying non ETH wallets and associating them to existing VBW profiles. Displaying verified non ETH assets in frames would go a long way to welcoming non ETH users into our worlds.
Think outside the Chain
There may be a better solution than expecting each project to provide their own tooling. Focusing on integration with non blockchain platforms like VRChat could be the answer. These non blockchain based platforms have less barriers to entry and could connect worlds from many different chains. These AR and VR social platforms provide an identity that is not defined by a single chain. Players could verify their different blockchain wallets and associate them to this identity. VBWs could verify ownership of these identities and choose which data from the various wallets they can use or display in the game. This only requires a user to sign or verify that they in fact own a particular wallet and is less taxing on the development teams.
Players might end up creating identities completely separate from any game or blockchain. A social platform such as Twitter or Facebook might adopt blockchain and allow their users to associate or create wallets. This would create a situation where a user’s identity may be an abstraction of their true self. It might develop where we connect this one global identity to everything we use, including non blockchain worlds such as VRChat.
Certain Ethereum blockchain projects are being built that attack this issue head on. Enjin.io believes that the VBWs of tomorrow will interconnect into one digital reality. Their easy to use platform allows developers to create games where the assets work across the Enjin multiverse of games. They created tooling that allows developers to create blockchain versions of Minecraft items. This is a step towards being able to use blockchain to enhance every virtual economy. Enjin and projects like it could allow VBWs to create Ethereum versions of existing assets on other chains. These items would be duplicates of the existing items, but would have Enjin coin backing them to give them a base value.
Connect the Polkadots
True interoperability might mean utilizing a project dedicated to scaling and linking blockchains. One such project is Polkadot. Polkadot is a Metachain focused on cross-chains communication using parachains. One feature of these parachains is that they allow projects to duplicate or move assets from one chain to another in tandem with their counterpart, bridges. VBWs can use an ETH parachain to access assets from any other chain that also has a parachain. This will create an ecosystem where all chains and all metaverses can communicate.
Let’s Connect Soon
There are as many solutions to this problem as there are exciting projects forming on the multitude of chains. Much of the problem will dissolve as creative solutions pop up from the ether. What is certain is that teams will not stop developing and they will not stop using new blockchains. Growing our community in a way that accepts every new user and invites them to show off the assets they value is responsible. With a lot of work and some luck, we will weave one unified multiverse filled with vast and connected worlds.