User’s Guide to the Metaverse
“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” — Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
by Duane King, Executive Creative Director at Jam3
At 6:15am I awake to the sensation of my haptic shirt alarm that gently hugs me from sleep. I pop on my headset and my digital closet appears in front of me. I pull on my virtual divine robe from The Fabricant × Loot Project in iridescence over my JCrew tee and APC raw denim because it goes with my new RTFKT sneakers.
As I do the robe glows and pulses. The subtle loop keeps pace with my rising heart rate. The light show tells me that my coffee is helping. The combination of garments reveals a hidden unlock and now the footsteps from my RTFKT leave rainbow sparkles as I begin my digital day in the metaverse.
Right to Own / Write Your Own
The internet was born in the 1980s and with it, Web1. Personal computers were still in their infancy and documents remained like their physical counterparts, static and read-only. Paper turned electronic. Print migrated online and with it so did its professional writers and journalists.The gatekeeping between consumers and creators was held as published and information remained in the hands of traditional sources.
Web2 is the internet we know today. Now consumers are content publishers too. It is an internet dominated by centralized and siloed platforms that own and monetize personal data in exchange for access to their networks. We’ve grown more connected to each other via siloed services. And we’ve become more disconnected from reality as physical and digital worlds blur into one.
This is the internet of the near future. Web3 refers to decentralized apps (dApps) that run on the blockchain and allow anyone to participate without monetizing their personal data. Ownership becomes the cornerstone as data, content, and assets remain in full control of the participants. The net result is both a sea change in infrastructure as well as a shift in internet culture.
Slowly, Then All at Once
Before the invention of the iPod, there was the late 1980s creation of the mp3. In 2001, Apple released the iPod and then in 2003, the iTunes Store began selling mp3s for 99¢. At the time, mp3s were unheard of. The introduction of digital ownership was groundbreaking.
In 2009, the Bitcoin network was introduced, unlocking the principles of Web3. Cultural pioneers are now exploring new possibilities within this Read-Write-Own internet. For the most part, this new web is unlocked with the creation of a crypto wallet such as MetaMask or Rainbow. Having a wallet allows users to participate in decentralized apps through connections that allow them to interact and conduct transactions. The crypto wallet serves as passport, ledger, and digital collection.
The pandemic has accelerated digital change, impacting almost every aspect of our lives. WFH brings new needs and new ways to relate to each other, from how we communicate to how we express ourselves with fashion. And the mainstreaming of cryptocurrency is a big deal for the world of finance. Ownership is being transformed.
At the surface, this digital / physical metaphor seems to be the obvious opportunity. For every physical item there might be a digital equivalent that lives on the blockchain. In reality, the mp3 displaces the vinyl. Digital becomes more desirable than the physical and that desire drives value pushing the digital value above that of the physical.
The Metaverse Enters the Chat
What is the metaverse? Coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash, the metaverse refers to an immersive digital environment where people interact as avatars via augmented reality tech. Companies like Facebook are betting their future on it. Which is good. The metaverse can’t exist without standardized frameworks.
Where is this metaverse? Crypto kids are building it as we speak. Digital artists have already been cashing in on it. And gamers have been living in it for years. Digital avatars originated in video games that allowed you to select your character, wardrobe, and weapons. The metaverse hit a new zenith with (MMOG) massively multiplayer online games such as SecondLife, Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite: Battle Royale.
Fortnite introduced buyable skins, weapons, and other exclusive items to wear into battle within the multiplayer universe. Your avatar becomes an extension of self as your digital closet grows.
In 2020, Travis Scott live streamed a virtual concert to an audience of 12 million within the Fortnite metaverse. Freed of physics, the performance included a skyscraper-sized version of Scott whose avatar morphed into a cyborg and a fluorescent spaceman that teleported across the landscape. The impossible becomes possible in the metaverse.
Digital and physical boundaries become a meta blur. Recently, the French fashion house Balenciaga displayed its Fall 2021 collection as a video game. And now, Balenciaga and Epic Games have announced a partnership that spans both physical and digital realms as part of an ongoing effort to revolutionize the fashion metaverse.
Stay In, Go Out
COVID has accelerated digital transformation and with it, the need to socialize and create culture remotely which pushes out the boundaries of gaming and the metaverse. Humans transform via digital affordances that mirror and even amplify their IRL personalities.
We can shop real world products in digital worlds. Jam3 recently built ComplexLand, a first-of-its-kind virtual destination that combined gaming, fashion, and shopping in a universally accessible experience on all platforms using WebGL. With their own customizable digital avatars, users could wander the metaverse and access exclusive music performance and product drops from their favorite brands and artists. 10,000 items with a value of over $1M USD sold in just 5 days.
VRChat is a free massively multiplayer online social media platform that allows users to interact as 3D avatars. Players with virtual reality consoles and headsets can have avatars that support audio lip sync, eye-tracking, blinks, and a full range of motion. And for those without headsets like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, there is a desktop version of the game with limited functionality for the avatars. That said, desktop players can still interact with other players and customize their avatar.
VRChat Raves were born when gamers decided to use VRChat technology to recreate the live music events that they had been missing due to the pandemic. A fascinating range of clubs like SHELTER, LONER Online, GHOSTCLUB, and OM3op popped up, each having its own distinct character and personality. Live events begin when the VR club ‘opens’ 30 minutes prior to start with an instant as push notifications hit the device of your choice. Ready, Player 1. Tune in. Game on.
Wearing 1s and 0s
The bridge between the digital and physical was crossed in 2019, when Louis Vuitton released a capsule collection for Riot Games Inc.’s League of Legends. And already digital fashion houses are leading the fashion industry towards a new sector of digital-only clothing. Recently, a digital version of Gucci’s Dionysus bag sold on Roblox for around $4,115. More than the physical purse. The sale of ‘Iridescence’ dress by The Fabricant was a landmark moment in digital-only couture fetching $9,500. The new owner of the dress commented, “It would be amazing to wear the outfit on TikTok to express yourself in these apps and have an extra special layer to use.”
Vogue Singapore’s September 2021 print cover is a QR code which, when scanned, reveals animated digital covers that were minted and auctioned as NFTs. Within the issue 15 commissioned NFTs were for sale, including a featured dress by The Fabricant alongside a flaming dress designed by Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing. Other digital fashion houses like Auroboros and RTFKT are following suit with physics-defying virtual fashion collections of their own. The impossible is profitable.
Loot Project is an Ethereum-based NFT project that was launched by Dom Hofmann, co-founder of Vine. Loot NFTs are simple text-based lists of fictional fantasy adventurer gear that are now selling for upwards of $1M. That is correct. A list of items, sans artwork. $1M. No stats to compare item quality. No game rules to inform or power any stats.
From the Loot FAQ:
“Loot is unique — the first project of its kind. With no company, art, team, or attributes, Loot makes it impossible to gate-keep any creative decisions (h/t @john_c_palmer).
Loot is the unfiltered, uncensorable building block for stories, experiences, games, and more, in the hands of the community, at no cost. Loot pursues complete decentralization from day one.”
And then something extraordinary happened. Loot inspired the imaginations of everyone. Communities popped up and began to build atop these lists filling in all the missing pieces, from artwork to guilds to the rules of the game. As it turns out, Loot is an invitation to participate in world-building. It is NFT improv. People spend real money to get digital lists. And Loot currently has a trading volume of over $150M USD.
Check Yourself, Express Yourself
To get into crypto, you must prove who you are by checking your ID at this metaverse door. Connecting your digital wallet to dApps and unlocking the crypto underground is as simple as installing an app like Rainbow or MetaMask on your phone.
Editor’s note: Not all wallets are created equal. Expressive apps such as Rainbow let you feature your NFT gallery making your digital closet portable.
Your browser becomes a personal key with Chrome extensions such as MetaMask or Temple Wallet. To shop, simply fill your wallet with the tokens of your choice with a cryptocurrency exchange such as Coinbase or Kraken in exchange for cash.
To shop, you visit NFT marketplaces. To give you an example of range, OpenSea is the largest of them which makes it the Amazon or eBay of NFTs. It has a big audience and is based on the well-known blockchain ethereum. Hic Et Nunc is more like a punk rock record shop — and therefore the audience is smaller too. It is based on a lesser known but eco-friendly blockchain called tezos. It is a bewildering landscape that is currently full of confusing terms and inhumane UI/UX.
As you can see from this spreadsheet by Tech Optimist there are already many options for NFTs to consider. Each time the smoke clears, new leaders emerge from the haze. And the crypto fires have only just begun to burn.
The internet. You’re on it now. Things move fast around here. So fast, that it is different now than it was when you got here. But even amongst all this change, the one thing that is abundantly clear is that the Read-Write-Own internet is here to stay. Power to the people. It continues to shift into the hands of creators. Keep your eyes on the crypto kids, digital artists, and web pioneers who aren’t afraid to discover new possibilities within technology. Web3 is an opportunity to fix what is broken about the internet while forging new relationships between digital and physical spaces, things, concepts, and brands. Don’t sleep, brands. This is an opportunity to shine.
Bravery is an aesthetic. We practice it every day. Jam3 was born from digital change and the relentless pursuit of better. We are the architects of tomorrow’s experiences. Give us a call, or shoot us an email (apologies if those technologies sound outdated in this context). We can help your brand find its way to rainbow sparkles of your own.