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I think the blockchain people really like getting together for parties. Their latest excuse is The Open Metaverse Alliance, which came into being last month, backed by Web3 companies who want to solve interoperability challenges for the metaverse.
Those companies are concerned that a single powerful company could dominate the metaverse and make everyone use a closed system, as we have seen in different generations of technology over the years. But as the One Ring of platforms, the metaverse should not be under the control of the Dark Lord.
And while I’m being facetious about it, I think the Web3 companies are doing the necessary work to ensure that the metaverse remains open. The member companies include Decentraland, Dapper Labs, Space, Superwold, The Sandbox, Alien Worlds, Yuga Labs, Upland, Metametaverse, SuperWorld, Voxels, Decentral Games, Animoca Brands, and more.
Named “Open Metaverse Alliance of Web3,” or OMA3, the team aims to address interoperability challenges within the metaverse by creating uniform standards for blockchain gaming so that users will be able to take the digital items that they own from one world to another in the metaverse, the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One.
The companies that want to create the open metaverse have already formed a separate umbrella group, the Metaverse Standards Forum, which we wrote about at its onset.
OMA3 intends to join the recently announced Metaverse Standards Forum to participate in and contribute to the general standardization work of this broader group as well as other standards groups that are working on relevant topics for the metaverse. But perhaps it is an interesting sign to see the Web3 companies, which are advocates for decentralization, form their own subgroup alliance. After all, some of the opponents of Web3 might very well see blockchain as a detour from the metaverse, not an onramp.
Whatever the motivation, the Open Metaverse Alliance aims to work with the other bodies in coming up with the right standards and technologies for interoperability. OMA3 will be established as a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) to ensure a governance system that is transparent and user-centric.
OMA3 will focus its efforts on opportunities and challenges that arise specifically from metaverse blockchain-related topics such as standards for non-fungible tokens (NFTs), protocols, transferable identity, portals between virtual worlds, mapping, and indexing. OMA3 invites all blockchain-based metaverse platform creators to join.
To understand the implications of the alliance and its motivations, I talked with co-creators including Alien Worlds CEO Saro McKenna, The Sandbox COO Sebastien Borget, and Upland co-CEO Dirk Lueth.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: How did this come about? What has your involvement been as far as hearing about it and deciding that you wanted to do this alliance?
Dirk Lueth: I don’t want to go too far back, but when I originally started with all the blockchain stuff, I always had the vision that people would have their own assets and be able to take them anywhere in any game and so on. Saro, Sebastian, and I were on a panel together. Before we went live we were chatting and I said that we had to do something together. We wanted to get this started. We had some video calls to talk about how we could get everyone together. Then there was NFT NYC early in June. We did some pre-discussions about what we could set up, and at the conference we had everyone in the same room: Decentraland, Dapper Labs, Alien Worlds, everyone was there, the originals of the blockchain gaming world, the metaverse world, plus some newer people.
We needed to define our principles. We did some work on the side between NFT NYC and today. We created the website with the first principles. Then we had the conference in Paris where Saro, Batis Samadian from Space, and Sebastian were on stage announcing what we want to do. This is early, because we haven’t even formed yet as a legal entity, although we want to do that. We put up the website. We did a bit more press work. We sent it out over the wires. The feedback so far is amazing. We now have 560 people who have registered who are interested in joining the Open Metaverse Alliance for Web3, or OMAW3 for short.
GamesBeat: Is there a certain number of companies?
Saro McKenna: If you go to the website you see the core founding members in a certain sense. But now we have all these other companies joining. We’re just getting started. It’s very early days. Those 560 are primarily companies, though, not primarily individuals.
GamesBeat: One interesting thing that developed recently was the Khronos Group leading their metaverse standards group. Do you want to connect to that at some point, be part of that as a sub-group or something like that?
Lueth: We’ve already spoken with them, of course. It’s a parallel effort. Even before they announced we had seen the deck. They had not reached out to the Web3 companies per se. We reached out to them proactively to say that we were interested. Currently the way we think, we’re going to create a working group for delegation on our side. We have a few things we’re interested in that are not interesting for them. But on the other end, we want to join them, because a lot of things they’re doing are also relevant to us, things like file format standardization, which are blockchain-independent.
Sebastian Borget: A few things I wanted to add to the context Dirk has provided. The moment we chose to announce OMAW3’s creation, even though we had already had a few meetings among ourselves, it was the Metaverse Summit in Paris. It’s a conference that was already blending Web 2.0 and Web3 actors on stage. That was significant. We were on stage with Saro, myself, a few other Web3 companies, and Yingjie Yuan, the organizer of the conference. Sandbox was a core organizer as well.
The second thing that’s important is we want to have more of a joint voice representing the maturity of the Web3 companies that are part of OMAW3 into the Metaverse Standards Forum and the Khronos Group, rather than each one of us having an individual voice and bringing more confusion than pushing for real impact.
McKenna: The reason why that’s important, to coordinate between us and then also have a voice into MSF and in general to the world, is because of how different the user-owned metaverse we’re all building is from platforms that are owned and managed centrally, like has traditionally always been the case. The classical way of building a technical platform is that a company builds a proprietary platform. Users engage with that according to the rules set out by the owners and creators of that platform. Users have very little power to define their ownership of what’s happening in that system, their identity, and any of the rules of engagement.
What we’re building through the tokenized metaverse, we’re building systems that are co-owned by the founders and the users. Because that’s a fairly radical departure from what’s existed before, it makes sense for us all to combine between us. First, to align on principles, because that’s what underpins any of the standardization or anything else we collaborate on. We’re defining these principles, and then we go out in the world in a joint way, whether that’s to MSF or to anyone else who has an interest in understanding what the user-owned metaverse is, what this Web3 technology is, to regulators eventually, to generalists — it’s important, because what we’re building is quite different from what’s come before, that we’re able to present a united front, to help people understand, and then to build on top of that technology.
Borget: When you look at the MSF, it’s the large companies. It’s Adobe, Microsoft, Meta of course, Roblox, and so on. Each of us, individually, we’re too small to matter from their perspective, even though some of them — Epic, for example — have reached out for us. They’ve been more open. But it gives us more weight and more recognition. We believe that over the next decade we can shape the metaverse, and we should have a seat at the table for setting standards.
GamesBeat: Do you believe that Web3 is an essential part of the metaverse, as far as being the onramp for the metaverse? Are there specific technologies here that Web3 enables that the metaverse has to have?
Lueth: Maybe just one step back. First of all, we’re doing this paradigm shift, away from platform-centric to being user-centric. When users are in control of their assets, we believe the metaverse will flourish, because when you own stuff, you take care of it. You’re able to sell it again, so people become much more creative. Obviously, we want the metaverse to be a creative place. It’s very important that companies do not control it. We’re a very young industry, a young technology at the moment, but our vision is that in five or 10 years, everything in the metaverse will most likely be that. It’s just a superior model compared to going without it.
McKenna: The principles we’ve defined as OMAW3 are that the metaverse is a place in which peer to peer interactions are happening between participants. That requires a blockchain construction at this time. It’s possible that in the future there would be some kind of other technology that allows genuinely peer to peer, as there has been in the past. But currently, in order for people to come together as co-owners to transact and share each other without going through a centralized platform that can mediate their engagement with each other, and can also stipulate how that engagement happens — for us, the metaverse really is built on blockchain.
GamesBeat: That coexistence of Web 2.0 and Web3 has to happen, then.
Lueth: It’s like when you look at traditional media. Radio never went away. We still have radio. We still have TV today, even though people also spend their time elsewhere. It’s going to be like that. There will be reasons why people want to go back to a walled garden and do that. But they’ll also want to go to other worlds and use their assets again.
The example I always use, you have a car in Upland, and you want to take that car to Alien Worlds or to Sandbox. If you need to buy a new car everywhere — in the real world, if I travel to Canada, it’s not like I need to buy a new car at the border. That’s the way we’re thinking about it now.
Borget: One key principle, I would say, is around the notion of identity. There is technology, blockchain, that matters there. We don’t want to just see a set of APIs defined by giant companies that agree to a standard that tries to replicate the protocol of the blockchain and the standard by which NFTs are defined. Now, we’re not discussing anything related to value or to price. It’s about ID. There is a technology in place, and an opportunity for all actors to embrace a transparent and public ledger that cannot be altered by any single party. We don’t need to try to replicate that. Once you’ve established that, blockchain is a better technology for exchanging files and assets.
Overall, identity matters. We want to go beyond just representing assets from one world to another. We want to push for a vision of the metaverse as a place where you can really be yourself, carrying all your progression, your history, and your reputation all over different places, without having to reproduce that again, to play over and over again, and so on. To achieve that, we need to set the principles today for the interoperability of your avatar, of your progression, of your reputation and so on.
McKenna: This question of whether there will be a coexistence of Web 2.0 and Web3 builders in the metaverse, it’s exactly what Dirk said before. There’s a platform-centric view, and then we’re moving into a user-centric view. Users are into that, most important. Once people have an expectation of all these things Sebastian just talked about — porting your reputation, your history, and owning that — it’s very difficult to deny that to people again. Because the technology allows for those things, it’s hard not to imagine that it will eventually become the dominant model.
As Dirk mentioned earlier, one reason why we back peer-to-peer and user-owned platform models is because people feel more incentivized. They build a system together. That’s why this is a radical departure from a centralized, privately owned platform model, and why it’s disruptive and capable of unleashing so much value. But that’s not to say there’s not a role for private enterprise and companies. That’s also a good way of people coming together and building things.
Just having a ton of actors all over the place trying to build discrete things is not necessarily the most efficient way of doing things either. There’s certainly a role for companies, even in user-owned metaverses. It’s just that they might not be in control of the platform and capturing all of the value at that level or defining the rules of engagement. There’s certainly a role for companies to build content, to build games, to build messaging applications, to build a lot of the features and the ways we’ll live our lives in the metaverse in the future. They just won’t have a preferential place as the owners of the platform. That’s a new business model for publishers of content, and something they’re having to figure out a business model around.
GamesBeat: Are there some small things that companies have already done to show this interoperability? Things that could develop into standards?
Lueth: There’s the identity piece, but of course it’s a little easier to look at the asset piece. There are bridges that have been developed. Upland has developed what’s called the NFT Portal. We have one project where people can import their digital items into Upland. We’re going to launch this NFT Portal where people can import any NFT from other blockchains, and also export them in the future. That’s one thing. But we have to work all together.
Going back to the example of the car, if your car gets damaged in Upland and you want to use it over in Sandbox or Alien Worlds, we have to tell Sandbox, “Hey, this car has this damage. You have to take that characteristic and apply that in your world.” That’s why we’re probably also going to start on some bilateral partnerships. We’re trying to figure that out and build development standards from there. That’s probably a good way of going about it. We’ll have some concrete examples.
Borget: With asset file formats, I think we’re heading toward a standardization around GLTF and certain 3D file formats that also include the capacity to represent 3D scenes in the same way across different virtual worlds. They can work in both Web 2.0 and Web3, because they’re really independent of that tech. That’s the first step. We can go beyond that step as part of web 3 and the Metaverse Forum and think about, one, how we can take any digital asset and represent it differently. In Sandbox, we already do that. We can take a 2D picture and represent that into 3D characters. We’ve done that with many popular NFT collections, typically, but we’re happy to move further with both centralized and decentralized content. We’ll let you play with your assets no matter where they were created originally.
The second thing we need to start thinking about is the actual understanding of what a 3D asset is in the metaverse. We need some sort of metadata descriptor or ontology to define that. This is an avatar. This is a character. This is a building. This is a vehicle. A set of attributes — speed, attack, defense, level, and so on. Each of these applications, centralized or decentralized, can choose what interpretation they want to give to it. But at least we’ll all speak the same language. An avatar is an avatar with certain wearable equipment and so on. If we don’t use the same language to describe it, how can we start building a smarter understanding of what is represented and what can be done with it? Including new applications that we’re not yet familiar with. If a new game is launching and proposing a new set of equipment, how do all of the actors in the space use those assets for the benefit of users?
McKenna: We did build, in Decentraland, a shooter. We were able to use our tokens in that environment. We were able to bridge there. We also built a technical bridge into Minecraft, which we’re now having to evaluate in light of recent news. We’ve been very much on the forefront of interoperability. Our token is interoperable on three chains, between Ethereum, BSC, and WAX. We’re in the very early ideation stages of how we could work more, for example, with Upland and other compatible metaverses, because our codebases are more naturally compatible. There are some easier wins and some harder technical lifts. We’re certainly in the process of looking into interoperability bilaterally in advance of more comprehensive standards.
GamesBeat: There’s been some resistance to NFTs and blockchain among gamers and some game developers. Is this move in some ways preemptive for you, in case you run into companies that are opposed to blockchain being part of the metaverse? Have you already detected any of that among the members of the Metaverse Forum?
Lueth: Not directly, but that’s exactly — people are very skeptical. As I mentioned, we’re such a young industry. Once people understand that they can take their assets to different worlds, that they can use what they had before in a different experience and extract entertainment value with their existing assets, I think the gamer community — I tend to say the hardcore gamer community. It’s not all of them. It’s maybe some people who are very vocal about it. But once people see that this is a new feature, a new benefit they can get, there will be new stuff created. It’s just too early. And of course, the downturn right now plays into their playbook. “Oh, all these NFTs will never be worth anything.” We’re going to do exactly the contrary, though. We’ll make your NFTs. We’ll provide them with utility. It’s going the other way. We just need time to do that.
Borget: The position of many companies that are part of the Metaverse Forum has already been communicated, particularly their stance around NFTs and blockchain. I don’t think there’s any intention at the moment to change their position. But we want to separate what the technology is able to do as we’re building this — the companies that are part of OMAW3 and Web3 will choose to build and release technology. But it’s not just the technology alone that will change people’s minds. It’s about proving through good games and fun concepts that it’s possible, it’s beneficial for the user.
We’ve already been working on this for four years at Sandbox. Many of us in the space, when we started we knew — we chose a decentralized approach for our business, while other companies would remain with a platform-centric, walled garden economy approach. Now, I believe that there is a recognition of what we’ve been doing, in a sense that we’ve been expressing a certain position. We continue to educate, showcase, and work on the technology and the product to make a difference progressively and bring more companies into the space.
In 2021 and 2022 the Blockchain Game Alliance grew from 40 members to 400 members. At GDC in San Francisco and a good number of other conferences, we’ve seen the general interest in the technology itself and the movement of companies into the space, including existing veterans of the game industry. We’ve also seen pushback from players and other actors who are only thinking about short-term monetization. Trying to just launch NFTs to make quick revenue without a good use case and a good perspective behind it. That’s something we’re trying to educate against. NFTs aren’t a medium for quick monetization. It’s a technology for the benefit of users and what they can do over time with their assets.
McKenna: We want to collaborate with successful metaverses and games across the board. We understand that the type of technology we build is radically different from what they’re building on. That lack of familiarity breeds suspicion, and so potentially there may not be collaboration. But that’s why we’re organizing as OMAW3. That’s why we’re reaching out to the existing Web 2.0 space. That’s why we’re standing up for certain principles, so that we’re representing blockchain gaming and the metaverse in their best implementations, as opposed to some of what has happened in the past in the industry, where users weren’t necessarily foregrounded. We are foregrounding users. As that effort continues, hopefully, there will be more bridges between the existing space and blockchain, and more understanding as we keep developing the technology.
GamesBeat: Do you have any other last points you want to bring up?
Lueth: We have companies to run on the side, of course, so we’ll have someone eventually take over the incorporation and day-to-day operation of OMAW3, how we’ll set things up and vote. Obviously, we want to organize everything as a DAO. It takes a few weeks to get started with that. We believe working on the project together as we get started will show quicker results.
Borget: It’s an important effort and a defining moment. It’s going to take time overall. I’m not surprised that there will be a lengthy process to establish the organization. We have several topics to cover. There will probably be split working groups across the different areas where we have to pave the way. It’s still in its infancy and evolving rapidly. It will evolve just as the metaverse itself. But the interest is there. We’re also having conversations with actors in the Metaverse Forum, companies like Epic and so on. That’s definitely a good sign.