Rene – Hey! Welcome to Meta Minutes, your bite-sized pieces of the metaverse. My name is Rene from Valorem Reply and today we're going to cover the building of the metaverse and the value chain. And for this, I'm very honored to have a very special expert guest today, Jon Radoff. Hi Jon and welcome to the show. How are you today?
Jon – Outstanding! Glad to be here, thank you!
Rene - Glad to have you! So, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background as it relates to the metaverse.
Jon - I guess I've always been living in the metaverse. So, you know, I started as a kid loving dungeons and Dragons and computer programming, and you could say that was the earliest version of the metaverse or the primitive verse. I met my future wife in an online game. So we were in a virtual world together, we thought we could make a better one, so we ended up meeting each other and starting a game company together. So I've made a discovery platform for games, I've shipped a lot of games, 20 million plus people played games I've made. Now I'm making a platform, a technology platform for game companies to build their own metaverse and virtual worlds and online games with. So, that's my background in the metaverse. Of course, I write my blog, building the metaverse, where I write about this stuff all the time.
Rene - Yes and this is by the way fantastic blog folks. You should all check it out, it's full of amazing insights and we're actually going to talk about a couple of these insights today in a little bit more detail. But let's start with a simple, very simple but also like insanely complex question, because like it could mean anything and nothing. What is the metaverse for you and where do you see the potential?
Jon - Yeah, you know, I think if you talk to people they're gonna give you a few different versions of what the metaverse means. There's like the whole web 3 version of it, which is more about economic integration through blockchain and crypto, there's the virtual reality aspect of it which Meta, Facebook has really leaned into and certainly you know the new VR platforms that people are concerned with. There's the virtual worlds aspect of it with like Roblox epic Fortnite and what not. To me there's a there's a cultural backdrop behind all of this rather than thinking of it as a product category and it actually starts back with the dungeons and dragons that computer programming stuff the online universe stuff I talked about. Because, to me at the core of it it's this notion that we're projecting our digital identity into online worlds and that could be a world structure around web 3, it could be a virtual world like Roblox, could be an online game. And I think that's at it score because that's an actual cultural shift today for many of us. Our digital identity, the way we present ourselves online is becoming even more important than our physical end entity and then the natural extension of that is not just projecting ourselves into these digital spaces but projecting ourselves and then being creative inside them building things, creating worlds, adding content, connecting with other people, sharing our stories and experiences with them through this dematerialize media. So, to me that's it, it's the digital identity and the creativity that is enabled by that.
Rene - I love it. That's a really nice way to put it. It gives you full flexibility but like at the core, like I said, it's really like, you become as you as literally human and what you can do with it. Well there's so much and so there's not like just one metaverse definition for sure, but let's talk about your seven layers. You created the seven layers of metaverse model and this gained a lot of momentum for good reason and many people are using that as an ecosystem map and I've seen it in many talks Jon, I have to say, like it's flooding all over. You did a great job. Can you please explain that model and describe each layer?
Jon – Yeah, it's funny because a lot of this writing that I do is like me just kind of open sourcing my own thinking so that I can kind of hear how people react to it and this is a model that I developed so I could think about the metaverse. And so many people have started to use it and I see it coming back to me now. So it's cool. You know I started with it from the standpoint of, let's think first about what people actually experience in the metaverse- whether that's a virtual world and online game like all the stuff that people are doing and that includes a whole lot of embodied experiences and everything from fitness to education to entertainment to experiencing music and just experiencing it, I like your term to use as a digital human but of course we're digital and analog at the same time, so it's about bringing ourselves into these experiences, wrapping ourselves around it, having it occur in real time making it more activity based. And it's that experience that really is required to even bring any meaning to this at all, otherwise you're just talking about various forms of plumbing. So, if you look at what's required for those experiences, well first you have to be able to find them, you have to be able to deliver them, you have to be able to do it in real time and you have to be able to create all these things. So, the seven layers model is really an attempt to think about, ok, if we start from experiences the things that people actually want to do in these virtual worlds were collectively calling the metaverse. What are those layers? So, you go from experience to, well, you have to be able to find them, so that's discovery. Classically that might mean things like add networking but nowadays that also includes social media, it includes communication platforms like discord, it may include new types of decentralized communication platforms that we're going to have in the coming years. Then you've got the whole creator economy aspect of it. So, I talked earlier about how important it is to project our digital identity into these spaces. Well, that's important because we can also be creative in them, whether that means creativity in terms of how I express myself, like an avatar system for example or creative in the sense of modeling out a whole world for each other. So, the creator economy of the tools and technologies that enable that, Unity, Epic, Roblox etc., that's so important to that. Then there's all spatial computing set of technologies that enable that. So that's actually 3D graphics, space, real time virtual worlds being able to apply 3D spaces back onto the virtual world, what we sometimes, onto the real world, what we sometimes call augmented reality, being able to take real-world objects and put it back into virtual spaces, so that spatial computing. We could talk for hours and hours just on that, I know that that's a big part of your background. Then there's decentralization, right, so in the in the course of building the metaverse, there have been a lot of very centralized platforms that want to own and be a toll gate essentially to various aspects of the Internet. I believe it's important to bring the Internet back to its roots and actually lever open-source decentralized technologies including blockchain, decentralization is not just block chain, by the way, it's all the things that allow lots and lots of participants here. Then the human interfaces that enable us to use it, where that smart glasses and way far out stuff like brain computer interface to, you know, the stuff that we have right now, around virtual reality and then guess what, massive amounts of infrastructure, so communication networks semiconductors batteries that are smaller, like, all of this stuff is required to actually power a lot of the very advanced technologies that we're going to use to both enable software as well as the hardware. So that's the seven-layer model.
Rene - Awesome! Thanks for describing that so well. And also, when you said, around the infrastructure like fast connectivity but also storage and computing requirements are immense and, you know, I'm also like, one of my other top is also quantum computing and we think also just another aspect of quantum computing is also much relevant for the metaverse. Just think about true randomness, these days we have like classical computers can just produce pseudo-random numbers, they don’t have real random numbers, but the quantum computer is, well there we go, we have two random numbers like true initial seeds, right, for these kind of worlds and just the storage requirements or maintenance, like you were saying, like a key element is also persistence, right?
Jon - Yeah precisely. I mean there's a persistence layer behind any virtual world, any metaverse, it's got to be able to store your state. Like this is a big difference between applications that you might use through say a web browser, not that I mean there's a continuum between web browsers and metaverse type stuff as well, but if you go to Amazon, you only fit state it really cares about is like your order history and like maybe some pieces of data that would allow it to tell you like the next thing that you're most likely to buy 'cause it's trying to optimize you. So you'll have that version of persistence through ad networks and ecommerce and whatnot but it's highly transactional. If you think of virtual worlds or online games as the model for this, they have many more persistence requirements because it has to remember exactly what you were doing in that world, how you left it so that you can re-enter it in a similar state as where you left off but also the world itself may evolve you have objects in that world you have persistence of them, you have crafting systems you're building things. So all of that requires far more storage than say just transactional oriented system because these are activity-based systems and one of the key activities you're gonna engage in, is creative, right? So all that creative expression you have through an avatar through worlds you make whether that's Minecraft and Roblox, worlds are much more sophisticated, things that are yet to come, like that creative palette requires persistence layer behind it, that is much real time orientation than statelessness of a web page.
Rene – Totally, and a whole kind of another... well it's the 4th dimension right and we're entering another dimension of data to store. But anyhow, I also love when you said, when you talked about decentralization and we're saying these centralized protocols like blockchain, but it doesn't have to be blockchain. Like this is the thing I always keep on telling folks, of course decentralization and more important part. But everyone just thinks, so when they hear these sources and they need to be think blockchain and NFT and whatnot. I mean great tech but still a long way to go, to be honest, to be scalable and then all the things we need and so I really like when you say it could be blockchain, but it doesn't have to be. But let's move on to the other aspect you mentioned when you talked about the creator economy and the companies you mentioned like Unity, Epic, Roblox and so on. And in a great article you wrote what is called the market map of the metaverse, you categorized various solutions into these layers basically and had a deep dive on three important metaverse companies and organizations. So well which free companies have you identified and why and what are the unique characteristics that made you pick them?
Jon – Yeah, well the three companies that I was talking about were Epic, which is the company that makes the Unreal Engine, which is a 3D engine, as well as Fortnite which is an online game that you know many people played at this point. There's Unity which is a game creation platform and also a platform for creating any kind of 3D environment and then Roblox which is this place where you can go and create virtual worlds and games and it's essentially like a complete environment for distribution and creation and connecting each other through the social network that provides. So, the reason I chose those three is because they're really at the core of creating the actual virtual worlds that people go into. Now, if we look at the metaverse and we use that seven layer map there are lots of pieces of this, there's plenty of other companies you could talk about, you could talk about Facebook, Apple and Microsoft certainly there though real giants of this market, you've got the ones that are a little more AI centric like Google and NVIDIA, you've got these really big Asian companies like Samsung and Tencent, Sony which are super relevant to this. The reason I chose those though is virtual worlds are the core of this because virtual worlds are what we enter to experience, and these companies are really interesting because at the core of their company they've got systems for creating virtual worlds. They have many other layers of the metaverse that they also address. So, they're also certainly a big part of the creator economy, some of them actually deliver experiences and make experiences like epic has Fortnite, that's an actual experience that you can go in and play and do that they make themselves. So I think the companies are very different though and that I think its really important to understand the distinction between these three companies, you know, Roblox is a total platform like you can go in, you can find games, it's got a very easy to learn coding platform. I describe it more as like a low-code platform and it's got a marketplace for exchanging assets, it's got a social network for connecting with each other. It's almost like a YouTube for games but with all of the infrastructure behind it so that you don't have to figure it out for yourself. Then you've got Unity, you know, speaking of decentralization, I think of Unity as a good example of a decentralized technology because you don't have to ask Unity’s permission to publish a game with unity. Unity is a 3D game and metaverse creation platform. Roblox you basically need their permission if you make something there that has to be approved. Well Unity can kind of create whatever you want, ship it, you own it. It's really yours to do as you please. Epic, similar to the Unreal platform, you can build anything you want with Unreal and ship it. They also have their own games. Unity is an ad network, Roblox sells virtual currencies, so the business models between those three companies could be any but again virtual creation and putting creativity in the hands of anyone who wants to make a virtual world a game and experiences at the core, and that's what I think the metaverse is all about.
Rene - Fully agree and I could totally see why you would choose Unity and Unreal or epic but like Roblox was kind of an oddball and you described it so well, now it made a lot of sense, I mean, in the end it's creative tool right and like, for example, we also created our own custom Reply world inside of Roblox and a couple of things right and you don't have to write code for this. I mean, of course, with Unity it's more like you can go a lower level. Another interesting aspect might also be, well with things like Unity you can create your own kind of metaverse platform from scratch, you can build whatever you want. That's a 3D engine with a lot of amazing tools but also one aspect I find interesting is Altspace VR, for example, if I create a custom world, I can actually use a plugin they have, it's called the Unity uploader. So, basically, I can create a scene in Unity, like with all my visuals, and 3D, even animations are supported, and I can then use this as a custom world inside Altspace, right, and so they're actually leveraging this already existing Unity tool game engine as they're kind of offering tool for Altspace, I thought that is actually also pretty clever.
Jon - Well, that's the core of decentralization again, right? Like so a lot of the time people talk about decentralization is about blockchain and allowing programs and software to integrate economically and I think that's very important like we could talk just about that the ability for value exchange between software there's a completely revolutionary aspect of this. But of course, decentralization has been part of the Internet all along. Like the Domain Name System we use just to give names to websites that's a decentralized system that doesn't run on blockchain but it's part of the way we think about the Internet, open source software development or any tool that just lets you create software and ship it on your own without requiring like a gatekeeping App Store and whatnot, that's all within the decentralization ethos and the fact that you're finding connections between Alt space which is a Microsoft product and you know Unity is 3D creation platform, that makes a lot of sense because they both have a high degree of decentralization at its core as well. Microsoft you know got started as a software development platform where you can just make software and own it and ship it and now we've got companies that are many billions of dollars individual companies built on top of that platform and Unity is trying to put that kind of 3D engine creative expression in people’s hands just as Epic is with Unreal as well. So those are three companies that are not trying to make you live in a certain platform, they're really just trying to enable developers to go forth and build on top.
Rene – Gotcha. Well, that's really exciting and insightful conversation and I'm sure we could talk for many more hours but hey we want to keep these bite-size, so we're already at the end of the show and well, Jon thank you so much for sharing your insights, that was very much appreciated.
Jon - My pleasure, thank you for having me.
Rene - Well and thanks everyone for joining us for Meta Minutes, your bite-sized pieces of the metaverse. Watch our blog and follow our social media channels to hear all about the next episodes and of course, visit our website to watch all the previous episodes and also maybe QuBites, our sister show dealing with Quantum Computing. Well until then I would say take care and see you soon in the metaverse.