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Improbable is attacking the metaverse’s networking problem

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Herman Narula, CEO of Improbable, is trying to solve the networking problem of the metaverse, the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One.

His London-based company started creating internet infrastructure and software that was built for multiplayer gaming and massive virtual worlds.

The company’s Project Morpheus software, which Narula says will be able to support 10,000 players in the same space. Currently, games like Fortnite and Call of Duty: Warzone can support 100 or 150 players, respectively, as they battle each other with automatic weapons. This capability was why Improbable was able to raised $500 million from SoftBank and more money from others as it readied its software.

Narula is aware of the sniper problem in the metaverse. Kim Libreri, chief technology officer at Epic Games, brought this up to me, explaining how most games separate players by location into grids. They provide responsive networking for actions that take place between characters in a grid, but not between grids. But a sniper sitting on a mountain perch has the ability to see far beyond one grid. That means that sniper has to be instantly networked with another player, who might be a target who is instantaneously trying to get away.

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Sniper vision

Scavengers has both PvE and PvP gameplay in a large multiplayer map.
Scavengers has both PvE and PvP gameplay in a large multiplayer map.

Narula said he is trying to solve this problem. Improbable started off very ambitious trying to widen what is possible in a typical virtual world.

“You have all these limitations, the number of players you can have, the number of interactions they can have,” he said. “The history of multiplayer games has been the history of avoiding mistakes and not really being able to solve them because of existing technological approaches. So our mission was always to blow open the doors as possible, and make ever more meaning for ever more useful virtual worlds.”

The company evolved into a full-service provider. Improbable acquired developer Midwinter Entertainment in 2019, and to shore up its tech, Improbable acquired backend firm Zeuz in early 2020. Midwinter Entertainment created the game Scavengers to show off the ability to put thousands of players in a game.

Now, dozens of game companies are using the technology around the world. Narula said that a game like Fortnite might handle 10,000 operations per second. But Improbable designed Morpheus to handle more than 300 million operations per second and it uses machine learning to optimize rendering. With that kind of performance, Improbable has expanded outside gaming and it is being used by the British government to simulate large bots.

“I’m incredibly excited about this. It’s been 10 years in the making,” Narula said. “Last year, I think you caught some of the events with thousands of players that we were able to run. It can support about 10,000 people, all with high fidelity and interaction quality. Everyone can rush up together, interact together with physics, shoot and fight, and even be rendered on screen and have all that information.”

With the Kpop star AleXa’s concert, she was able to interact with thousands of fans at the same time in the same space, thanks to Morpheus.

“The more you desire live interaction between lots of things in a world where there’s a lot of information being exchanged, the harder it is,” he said.

Trade-offs?

Improbable enabled a recent Alexa concert.
Improbable enabled a recent AleXa concert.

Improbable also staged a huge battle with thousands of Scavengers fighting together in one space.

I asked if there was a trade-off between how many people can be in a simulation and how responsive or realistic that simulation can be.

“That trade-off exists at a theoretical level, but existing architectures are nowhere near hitting the boundaries of what’s possible,” Narula said. “So for example, with our platform, we’re able to support so many thousands of people and so many hundreds of millions of updates a second because we’ve architected from the ground all the way for a decade just solve those problems. We haven’t focused on building networking in the traditional way.”

“Sniper rifles are really hard in most games because I plan only for connecting to a certain number of other objects, as long as it’s aware of a bubble of reality,” he said. “If I just zoom in and zoom out a great distance, suddenly giving me information about new things really quickly, as soon as you think about it. In the real world, when you glance over a crowd or look around the world, you actually do have a limited amount of attention, your brain adjusts what things It looks at with high fidelity. What improbable was done with Morpheus is we’ve adopted the same approach.”

In terms of processing power, it is extremely cheap and very fast to switch attention with something like a sniper rifle, zooming in and out while looking at thousands of unique zombies. There are bottlenecks in the client and on the backend, so Improbable had to invest a new rendering engine that allows the creation of lots of characters on the screen in great detail while optimizing the bandwidth used.

Becoming profitable

AleXa's virtual concert could be a forerunner of the metaverse.
AleXa’s virtual concert could be a forerunner of the metaverse.

Narula said that the company will actually be breakeven or profitable this year, which is a big milestone. He said the demand for the company’s services is growing.

Improbable polled 2,000 gamers and 800 game developers across the United Kingdom and the U.S. to explore what the future of the metaverse looks like.

The majority of respondents think it will take between one and five years for the metaverse to come to fruition, though older developers are slightly more sceptical (45% versus 38%). 

“This is incredibly enlightening,” he said.

In that way, it feels like the the movement toward virtual worlds is inevitable, Narula said. Some people favor centralized or decentralized services, but most are looking forward to a metaverse.

The demand for massive social experiences like concerts or big virtual worlds is fueling the growth of Morpheus. I asked Narula if gaming would lead the way to the metaverse, or something like music concerts. (He has been thinking about this as he has a book coming out on the metaverse).

Narula thinks the metaverse will be rich not only with games but places where people are going to want to hang out, if only to have status or connections with like-minded people. The activities can be transactional, or they can be focused on value exchanges. These spaces will become conduits for new types of jobs, like social media creators.

“I think gaming is one really important activity in the metaverse, but hardly the only one,” he said. “And I think they’ll probably be a lot of people who live and work in the metaverse over the next decade.”

Metaverse vision

Scavengers is getting a test.
Scavengers is getting a test.

Narula thinks the metaverse will be a huge extension of society.

“I think societies have always constructed other realities that are important to us, like sports where one country’s team beats another and that is like a polite way of fighting a war.

When there is an important match, it creates a real transfer of tangible value from one world into the other world.

“Getting lost in all the networking and rendering, we forget what we’re actually doing here,” he said. “We’re building an embodied other reality that people can transfer back and forth between. So when you think of it that way, I look at the metaverse as this massive democratization of these other worlds that previously only a few, like famous athletes, and everybody can gain value. Everyone can extend. The term I use is the multiversal style, the idea of yourself. Now you have more realities, more identities, more fun and more relationships, more things to explore, and to see this kind of expansion of society, this expansion of this opportunity space for everybody. That’s the promise of the metaverse.”

He said the magic will be in finding the experiences, finding the content, finding the tangible ways people can take the things they’ve bought on the blockchain and bring that together as a system for value.

He thinks that the existing web has led to the creation of a few centralized platforms. He thinks there is potential for a shake-up where the people, the masses of content creators who create the value, get to keep more of that for themselves.

“We can move to a world where the actual creators, the modders, the inventors, the communities of gamers — they own a lot more of the value of the games and platforms,” Narula said. “I think that’s going to make a much, much better world. It requires a change of how we do these things, where the power is, and I think all the decentralized platforms have failed us a little bit.”

But he doesn’t want to exchange one monopoly for another. Improbable will happily provide services to clients as they try to create these new entities on the internet. It may be more convenient to have centralization and it may be easier to build applications. But the possibility of decentralization will keep everybody more honest, he said. The winning organization will be the one that creates the ecosystem that attracts the most creators.

“I see industry alliances, and standard, stepping through creating interoperability, these are all great and high-minded concepts. But the basic problem is actually how do we let the creators own what they make,” he said. “That’s the main thing we need to solve through in the cooperation. I worry that maybe the industry is so used to dictating the plans, so used” to giving content. When the shift happens, the creators will take money from the bottom line of the centralized companies that take most of the profit right now, he said.

Narula said it will be hard to create enough content for the metaverse, and we’ll have to use AI and machine learning to do that, he said. Asked when people will start spending as much of their work and play time as they have in the physical world, then that is when the metaverse can start, and that will happen sooner rather than later. But to get to the most futuristic visions of the metaverse will take a long time, he said.

“Within five years, I think we will see major shifts happening,” he said.

As for connecting different worlds, he said it is more likely we will create systems that encourage content creation with interoperability built into them to a content creator can move from world to world to world. You would have to get both World of Warcraft and Fortnite to rewrite their software to make such things happen. That’s a lot of work.

I asked him what is the end game, or the metagame of the metaverse.

“We know our minds,” he said. “We know we can interface with them. So what’s the endgame of the metaverse? It’s a little scary to think about. So little bit fraught with science fiction comparisons. But it seems clear to me that you’re going to adopt a completely rational position, where we’re going to end up connecting our minds to other realities. So we better build other realities that we want to spend our time in.”

He added, “I think of governance. How much of these future outcomes look like if it replacing one company with another company. We all have the same story, different boss. That’s not interesting for me. I’m thinking about user equity and democratic ownership.I want genuine enfranchisement. That’s very hard for a lot of the companies. That’s something I think we should we should find a way to do as an industry.”

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8 Ways You Can Save Yourself and Others From Being Scammed

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Statistics on the number of scam websites that litter the internet are disturbing. During 2020, Google registered more than 2 million phishing websites alone. That means more than 5,000 new phishing sites popped up every day — not to mention the ones that avoided Google’s detection. In 2021, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported nearly $7 billion in losses from cybercrime that is perpetrated through these sites.

What exactly are scam websites? Scam websites refer to any illegitimate website that is used to deceive users into fraud or malicious attacks. Many scammers operate these fake websites and will download viruses onto your computer or steal passwords or other personal information.

Reporting these sites as they are encountered is an important part of fighting back. In other words, if you see something, say something. Keeping quiet, even if you avoid falling prey, allows the scammers to aim at another target.

Perhaps you’ve received a suspicious link in an email? Or maybe a strange text message that you haven’t clicked on. Fortunately, there are many organizations out there that have launched efforts aimed at reducing the threat that they pose. In general, these organizations put scam websites on the radar by collecting and sharing information about them. In some cases, they prompt an investigation into the scammers behind the sites.

Related: Learn How to Protect Your Business From Cybercrime

It’s free to report a suspicious website you’ve encountered, and it takes just a minute. Here are eight ways you can report a suspected scam website to stop cyber criminals and protect yourself and others online.

1. The Internet Crime Complaint Center

The IC3, as it is known, is an office of the FBI that receives complaints from those who have been the victims of internet-related crime. The IC3 defines the internet crimes that it addresses to include illegal activity involving websites. Complaints filed with the IC3 are reviewed and researched by trained FBI analysts.

2. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency

CISA, which is an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, targets a wide range of malicious cyber activity. It specifically requests reports on phishing activity utilizing fraudulent websites. Information provided to CISA is shared with the Anti-Phishing Working Group, a non-profit focused on reducing the impact of phishing-related fraud around the world.

3. econsumer.gov

The econsumer.gov site, run by the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network, is for reporting international scams. It is supported by consumer protection agencies and related offices in more than 65 countries. A secure version of their site is used by law enforcement agencies to share info on scams.

4. Google Safe Browsing

While Google does not have a mechanism for reporting all varieties of website scams, there is a form for reporting sites that are suspected of being used to carry out phishing. Reports made via the form are managed by Google’s Safe Browsing team. Google’s Transparency Report provides information on the sites that it has determined to be “currently dangerous to visit.”

Related: Is That Instagram Email a Phishing Attack? Now You Can Find Out.

5. PhishTank

This service was founded by Cisco Talos Intelligence Group to “pour sunshine on some of the dark alleys of the Internet.” Phishtank includes an ever-growing list of URLs reported as being involved in phishing scams. To date, it has received more than 7.5 million reports of potential phishing sites. It says that more than 100,000 of the sites are still online.

Related: 6 Ways Better Business Bureau Accreditation Can Boost Your Business

6. Antivirus Apps

Antivirus providers such as Norton, Kaspersky, and McAfee have forms that can be used to identify pages that users feel should be blocked. Scam sites would definitely fall under that category. With some antivirus platforms, reporting forms can only be accessed by registered users. Norton’s is open to anyone.

7. Web host

There is a chance that the DNS service hosting the scam site will take action to shut it down. There are a variety of online resources that can help you to find the DNS of a particular site. Once you identify it, send a message to their customer service reporting the site in question and the experience that you had.

8. Share your experience on social media

This is actually more like sounding an alarm than filing a report, but it might protect one of your connections who stumbles upon the same site or is targeted by the same type of scam. At the very least, it could draw attention to the fact that scam sites affect real people. A post on Facebook about a close call you had with a scam might better equip your network to avoid any dangerous entanglements. If it does, they’ll thank you.

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LastPass hacked, OpenAI opens access to ChatGPT, and Kanye gets suspended from Twitter (again) • TechCrunch

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Aaaaand we’re back! With our Thanksgiving mini-hiatus behind us, it’s time for another edition of Week in Review — the newsletter where we quickly wrap up the most read TechCrunch stories from the past seven(ish) days. No matter how busy you are, it should give you a pretty good idea of what people were talking about in tech this week.

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Instafest goes instaviral: You’ve probably been to a great music festival before. But have you been to one made just for you? Probably not. Instafest, a web app that went super viral this week, helps you daydream about what that festival might look like. Sign in with your Spotify credentials and it’ll generate a promo poster for a pretend festival based on your listening habits.

LastPass breached (again): “Password manager LastPass said it’s investigating a security incident after its systems were compromised for the second time this year,” writes Zack Whittaker. Investigations are still underway, which unfortunately means it’s not super clear what (and whose) data might’ve been accessed.

ChatGPT opens up: This week, OpenAI widely opened up access to ChatGPT, which lets you interact with their new language-generation AI through a simple chat-style interface. In other words, it lets you generate (sometimes scarily well-written) passages of text by chatting with a robot. Darrell used it to instantly write the Pokémon cheat sheet he’s always wanted.

AWS re:Invents: This week, Amazon Web Services hosted its annual re:Invent conference, where the company shows off what’s next for the cloud computing platform that powers a massive chunk of the internet. This year’s highlights? A low-code tool for serverless apps, a pledge to give AWS customers control over where in the world their data is stored (to help navigate increasingly complicated government policies), and a tool to run “city-sized simulations” in the cloud.

Twitter suspends Kanye (again): “Elon Musk has suspended Kanye West’s (aka Ye) Twitter account after the latter posted antisemitic tweets and violated the platform’s rules,” writes Ivan Mehta.

Spotify Wraps it up: Each year in December, Spotify ships “Wrapped” — an interactive feature that takes your Spotify listening data for the year and presents it in a super visual way. This year it’s got the straightforward stuff like how many minutes you streamed, but it’s also branching out with ideas like “listening personalities” — a Myers-Briggs-inspired system that puts each user into one of 16 camps, like “the Adventurer” or “the Replayer.”

DoorDash layoffs: I was hoping to go a week without a layoffs story cracking the list. Alas, DoorDash confirmed this week that it’s laying off 1,250 people, with CEO Tony Xu explaining that they hired too quickly during the pandemic.

Salesforce co-CEO steps down: “In one week last December, [Bret Taylor] was named board chair at Twitter and co-CEO at Salesforce,” writes Ron Miller. “One year later, he doesn’t have either job.” Taylor says he has “decided to return to [his] entrepreneurial roots.”

audio roundup

I expected things to be a little quiet in TC Podcast land last week because of the holiday, but we somehow still had great shows! Ron Miller and Rita Liao joined Darrell Etherington on The TechCrunch Podcast to talk about the departure of Salesforce’s co-CEO and China’s “great wall of porn”; Team Chain Reaction shared an interview with Nikil Viswanathan, CEO of web3 development platform Alchemy; and the ever-lovely Equity crew talked about everything from Sam Bankman-Fried’s wild interview at DealBook to why all three of the co-founders at financing startup Pipe stepped down simultaneously.

TechCrunch+

What lies behind the TC+ members-only paywall? Here’s what TC+ members were reading most this week:

Lessons for raising $10M without giving up a board seat: Reclaim.ai has raised $10 million over the last two years, all “without giving up a single board seat.” How? Reclaim.ai co-founder Henry Shapiro shares his insights.

Consultants are the new nontraditional VC: “Why are so many consultant-led venture capital funds launching now?” asks Rebecca Szkutak.

Fundraising in times of greater VC scrutiny: “Founders may be discouraged in this environment, but they need to remember that they have ‘currency,’ too,” writes DocSend co-founder and former CEO Russ Heddleston.

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Building global, scalable metaverse applications

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Previously we talked about the trillion-dollar infrastructure opportunity that comes with building the metaverse — and it is indeed very large. But what about the applications that will run on top of this new infrastructure?

Metaverse applications will be very different from the traditional web or mobile apps that we are used to today. For one, they will be much more immersive and interactive, blurring the lines between the virtual and physical worlds. And because of the distributed nature of the metaverse, they will also need to be able to scale globally — something that has never been done before at this level.

In this article, we will take a developer’s perspective and explore what it will take to build global, scalable metaverse applications.

As you are aware, the metaverse will work very differently from the web or mobile apps we have today. For one, it is distributed, meaning there is no central server that controls everything. This has a number of implications for developers:

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  • They will need to be able to deal with data that is spread out across many different servers (or “nodes”) in a decentralized manner.
  • They will need to be able to deal with users that are also spread out across many different servers.
  • They will need to be able to deal with the fact that each user may have a different experience of the metaverse, based on their location and the devices they are using due to the fact not everyone has the same tech setup, and this plays a pivotal role in how the metaverse is experienced by each user.

These challenges are not insurmountable, but they do require a different way of thinking about application development. Let’s take a closer look at each one.

Data control and manipulation

In a traditional web or mobile app, all the data is stored on a central server. This makes it easy for developers to query and manipulate that data because everything is in one place.

In a distributed metaverse, however, data is spread out across many different servers. This means that developers will need to find new ways to query and manipulate data that is not centrally located.

One way to do this is through the blockchain itself. This distributed ledger, as you know, is spread out across many different servers and allows developers to query and manipulate data in a decentralized manner.

Another way to deal with the challenge of data is through what is known as “content delivery networks” (CDNs). These are networks of servers that are designed to deliver content to users in a fast and efficient manner.

CDNs are often used to deliver web content, but they can also be used to deliver metaverse content. This is because CDNs are designed to deal with large amounts of data that need to be delivered quickly and efficiently — something that is essential for metaverse applications.

Users and devices

Another challenge that developers will need to face is the fact that users and devices are also spread out across many different servers. This means that developers will need to find ways to deliver content to users in a way that is efficient and effective.

One way to do this is through the use of “mirrors.” Mirrors are copies of the content that are stored on different servers. When a user requests content, they are redirected to the nearest mirror, which helps to improve performance and reduce latency.

When a user’s device is not able to connect to the server that is hosting the content, another way to deliver content is through “proxies.” Proxies are servers that act on behalf of the user’s device and fetch the content from the server that is hosting it.

This can be done in a number of ways, but one common way is through the use of a “reverse proxy.” In this case, the proxy server is located between the user’s device and the server that is hosting the content. The proxy fetches the content from the server and then delivers it to the user’s device.

Location and devices

As we mentioned before, each user’s experience of the metaverse will be different based on their location and the devices they are using. This is because not everyone has the same tech setup, and this plays a pivotal role in how the metaverse is experienced by each user.

For example, someone who is using a virtual reality headset will have a completely different experience than someone who is just using a desktop computer. And someone who is located in Europe will have a different experience than someone who is located in Asia.

Though it may not be obvious why geographical location would play a part in something that is meant to be boundless, think of it this way. The internet is a physical infrastructure that is spread out across the world. And although the metaverse is not bound by the same physical limitations, it still relies on this infrastructure to function.

This means that developers will need to take into account the different geographical locations of their users and devices and design their applications accordingly. They will need to be able to deliver content quickly and efficiently to users all over the world, regardless of their location.

Different geographical locations also have different laws and regulations. This is something that developers will need to be aware of when designing applications for the metaverse. They will need to make sure that their applications are compliant with all applicable laws and regulations.

Application development

Now that we’ve looked at some of the challenges that developers will need to face, let’s take a look at how they can develop metaverse applications. Since the metaverse is virtual, the type of development that is required is different from traditional application development.

The first thing that developers will need to do is to create a “space”. A space is a virtual environment that is used to host applications.

Spaces are created using a variety of different tools, but the most popular tool currently is Unity, a game engine used to create 3D environments.

Once a space has been created, developers will need to populate it with content. This content can be anything from 3D models to audio files.

The next step is to publish the space. This means that the space will be made available to other users, who will be able to access the space through a variety of different devices, including desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

Finally, developers will need to promote their space. This means that they will need to market their space to users.

Getting applications to scale

Since web 3.0 is decentralized, scalability is usually the biggest challenge because traditional servers are almost impossible to use. IPFS is one solution that can help with this problem.

IPFS is a distributed file system used to store and share files. IPFS is similar to BitTorrent, but it is designed to be used for file storage rather than file sharing.

IPFS is a peer-to-peer system, which means that there is no central server. This makes IPFS very scalable because there is no single point of failure.

To use IPFS, developers will need to install it on their computer and add their space to the network. Then, other users will be able to access it.

The bottom line on building global, scalable metaverse applications

To finish off, the technology to build scalable metaverse applications already exists; but a lot of creativity is still required to make it all work together in a user-friendly way. The key is to keep the following concepts in mind:

  • The metaverse is global and decentralized
  • Users will access the metaverse through a variety of devices
  • Location and device management are important
  • Application development is different from traditional development
  • Scalability is a challenge, but IPFS can help

Clearly, we can’t have an article series about building the metaverse without discussing NFTs. In fact, these might be the key to making a global, decentralized, metaverse work. In our next article, we will explore how NFTs can be used in the metaverse.

By keeping these concepts in mind, developers will be able to create metaverse applications that are both user-friendly and scalable.

Daniel Saito is CEO and cofounder of StrongNode

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