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Raph Koster’s real talk about a real metaverse

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Not many people can say “been there, done that” on the metaverse. But Raph Koster, CEO of Playable Worlds, has been making online worlds for more than a quarter of a century.

He gave a speech about what he’s learned from that experience at our GamesBeat Summit: Into the Metaverse 2 online event today. Koster has worked on online game worlds such as Ultima Online, EverQuest, and Star Wars Galaxies, and he understands the difficulty of interoperability, how people behave, the importance of creating standards, and the need to focus on fun.

“I’m here to give you some real talk about what it’s actually going to take to get us to a metaverse,” Koster said. “It’s been amazing to see all of the enthusiasm and the excitement for the potential that metaverses offer. There’s been so much attention, so much money flowing into the space, that those of us who’ve been doing it for a while can’t help but hope that people take the time to look back at history, so that that money can be spent wisely.”

Not only does it take a lot money, it also involves a lot of human capital, and a lot of going down blind alleys that have already been explored over the past several decades.

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“I’m here to just share some high level lessons, some mistakes that have already been made, in hopes that it saves you from making future mistakes,” he said. “We’ve had online worlds for 44 years, and any vision of the metaverse is built on top of the idea of online worlds, whether you call them online worlds, MUDs (multi-user dungeons), virtual worlds social worlds — it doesn’t matter.”

Raph Koster is CEO of Playable Worlds.
Raph Koster is CEO of Playable Worlds.

He said we’ve had online worlds since 1978. We’ve had graphics in them since 1985. And we’ve been supporting thousands of players in a world since the late 90s, Koster said. And we have had hundreds of players in a single world since at least 1992. He said the peak of complexity in virtual worlds was between 1992 and 2003.

“A lot of the problems that people think are major core technology challenges to surmount, were actually handled a quite a long time ago,” he said. “Ever since we’ve been simplifying them in order to reach broader and broader markets. So it’s important to bear in mind that the potential that people want to explore has often been explored before. And there’s a lot of things that we could have as takeaways from that time period.”

We’ve built metaverses and multiverses before.

He noted that the game industry has even built multiverses before.

“This is the idea of taking multiple online worlds and cross connecting them with basically hyperlink connections, and having them share enough of an engine framework that players can hop freely between them with one client,” Koster said. “Much like one browser allows you to hop between different web pages. But even to the degree where players can experience this content because the technology underneath allows content to be shared across the worlds.”

At the peak, these older worlds were decentralized worlds, run by volunteers and running on open source software.

“So many of the dreams that people have today for what a decentralized metaverse can look like, actually existed all the way back in 1992,” Koster said. “And it’s important to ask ourselves the question, why is it that that didn’t stick and didn’t take. And of course, to make something into a true metaverse, we need real world connectivity. The first time I personally built a virtual version of real world stores in a mall was in 1994.”

That’s how long the metaverses have had a connection to the real world. He said virtual concerts have had total bidirectional audience interaction for ages.

“The ability to carry avatar identity across different worlds ages, interactivity with classrooms, where users could complete assignments in a virtual world and have grades show up ages. None of these things are truly new,” he said. “And the big lesson here is that the big challenges to surmount are social not technical.”

Crappy UGC and mudflation ‘play-to-earn’

Try not to crash your virtual economy.

He said we still have major dreams, but we have failed to deliver so far in the history of online worlds and metaverses. Ongoing challenges include “crappy voluminous user-generated content,” he said.

He noted that “play-to-earn” games, where users can earn money or rewards playing, have always had the risk of “drifting down below livability thresholds, where the economy crashes due to what gets called “mudflation.”

Koster said that players have not been that interested in item portability, and the fact that 3D is not really a salve for a lot of the typical experiences the players want.

“Each of these should be regarded as a challenge, not as a permanent barrier. But to enter into this space without seeing these as major unsolved problems with decades of standing is to not really be aware of our own history,” Koster said.

One example is this dream about data portability, or taking the things you buy in one game, like a sword or an avatar, to another. He said data portability can’t happen without standards, and standards are a social coordination problem.

“And worse, there is a social coordination problem that centralizes control,” he said. “If we dream of decentralizing things, we have to deal with the social challenges of getting potentially thousands of developers aligned to one direction. Bear in mind that right now, the two major game engines are Unity and Unreal, and they do not even agree whether the “y axis” means up. That is how far apart we are on basic standards.”

He said the open web is a model for the kind of standard for decentralized creativity, for commerce, and so on.

“We have spent the last 20 years undermining the original open web and the way it was designed everything from pushing more and more fancy rendering into the clients rather than driving it from the cloud,” he said.

That has centralized much of the business infrastructure in the name of making money.

“Those same challenges are going to exist for the metaverse. What is it going to take to really get there? Any real metaverse has to embrace the idea that any device should be able to be a client,” he said. “And that implies a whole bunch of open standards on the protocol, not narrowing down to just one engine being the back end and so on. It implies not focusing to the degree that we do on high-end rendering.”

Is 2D better?

India's Dunzo has
Indian on-demand delivery company Dunzo has been testing the new Google Maps Platform, including Preferred Routes

He said an enormous amount of the metaverse needs are going to be flat. He noted that 2D works for things like Yelp and Google Maps because some metaverse data will always work better in a 2D display than in a 3d display.

“And the classic example of virtual worlds have taught us is that having to wander a giant endless mall in 3D is a terrible experience,” he said. “Frankly, wandering giant, endless worlds of any sort has tended not to be a great experience for users. We’re going to have to relearn the lesson that we can’t ship content as beautiful, sculptural 3D assets. In particular, maps cannot be 3D sculpts.”

In a true metaverse, players might be interacting with World of Warcraft and with Google Maps simultaneously. He said we need to be able to treat environments as raw data.

“Someday, we may want to walk across a map that actually represents the movement of stocks on the stock market in real time,” he said. “If we are shipping big maps that are 3D sculpts, then they can’t change and unlock new kinds of behaviors on the fly. If we want to unlock the power of cloud simulation, we need to get away from thinking of environments as being static content.”

Similarly, he said the art we see needs to break away from the notion that it is something baked into a client. He said current engines still work very much like they were intended to with games shipped on disks. He said we bake all of the art into the client, and it takes hours to do a build.

“Try to picture patching your browser every time Amazon adds a book to their storefront,” he said. “That is the current state of the art for game engines. It is obvious that, as the metaverse develops, everything needs to be able to come down on the fly and be driven entirely from the cloud. And ideally, not from one central content repository. But just like images on the web, from arbitrary URLs all over the internet, because that is what would truly unlock user generated content.”

And if we want a decentralized metaverse — one that is open and not controlled by one party — we obviously need to decentralize control.

Godlike power

The metaverse is an old idea.

“As somebody who has operated online worlds for literally decades, I can tell you that the ethical questions that end up keeping me up at night are around the fact that I as a god of a world have godlike power,” he said. “I have the ability to surveil, I have the ability to data analyze, I have the ability to control what people see. Truly online worlds and by extension metaverses are a panopticon where I control the vertical and I control the horizontal.”

Exploring how we arrive at models of governance, how we arrive at ways for players to be expressive, and free in a metaverse is not a simple or easy problem, he said.

He said the industry has been wrestling with the challenges of governance ever since the infamous rape in cyberspace case around 1993. The technical infrastructure to enable this implies the ideal architecture is quite different from how things work today, even if we solve the substantial problem of having all the different clients able to use same 3D asset format, he said.

“That doesn’t mean that they come with functionality. The biggest barrier to item portability is actually that every single game and every world implements that functionality in completely different ways,” he said. “There are zero shared data structures across items between two different games, even two of them built on the same engine. And we know from the experience of open source virtual world platforms, that once they are released, they quickly begin to diverge in capability.”

So compatibility begins to erode over time. He said that one possibility is to take a cue from platforms like web-publishing tool WordPress, which allows a plugin architecture and shifts as much functionality as possible into soft code in order to allow different platforms to implement the same applications programming interface (API), he said.

“But just the coordination challenge of building that API is likely to be a multi-decade process of arriving at agreement on standards. Just as one random example, being able to define what a lamp is and what fields a lamp should have,” Koster said. “If you’re trying to do that today, you might send that over the wire using JSON. JSON was actually originally SPECT, partly to solve exactly this problem in 2001.”

It took about 12 years to become a standard.

“The fact of the matter is that when we look at the technical challenges behind building a metaverse, they’re hard — harder than most people new to the field realize,” he said.

Lots of features need various kinds of standards, like the data format, a parser, the ability to be located at any remote location on the internet. And each of them requires an internet protocol ownerships solution as well.

“Each of these need to coordinate on multiple levels and share multiple standards in order for us to have any sort of prayer of truly building a coordinated metaverse,” Koster said. “This, of course, is why so much of building a metaverse pushes towards a single platform owner that can force these standards into existence. But we know that isn’t the dream we all ultimately want.”

A social problem

The metaverse layers complexities of laws and policies.

Koster said this is fundamentally a social problem.

“And if I if I had one big takeaway for everyone today, it would be don’t be seduced by the idea that technology can solve social problems and governance problems that humanity has been working on, in some cases for a couple of thousand years,” he said.

He said big social networks have spelled out some of the problem.

“Picture to yourself if you can, a metaverse with New York City or Tokyo or London. You can walk around and see absolutely everything annotated,” he said. “You can play a fantasy RPG running through the streets of a neighborhood where you can just log in and see the profile data on individuals and so on. That world operator has better data on you than the government does. Do we trust a tech company to have that kind of power?”

He added, “Are they going to replace the police? What are the ethical boundaries of having that sort of insight into society? And what rights do users have? When it comes to that? We all already know how hard it is to reach customer support at Facebook. How hard it is to persuade Twitter that maybe they ban someone by mistake, right?”

The recourse for citizens becomes harder and harder.

Fold AR is creating a real-world metaverse.
Fold AR is creating a real-world metaverse.

“The key seminal avatar rights document is something I wrote back in 2000. And you can find it in a dozen law textbooks. And to date, less worlds than there are fingers on my hand, have ever been willing to sign up to giving players actual rights in their virtual worlds,” he said. “That doesn’t even touch on the questions of what about copyright and trademark law. Because much of current IP law is outright incompatible with the way a metaverse might work.”

He said the major first conference that he attended on whether or not the metaverse might imply the end of the nation state was back in 2004.

“These are difficult problems. These are high level challenges. These are the kinds of questions that we as builders of alternate worlds, and people who are essentially translating the real world into something digital — these are the kinds of questions that it is our responsibility to grapple with,” he said.

Blindly setting off to go create something in hopes that it will just be better than the web is not responsible on our part, eh said.

“I would urge everyone here because I do believe everyone is idealistic. Everyone has high level dreams about what this can be,” he said. “I urge all of you who are listening to this, please go back, look at the history, learn from it. Find the ways to get around these key problems.”

Koster said he does believe we have ways of getting around those problems if we all work together “in order to take a step into this future that we all see barreling towards us at an incredibly high rate.”

It’s going to be hard.

“But I also believe that the potential for what we can do to improve human life is also incredibly high,” Koster said in closing. “And you know, like they say, everything worth doing is going to be challenging. With that said, welcome to the metaverse.”

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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.

Want it in your inbox every Saturday morning? Sign up here.

most read

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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