Digital Currency for Virtual Worlds

In Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel, Snow Crash, we were introduced to the concept of a Metaverse, the 3d mixed reality heir to the Internet marked by a convergence of the physical and virtual worlds.  Technologists have been trying to bring this topic out of the realm of science fiction and geeks in basements for a few decades, so many are asking the obvious question: Why now? 

I think the answer to this question lies in the fact that many of the technologies needed to enable this phenomenon finally coexist:  

- High resolution portable displays (including mobile phones in a headmount retailing for less than $100)

- Larger bandwidth

- Gesture tracking (& enhanced sensory technologies)

- AND crypto-currency

You may have read through this list and said, “One of these items does not belong…” I’d like to use this post to explain why I think crypto-currency is the most intriguing piece, and one seldom associated with the potential for innovation within virtual reality.

To set the stage, I believe there are two factors that need to be aligned in order to catalyze the use of VR: Consumption and Creation. Consumption is predicated on consumer desire. For the purpose of this blog post let’s assume that the desire is there. Desire is increasingly aligning with accessibility, with the Google Daydream headset retailing at $80.

The content creation piece of the equation, however, has not been aligned with the rate at which consumers adopt the technology.  Even as the hardware becomes widely available, our current computing paradigms create roadblocks to content creation as we enter the age of the metaverse:

Hyper-centralization under a single protocol. It is almost impossible to achieve interoperability among siloed platforms. This means we are unable to create dynamically with anyone else in the metaverse.

Security. Integrity of the data is in the servers rather than placed within the data itself.

Computing Power. Think about the massive computing power necessary for these environments. I was listening to the CEO of a gaming company discuss the shift in processing power as his firm takes on VR games. In typical games today (think Playstation, Xbox) the majority of the games are rendered at 1080 pixels, 30 frames per second. In a typical VR experience, the displays are about 2000 pixels (at the end of the day you’re probably rendering closer to 3K), and you’re facing a range of 90-120 frames p/sec. If you follow the math, that’s about a 7X increase in horsepower to render for VR versus traditional PC gaming. Oh, and no pressure, all of this needs to be done in a 20 millisecond time frame as people turn their heads and move about. Even if I wanted to create a complex environment as a developer, I am operating under some serious constraints.

There is a solution that addresses these roadblocks: Blockchain and crypto-currency.

We have other blog posts (<wbr/>blockstack) that have addressed the power of blockchain to ensure security and a decentralized model that is more powerful for sharing than a single protocol. One of the greatest, and perhaps most untapped, abilities of the blockchain technology is the incentive to contribute computing power through cryptocurrency. In a hypothetical scenario, if I were to operate a virtual environment, I could invite people into my environment (invite incentivized through cryptocurrency) and they could lend their computing power within that environment. 

For reference, take a look at a Minecraft world someone has been building (for 5 years!!). I think this is a prime example of a complex world whose functionality would be magnified if others could contribute to the computing power in the environment. 

Put the computing power of cryptocurrency into perspective: When Bitcoin reached a hash rate of 1 petahash/sec in 2013, that was roughly equivalent to the computing power of every Google server in the world combined. That was 3 years ago.  Bitcoin’s hash rate has increased ~4,000% since that time (see chart below).  That’s pretty incredible if you imagine all of the computing power that could be gathered by getting a community of people together who want to build VR environments.

We ought to use shared computing resources to render virtual worlds, and use an app coin to compensate each other for doing so. What’s currently missing is a protocol powered by an app coin. If you're currently working on this, we'd love to learn more!

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