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The metaverse doesn’t quite exist yet, but it’s just the dusk before the dawn. And when it does finally burst into life, commerce and transactions are going to be central to so much of the activity within it. Industry experts dove into the topic today during the “Transacting in the Metaverse” panel at the GamesBeat “Into the Metaverse” Summit.
Dean Takahashi, lead writer of GamesBeat, hosted Chris Smith, founder of BIG Esports, Josh Marcus, COO at Rumble Gaming, and Evan Heby, senior marketing manager of Tipalti in a wide-ranging conversation about tokens, cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and other transactions in today’s virtual spaces and tomorrow’s metaverse. There’s a long road to go before everyone feels that these forms of currency are safe and secure, and they become universal. How do we get there?
“What we’re seeing is a move, first and foremost, from some of the traditional methods of payment you might see, checks and things like that, to digital versions of that, whether it’s an echeck or wire or ACH,” Heby said. “But we also predict that we’ll see even more movement as the metaverse develops, and as people build more of that trust with the cryptocurrencies, and feel that there’s a lot of value behind things like NFTs. People will start to be more willing to get paid in those forms.”
Cryptocurrency will become far more trusted and far more universal when it’s the answer to a problem that needs to be solved, Smith said — and that’s part of why many gamers reject the idea of NFTs. There’s a tremendous amount of potential for things like smart contracts in a broad array of industries, from gaming and insurances, to payment platforms and processors, and contracts with talent.
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“Blockchain isn’t going to solve everything all the time, at least not right now,” he said. “We need to have a way that it’s going to benefit [players], because otherwise we get the bad PR that we’ve seen with gamers. Triple-A gaming studios try to shove NFTs in there because it’s the cool word, the cool thing to say.”
Heby predicted that the first major move in transactions that we’ll see in metaverses is advertising companies making land grabs, very similar to what Nike did recently within Roblox. It’s a familiar narrative of development and progress in the real world, where real estate gets bought up, and then the infrastructure gets built on that.
“We’ll start seeing cutting-edge companies invest real marketing dollars — in traditional currencies, not necessarily crypto — to benefit the long-term health and wellness of their businesses,” he said. “In terms of types of transactions today, it’s still heavily based in fiat currencies like we’re talking about. But that has an opportunity to change toward crypto, toward NFTs, toward tokenization very quickly.”
Companies may also start to do pop-up shops and sell clothes or merchandise, or companies like FaZe Clan might take the opportunity to make a land grab, he said.
Trust, shared belief, and cryptocurrency
The key to helping people understand this space is the concept of digital ownership and digital assets generally, Marcus said. A skeptic might see an artistic NFT, a poorly-drawn ape, and wonder why anyone would put a six-figure value on ownership of something they could screenshoot.
“But when you unpack it, it’s not about the ape, it’s about the underlying technology that allows anyone with that technological know-how to confirm that I own the NFT to the exclusion of all others,” he said.
Ownership in the real world can be considered a bundle of rights — when you buy land, you have the right to build a house on it, the right to grow vegetables on it, the right to sell it. If you can prove that you own the rights to this ape, you can also prove that you own the rights to other digital assets. You can own one of Stella Artois’ digital horses and race it against other digital horses, own land in a digital world and develop it, and charge others for the right to enter a digital world.
“It’s about a shift in perception of property, the ownership of an asset not being limited only to the physical world, but expanding that to the digital world,” he said. “It’s going to take time, for sure, but as we start to see more utility in these digital assets, we’ll start to see greater acceptance and understanding of it generally.”
Predictions about cryptocurrency and transactions in the metaverse can be made with varying amounts of gravitas, but no one really knows where it will end up.
“The onus is not on the consumer in adopting cryptocurrency as a legitimate asset, it’s on the technological partners and on the businesses that are creating these projects,” Marcus says.
And that probably means offering a frictionless value proposition for the consumer, where they gain benefits without having to dive into the nitty-gritty of how crypto actually works. In the NFT space, the virtual basketball trading cards product, NBA Top Shot, is a great example. You can withdraw and deposit cash in USD fairly easily to buy and sell, with few hoops to jump through.
“But if I compare that to an NFT project on the Ethereum network like Bored Ape Yacht Club, I have to open a digital wallet, deposit my fiat currency into that, exchange it for a digital currency, pay the gas and transaction fees, and eventually convert everything back and go withdraw the money at the ATM,” he said. “The onus really isn’t on us as consumers to figure out how to make this work. But I can’t wait to see where the technology goes to make it easier.”
It’s inevitable that we’ll move in this direction, Heby said.
“Compare the U.S. dollar, how long it’s been around, to Bitcoin,” he said. “We have at least a hundred-plus years on it with the U.S. dollar. That’s the marketing problem. People like things that have history behind them. As we get more and more history, there are going to be some changes, and it’ll be something that becomes more widely accepted. For now, there are still transactions going on in the metaverse. There will continue to be transactions going on.”
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