Metaverse: Will it be the “polar paradise” of mankind in the future?

  You are walking towards a brightly-lit main road, when millions of people are walking through the street. The main street stretched into the distant darkness, disappearing beyond the curved horizon of this “planet”.
  Welcome to the new world of “Meta Universe”.
  This 65536-kilometer-long street is just a line of code on the computer. But here, you can work, socialize and consume, and even buy houses facing the street. You only need to put on virtual glasses and spend a few seconds to “reach” wherever you want, such as Tibet, Mount Everest, Hawaii or the North Pole. You have a brand new identity, you can set your favorite face, body or voice, forget the pain and constraints in reality, only your body is reminding you of your real world existence.
  Some of the above scenes and the concept of “meta universe” come from the novel “Avalanche” published by American science fiction writer Neil Stephenson in 1992. Now, 30 years later, it has become one of the hottest words of the moment. Even, Facebook announced that it will transform into a Metaverse company within five years and change its name to “Meta” (“Metaverse” in English is “Metaverse”).
  A founder of a VR company said that nowadays, he has to meet with investors from at least 10 institutions a week, sometimes three games a day, and before the concept of Metaverse became popular, no one was interested in the VR field for many years. Capital is aiming at this concept, competing for bets like every investment boom in recent years.
  They hope to grab the ticket to the next era and be the first to reach another new continent on which humans may live in the future. It is said that in this virtual world controlled by the system, human beings will be the creator of everything-provided that this new continent will really appear.
The first year of the meta universe: chance and necessity

  ”Do you know that there is a concept that is particularly popular recently? It’s called Yuan Universe.”
  ”I’m sorry to tell you that you have actually invested in a Yuan Universe company.”
  Yuyue Capital founder Liu Erhai asked with doubts. Xing Shanhu, the latter is the founder of the game company Code Qiankun. At that time, the meta universe hadn’t been out of the circle, and they were watching the wave without knowing that they were in the wave. The two have known each other for many years. In the spring of 2019, they met and talked for half an hour before finalizing the investment.
  ”When I started doing’Restart the World’, I had never heard of the concept of metaverse. Later I discovered that we were working on metaverse.” Xing Shanhu told Southern People Weekly.
  Xing Shanhu, who has been in the game industry for about 20 years, has four entrepreneurial experiences and has made online games such as “Genghis Khan OL” and “My Name is MT”. In 2016, he transformed into a physics engine, that is, to simulate the laws of various objects in the real world and apply them to the game. Through the built-in physics engine in the game editor, users can reduce the cost of learning and use. Users do not need to use code. One-click to add physical effects in the editor to create a multiplayer online game creation community, that is, “restart the world”, known as the “Chinese version of Roblox”.
  At that time, Roblox had been online for 11 years, but there was no precedent for this model in China. “After evaluating this project, we thought that it would not be possible to do it without 300 to 500 million yuan.” Xing Shanhu recalled that almost all the company’s executives voted against it.
  Funds were soon stretched. He even hesitated to accept Ether from the blockchain, which is worth 20 million U.S. dollars. “If it doesn’t work, just use virtual currency to do this, otherwise I really can’t afford it.”
  ”Don’t want virtual currency, how much money do you need, Can I give you RMB?” said Liu Erhai after listening to the project introduction. In 2019, Code Qiankun received a 100 million yuan A round of financing led by Joy Capital, followed by Northern Light Venture Capital and Zhen Fund. In May 2020, Joy Capital continued to invest in the B round, about 300 million yuan.
  On March 10, 2021, Roblox landed on the New York Stock Exchange, and its market value exceeded US$40 billion on the first day of listing, a 10-fold increase from last year. In the prospectus, Roblox first mentioned the concept of meta-universe, which was called “the first unit of meta-universe.”
  The meta-universe has become very popular from this, and capital is intensively injected. The only executive director of Capital, Shen Haifeng, mentioned that starting from the middle of this year, almost the entire market has been paying attention to Metaverse. “In the past, it was difficult for investors to form a consensus in various subdivisions.
  Metaverse is equivalent to linking all fields together. With a consensus foundation, more investors will come in.” In March, MetaApp announced its completion. The US$100 million Series C financing is the largest single financing in the industry in China. In April, Epic Games, the parent company of the game “Fortnite”, received a new round of $1 billion in financing, setting a record for the highest financing under the concept of “meta universe”; Bytedance invested 100 million yuan in code Qiankun, and in August Acquired Pico, a VR headset manufacturer, for RMB 9 billion.
  Facebook (Meta), Google, Apple, and domestic Tencent, Netease, and ByteDance are all adding to the layout. Mihayou, a game company that has received much attention in recent years, has also proposed a vision to create a virtual world in which one billion people around the world are willing to live in 2030.
  Why is this 30-year-old concept renewed today? “It’s accidental and inevitable.” Shen Haifeng analyzed to Southern People Weekly. The moment is a delicate node. The underlying computing power, network bandwidth, AI and other infrastructure are in a stage of rapid development. The growth of Internet and mobile Internet traffic is peaking. Iteration has reached a bottleneck, but users need a more complex and extreme experience.
  ”An unchanging underlying logic of investment is to find the direction of extreme imbalance between supply and demand, and the platform side and the demand side together urge everyone to explore this direction.” Shen Haifeng said.
  In the words of Zhu Jiaming, Chairman of the Academic and Technical Committee of the Digital Asset Research Institute, “Behind it is the “clustering effect” of the relevant “meta-universe” elements, which is similar to the clustering effect experienced by the Internet in 1995.” In his view, Yuan Yuan The universe provides a new path for the ultimate digital transformation of human society. It is a “new era with the same historical significance as the era of great navigation, the era of industrial revolution, and the era of aerospace.”
  But people quickly discovered that this seems to be an extremely remote, difficult to define and explain clearly, and the market winds are beginning to polarize.
There are mixed praises and criticisms: what is the meta universe?

  The head start-up company was the first to feel the change. “Our company boss no longer talks about Metaverse to the outside world. This term is too vague.” said a practitioner of a metaverse-related concept company.
  Chen Xin, the founder of the Immersive World of Big Space Mobile VR company, also feels about this. “In the circle of primary market and entrepreneurs, the meta universe is no longer mentioned. You will feel that you are blowing and using a nihil hot hype. .Because no one knows what Metaverse is, any company is very far away.”

  The market wind direction has changed since the last one or two months. In Chen Xin’s view, the future meta-universe world must be built by multiple companies, not a single company. “You can’t see Metaverse in your current BP (startup plan). Many investors don’t look at
  Metaverse as soon as they see it.” Shen Haifeng’s feeling is that from the perspective of investment, they are really doing it. Ideally Zhongyuan Universe has fewer companies, and when all the projects are under the name of Meta Universe overnight, some investors feel that the industry may be overheated. “The underlying reason is that everyone does not have a consensus on the meta universe, and no one knows what the meta universe is.”
  ”In fact, they are crossing the river on the stones, and I don’t know who is right and who is wrong.” Xing Shanhu said that everyone understands the meta universe. They may all be different, and some people don’t think that the meta-universe is a future trend.
  Shen Haifeng doesn’t want to pay attention to nouns, but to the essential business of a company. He feels that just as there is no company now calling itself an Internet company, Metaverse will become as commonplace as the Internet and mobile Internet and cover a very wide range. concept.
  Go back to the hot source of the meta universe-Roblox, which is a game platform based on PC and mobile. Roblox shows a meta-universe model that is different from traditional games: in the game, each player can have a new identity. Through the creation tools provided by the platform, they can independently develop games of various forms and categories. The platform has its own economic system. , Players can socialize and trade through virtual currency.
  Roblox co-founder Dave Baszucki proposed that the meta-universe has eight key characteristics: identity, friends, immersion, everywhere, diversity, low latency, economy and civilization. In Xing Shanhu’s view, Metaverse must first have a sense of immersion, and then everyone can participate in it, and can create, such as changing the terrain or buying a house. The most important point is that everyone can realize it and have the opportunity to produce wealth. He gave an example, for example, a person in Europe or the United States just went to play instead of creating and making money on their own. This is the difference between “travel” and “life.” The feature of the meta universe is that human beings can live here.
  The spotlight quickly shifted from Roblox to more imaginative and immersive VR, AR and brain-computer interfaces. Now, when it comes to meta-universe, the pictures that people are more reminiscent of are probably the “oasis” in the movie “Ready Player One”.
  But VR currently cannot be equated with Metaverse. How to enter the meta-universe world, that is, what is the “entry” of the meta-universe? Participants hold different views. Some people believe that the meta universe is a completely virtual world, while others believe that the real and the virtual should be blended together. To enter the meta-universe world, whether it is through VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality), or PC or mobile, each company has different directions.
  Xing Shanhu mentioned a set of data to “Southern People Weekly”: The latest research by Strategy Analytics shows that by June 2021, half of the world’s population has a smart phone, and about 4 billion people now use a smart phone. The mobile phone has become the largest smart device, but most of the production tools are still based on the PC.
  He believes that VR and brain-computer interface must be the future trend, but the technology is in the early stage. In 5 to 10 years, smart phones will still need to be used as the entrance. To this end, Xing Shanhu focuses the current company’s strategic direction mainly on the mobile terminal, and continues to develop iterative editors. The recently developed intelligent motion capture function allows game characters to automatically generate the same dance moves through dance videos uploaded by users.
  Shenyang’s team, executive director of Tsinghua University’s New Media Research Center, released the “Metacosm Development Research Report 2020-2021″ in September 2021. In the report, they explained in detail the definition of Metaverse: Metaverse is a new type of Internet application and social form that integrates multiple new technologies and allows each user to produce content and edit the world.
  ”You can also make a meta-universe application, and I can also make one. Everyone has done a lot. These applications will eventually be integrated and connected and become a social form.” Shenyang told Southern People Weekly, “Many people say Yuan The concept of the universe is a bit fictitious. In fact, it is just a concept. There is no technology called meta-universe. It just integrates, assembles, and upgrades the current technology.”
  Their team believes that the technologies needed by Metaverse include: providing an immersive experience based on extended reality technology, generating a mirror image of the real world based on digital twin technology, building an economic system based on blockchain technology, and combining the virtual world with the real world in the economy. System, social system, and identity system are closely integrated.
  In this world, it is possible for humans to break through the physical rules of the real world. How far they run and how high they jump can be set by themselves. Shenyang sighed that human beings are slaves of real world cognition, but they may become gods of the meta-universe.
Economic system: NFT, virtual currency and meta universe

  In 2003, Second Life was born, which was the first phenomenon-level virtual world game. Users can interact, build, shop, and do business through the identity of virtual “residents” in the game. One of the most critical designs is that the virtual currency “Linden Coins” in the game can be exchanged for U.S. dollars through the platform.
  After residents pay to register as a member, they can earn “Linden Coins” by doing tasks in the game, and they can also buy Linden Coins with US dollars on the official website. The platform strictly controls the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and Linden coins to ensure a balanced game economy. An in-game “resident” Anshe Chung earned $1 million in cash in two years by buying, selling and operating virtual real estate. He was the first millionaire in the virtual world. Some people even quit their jobs in reality and focus on gaining wealth in the game.
  At that time, the BBC, Reuters, CNN and other media even used Second Life as a publishing platform. IBM bought land and established its own sales center in the game. Countries such as Sweden established their own embassies in the game.
  Looking back now, although Second Life has many shortcomings, its pioneering economic system can also be regarded as the embryonic form of the meta universe.
  In the past, users were more “consumed” in the virtual world, such as purchasing skins, equipment, and troops. But what needs to be done in the meta-universe era is economic appreciation. Xing Shanhu believes that most companies currently have control in their own hands, but in the future they need to be more open so that most users can get benefits like working.
  On the Roblox platform, most games including construction require users to spend virtual currency Robux, Robux can be purchased through real currency, users can also obtain Robux on the platform through participating in creation, and can exchange Robux into real currency.
  In 2021, the enthusiasm of NFT has added a lot of imagination to the meta universe. NFT stands for non-homogeneous tokens, similar to cryptocurrencies, and is a product based on blockchain technology. It has unique, non-copyable, and inseparable features, can mark virtual assets, and can be traded and transferred. This feature enables NFT to solve the problem of confirming the rights of virtual assets in the meta-universe world. You know, a stable economic system is the key to the long-lasting operation of the meta universe.
  ”I think this is another cornerstone of the meta-universe. In reality, the time spent by ordinary people is often money. But in the Internet age, it has been destroyed. Information can be copied infinitely. After a boutique is copied countless times, all The products are worthless.” Xing Shanhu said.

  In August 2021, NBA star Stephen Curry spent US$180,000 for a “sky price” to take a virtual monkey head portrait. Unlike ordinary avatars, it is an encrypted avatar composed of hundreds of pixels and can be verified for authenticity, so it is unique. Of course, the “high price” is also related to hype. In addition to the authenticity of the NFT avatar can be verified, it can be regarded as indistinguishable from the normal avatar to some extent.
  The characteristics of NFT make it naturally have collection properties, which can be used to record and trade digital assets, including game props, artworks, etc. It is a virtual asset confirmation tool and the key to building a bridge between virtual assets and real assets. In addition, blockchain technology may also become the basis of the meta-universe authentication mechanism. Based on the characteristics of blockchains that are not easy to tamper with, open and transparent, the blockchain technology can provide meta-universe with a payment and clearing system in the virtual space, so that the meta-universe The value circulation, realization and identity authentication of the company are possible.
  Shenyang believes that “the formation of an economically value-added trading environment through NFT and cryptocurrency is already a necessary element of Metaverse.”
Immersive exploration: five years of VR ups and downs

  What is the best entrance to the meta-universe world? Chen Xin firmly believes that it is VR. Before 2016, Chen Xin was doing a room escape business, but he found that due to space and technological constraints, “the entire industry development ceiling is too low.” 2016 coincided with the hottest year in the VR industry. An accidental contact made him decide to try to use VR to restore the scene.
  Before the establishment of the new company, he received a financing. At that time, the market was very hot. Since Facebook announced in July 2014 that it would acquire VR headset manufacturer Oculus for US$2 billion, capital has been paying close attention to this field.
  In 2015, Baofeng Technology created a history of 37 consecutive daily limit A-shares. Its VR concept product Baofeng Mirror was one of the important reasons for its stock price rise. This fire reached its peak at the beginning of 2016. “At that time, VR in the primary and secondary markets could be said to be a mess.” Chen Xin recalled.
  The market gave him confidence, and the stalls were very large. In order to solve the problem of the accuracy of spatial positioning, the team spent 800,000 to buy a set of hardware equipment from overseas. But still need to develop a large number of algorithms for picture optimization.
  A new round of financing has not yet been finalized, and the VR market suddenly turned cold, and has since fallen into a long silence. In May 2016, the China Securities Regulatory Commission halted the cross-definition increase of listed companies, involving four industries: Internet finance, games, film and television, and VR. At the same time, the mergers and acquisitions and refinancing of these four industries have also been suspended. Losing the exit channel, the VR market has dropped to a freezing point.

Picture of the game scene in “Restart the World” / provided by the interviewee

  ”The more fundamental reason is that it is difficult to commercialize, the software and hardware are not mature enough, the experience is not enough, and the lack of good content.” Shen Haifeng has been paying attention to the VR industry for a long time, but the 2016 craze did not allow him to “make a move.”
  In the absence of funds, Chen Xin led the team to explore for a year and a half. In 2018, they opened their first store, but the results were not satisfactory at the time. “They will find it meaningless and won’t come again.” After that, they started the development of the second generation of content. In the meantime, he has been seeking new financing, but no investors are willing to talk about VR again. He estimates that the death rate of the entire industry is more than 95%. The team was unable to pay wages for a while.
  Shen Haifeng is one of the few investors who are still looking at the VR industry in 2019. The user growth of traditional content is facing a bottleneck. He believes that the digital transformation of offline entertainment may be a direction. But at this time, it was even difficult for him to find entrepreneurs who were still doing VR. Some people responded that he switched to a bar and some thought he was joking.
  In 2020, Immersive World’s new version of VR Escape Room was launched, this time word-of-mouth was reversed. Shen Haifeng discovered by accident that the interaction, resolution and immersion are very different from the previous generation. The creation of infinite virtual space in limited physical space is becoming a reality. When he passed through two “rooms” in the first level, he determined to ” Shot”.
  In fact, there have been new changes in VR overseas markets in 2020. In the first half of 2020, the game company Valve launched the first 3A-level VR game “Half-Life: Alex”. Although there is still much room for improvement, its level of sophistication has brought VR games to another development. stage. Before, the VR industry was all small games. In September of the same year, the new generation of VR headset Quest 2 was released. According to data from the US Consumer Safety Commission, the cumulative sales of Quest 2 have reached approximately 4 million units until July 2021.
  In terms of hardware, the clarity has improved, and the price changes are quite obvious. The average price of a VR headset in 2016 is more than 10,000 yuan, and now it only costs two to three thousand yuan.
  The blessing of the meta-universe concept has revived VR that has been silent for many years. “I know an FA (financing consultant). He may be helping 10 VR companies at the same time to raise funds. But two or three years ago, no FA would pay attention. VR.” Shen Haifeng said.
  Under capital touted, as an entrepreneur, Chen Xin worries that in a more aggressive state, there may be products with poor user experience for traffic, which will undermine market confidence. He recalled that at the stage of the VR industry bubble, everyone called for the first year of VR, but there were no good products that could be experienced, so that many users were unwilling to experience it again. “You need to be alert to the damage caused by radicalism and fear the market.”
  Compared with other industries , The VR process has always been slow. It has been developed for 10 years and is still in its infancy. There is a long way to go regardless of market penetration or hardware and software.
  In Chen Xin’s view, the way people interact with the real world is through vision and body perception. If these two feelings can be simulated, life in the virtual world will be possible. “When the resolution of the hardware approaches or exceeds the resolution of the retina, a complete physical migration of the real world can be done. I expect it to be in 2025.”
Risk: Is it a paradise or a road of “servitude”?

  The classic cyberpunk work William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” describes such a future society: in the glamorous high-tech life, all order is highly controlled, large companies control ordinary residents, and elites control more For a good life, the material wealth that people at the bottom can use is extremely scarce.
  So how far are we from the future society of the meta universe?
  ”Don’t worry about how to get to the meta universe, the meta universe has already come. It’s just that you haven’t completely immersed you in a virtual world today.” Xing Shanhu said. In his view, people’s dependence on virtual networks has reached a critical point. Based on mobile phone screens, they have already lived in virtual networks, and they can also achieve success through the Internet. He believes that the meta-universe is like the Internet, which cannot be defined as when it will arrive, but is gradually realized in the process.

  When that moment arrives, in the “system” where big companies control order, can human beings truly get rid of the shackles of reality and realize freedom like a “paradise”?
  In the definition of meta-universe, decentralization is an important feature. Everyone can create independently, realize the value in the virtual world, use a lower cost, surpass the physical and physical limitations, and forget the troubles and constraints.
  But large companies are the creators of the underlying logic of the meta universe, and the monopoly and exploitation of capital may also make true decentralization difficult to achieve. In the view of the Shenyang team, “Metacosm’s publicity and sociality make complete decentralization a false proposition to a certain extent.”
  If this concern is still far away, it may be more necessary to be alert to bubbles and hype at the moment. risk. The game company Zhongqingbao stated on its official Weibo in September 2021 that it will be committed to creating a meta-universe simulation business game. After that, the company has harvested three daily limits in the past five trading days, a cumulative increase of over 116%.
  Under the concept of meta universe, we need to be alert to irrational shocks in the stock market. Even if it is the first stock of Metaverse Roblox, according to its latest financial report, there will still be a net loss of up to 140 million U.S. dollars in the second quarter of 2021. In Shen Haifeng’s view, bubbles are an inevitable historical development and also a cycle. The key is to judge risks.
  Shenyang also pointed out that Metaverse puts forward higher-level requirements for individual data. Individual privacy data is the underlying resource that supports the continuous operation of Metaverse, but it also increases the risk of privacy leakage and crime. “For example, the technology for generating virtual humans is becoming more and more perfect, and a virtual human is generated that looks exactly like you, and can completely restore your voice, which will bring fraud risks.” He gave an example.
  In addition, in the meta-universe world, how to verify the labor value corresponding to each person’s workload in the virtual universe is also a problem.
  When the sense of immersion is strong enough, human beings may lose their joy in the real world, which will impact social interaction and operating rules. Shenyang believes that at that time, workers in the real world may be transformed into play workers in the virtual world, and he advocates the balanced development of the integration of virtuality and reality.
  The opening scene of “Neuromancer” is: “The pier under the strong light is as snowy as a stage, and the sky like a TV screen is also so bright that you can’t see the lights of Tokyo, and you can’t even see the towering holographic logo of Fuji Electronics. “The
  future is also coming in a disturbing but exciting way.
Ten major risks in the development of the metaverse industry