#1221: Wagner James Au’s Book “Making a Metaverse that Matters” Shares 20 Years of Virtual World Insights

Wagner James Au‘s latest book Making a Metaverse that Matters: From Snow Crash & Second Life to A Virtual World Worth Fighting For releases on June 27 after the 20th anniversary of Second Life is on June 23, 2023. Au started as an embedded journalist employed by Second Life to cover the evolving trends of digital culture within their virtual world, and he’s continued to be an intrepid reporter of this space on his New World Notes blog tracking the evolution of various different Metaverse platforms.

I had a chance to take an early look of Au’s book, and do an in-depth interview with him this week to unpack some of his deep insights into the industry. He goes back to the source material of the Metaverse of Snow Crash, providing the following strict definition of the Metaverse that is justified by associated passages from Neal Stephenson’s classic sci-fi novel that coined the term. He says, “The Metaverse is a vast, immersive virtual world simultaneously accessible by millions of people through highly customizable avatars and powerful experience creation tools integrated with the offline world through its virtual economy and external technology.” By this definition there are already well over 500 million active monthly users on Metaverse platforms including Roblox, Minecraft, Fortnite, ZEPETO, Rec Room, VRChat, Avankin Life, IMVU, Second Life, and Horizon Worlds.

The book starts off with a retrospective look at Second Life, and some of the reasons why it never hit an inflection point to go mainstream. It also digs more into the philosophical origins of the Metaverse via Snow Crash, with a deep dive with author Neal Stephenson in the second part unpacking the Metaverse as product road map and how Stephenson’s Lamina1 is attempting to fuse aspects of the cryptocurrency and blockchain with the Metaverse complete with literary citations and inspirations from Stephenson’s body of sci-fi work. It digs into some of the limitations of Meta’s approach with Horizon Worlds as well as some of why Au is skeptical that VR will ever take off as a mainstream consumer technology. More on those critiques here in a bit.

The second part of the book does a more in-depth deep dive into some of the leading Metaverse platforms including Roblox, Minecraft, Fortnite, and VRChat. Au speaks to leading world building and experiential design developers from each of these platforms, and in some cases speaks to executives when he is able to get ahold of them. A common theme throughout this book is that Au comes back to many Second Life veterans who offer their reflections on the different dynamics of each of these platforms, and he is able to usually pull out some little known, obscure, or under reported fact tying back each Metaverse development back to Second Life.

The third portion of the book is where Au is able to tie up a lot of loose ends in terms of countering different Metaverse hype, but also unpacking the promises of pragmatic Metaverse applications as well as digging into the Metaverse perils and the variety of ethical and moral dilemmas. He lays out some trends and future paths moving forward including AI, cloud rendering, and up and coming platforms including how Discord and Value’s Steam platform could be some spaces to keep an eye on.

I really appreciated how much original reporting Au did for this book in gathering quotes from a broad range of Metaverse developers, industry insiders, and academics, and the tone is similar to his blog in the sense that he’s either pulling quotes from his prior reporting or he was able to get the latest perspectives on the industry over the past year and a half. This is a quickly moving industry, and so his Afterword at the end is able to fill in the gaps to bring us mostly up to speed on a variety of different new develops that he was not able to cover in the main chapters.

Au is skeptical that virtual reality has the viability to become a mainstream technology, and like many other Metaverse commentators like Tim Sweeney, Neal Stephenson, or Tony Parisi, Au doesn’t think that VR is a critical pre-requisite for The Metaverse.

Part of Au’s skepticism around VR stems from overly relying upon a single 2016 research paper on VR motion sickness without doing a more comprehensive literature review on the topic. Au repeatedly makes the claim throughout his book that “VR tends to make most females nauseous” and “that reputable research suggests tends to make half the population literally vomit” and “evidence that VR is not enjoyable to roughly half the population.” I think these are hyperbolic claims that do not fit with my baseline experience of what I have witnessed over the past 9 years, and I don’t think they can be supported by the broader research literature on the topic of gender differences of simulator sickness. If gender differences do exist, then they are on a completely different scale than how Au is representing the topic in his book.

The primary evidence for Au’s claims is a 2016 paper by Munafo, Diedrick, & Stoffregen published in Experimental Brain Research called The virtual reality head-mounted display Oculus Rift induces motion sickness and is sexist in its effects. They used a Oculus DK2 HMD (VR dev kit technology that was released in 2014) on a sample size of 36 people, with 18 men and 18 women. They played an early release of a game called Affected downloaded from an unofficial channel of games.softpedia.com, which is before the Oculus Store had launched with strict framerate and performance requirements. The experience had smooth locomotion with no VR comfort options like teleportation, and the paper does not provided any details of the hardware used or framerates achieved. The DK2 has a fixed IPD range of around 63.5mm, which meant roughly 66.57% of women likely had an IPD lower than this (see charts below), and the IPDs of participants were not recorded by study. The results of the study that Au likes to promote is that they found 77% of women (14 out of 18) reported motion sickness in their second experiment and 33% of men (6 out of 18) reported motion sickness. Based upon this singular result of 77% of women (14 out of 18) and 56% of people (20 out of 36) getting sick in their second experiment in 2016 with questionable methodology, Au is making the generalized claims that “VR tends to make most females nauseous” and “VR is not enjoyable to roughly half the population.”

I do not think this study is a representative example of VR comfort best practices, and I do not think that this study done on the 2014 technology with the DK2 conducted in 2016 should have much relevance to VR comfort and motion sickness today. I’m also skeptical that a sample size of 36 people is enough to make the types of statistically significant statements that Au is extrapolating to claim that “VR is not enjoyable to roughly half the population.” A paper titled Gender differences in cybersickness: Clarifying confusion and identifying paths forward (preprint) says ,”Studies that evaluate mediators and moderators will also need appropriate sample sizes [13, 39]. This will require larger sample sizes than those typically used in VR research. For example, the mediation model involving [the Visually Induced Motion Sickness Susceptibility Questionnaire] presented in Section 4.1 requires approximately 170 participants to ensure statistical power is at least 80% for detecting the hypothesized indirect (i.e., mediated) effect.”

The Munafo, Diedrick, & Stoffregen’s paper Au cites has 483 citations in Google Scholar with another 279 follow-up papers that specifically reference gender, which means there has been a lot more research that has happened since this was originally submitted in 2016. But Au does not dig into any of these other more recent papers or literature reviews on the topic, but rather overly relies on a singular result that I do not think represents the broader scholarship on the topic.

In a paper titled Gender differences in cybersickness: Clarifying confusion and identifying paths forward presented at IEEE VR 2023 conference (preprint available here) the authors write in their abstract, “We summarize the literature and conclude that women experience more cybersickness than do men, but that the size of the gender effect is modest.” They report:

Two recent systematic reviews [17, 47] determined that it is pre-mature to draw conclusions about the relationship between gender and cybersickness. Another systematic review [29] proposed best practices for research on gender differences in cybersickness based on a review of research methods employed in the literature, but the paper stops short of summarizing the existing evidence and therefore does not weigh in on the question of whether gender relates to cybersickness. Two meta-analyses [35, 38] approached the question by correlating the proportion of women among participants in each study with overall cybersickness reported by the study, which allows for analysis of papers that do not separately report cybersickness data for men and women. One of those papers reports a significant relationship between gender and cybersickness opposite the predicted direction (i.e., more women in the participant sample corresponds to lower cybersickness) [35] and the other reports no relationship [38]. Finally, a meta-analysis of studies that separately report cybersickness for men and women reported that women become sicker than men, and that the effect size is small-to-medium (r= .21) [18].

J. W. Kelly, S. B. Gilbert, M. C. Dorneich and K. A. Costabile, “Gender differences in cybersickness: Clarifying confusion and identifying paths forward,” 2023 IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces Abstracts and Workshops (VRW), Shanghai, China, 2023, pp. 283-288, https://doi.org/10.1109/VRW58643.2023.00067.

In my conversation with Au, I cited a 2020 article Virtual Reality Is Sexist: But It Does Not Have to Be by Stanney, Fidopiastis, and Foster where they found evidence in their specific experiment that “Interpupillary distance (IPD) non-fit was found to be the primary driver of gender differences in cybersickness, with motion sickness susceptibility identified as a secondary driver.” They provided the following chart showing what percentage of females fall below the minimum IPD range offered by most VR headsets.

IPD Ranges of VR HMDs in 2020 and What Percentage of Female are Excluded Headset IPD range Sony PlayStation Adjustable via software between 48 and 78mm (VR Heads, 2017), and would be expected to fit the entire adult population Samsung Gear VR Fixed at 62 mm (Samsung, 2016), and would only be expected to fit individuals with an IPD of 62 mm, which is ~10% of both males and females (Gordon et al., 2014) Oculus Rift Adjustable between 58 and 72 mm (Carbotte, 2016), and thus would not be expected to fit the smallest ~15% of females and the largest ~1% of both males and females Oculus Rift S Adjustable between 61.5 and 65.5 mm (Heaney, 2019), and thus would not be expected to fit the smallest ~45% of females, the largest ~ 15% of women, the smallest ~20% of males, and the largest ~30% of males Oculus Quest Adjustable between 56 and 74 mm (Heaney, 2019), and thus would not be expected to fit the smallest ~ 7% of females and the largest ~ 1% of males HTC Vive Adjustable from 60.5 to 74.4 mm (HTC Vive, 2017), and thus would not be expected to fit the smallest ~35% of females, smallest ~ 15% of males, and largest ~ 1% of males HTC Vive Pro Adjustable from 60.9 to 74 mm (HTC Vive Pro, 2018), and thus would not be expected to fit the smallest ~ 40% of females, smallest ~ 18% of males, and largest ~ 1% of males Females IPD Range: 51-74.5mm (mean IPD = 61.7 mm; S.D. = 3.6 mm); Male IPD Range: 53-77.5mm (mean IPD = 64.0 mm; S.D. = 3.4 mm). Percentages based on US Army Anthropomorphic Survey (ANSUR) database (Gordon et al., 2014). Citations: Stanney, K., Fidopiastis, C., & Foster, L. (2020). Virtual Reality Is Sexist: But It Does Not Have to Be. Frontiers in Robotics and Al, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/frobt.2020.00004

Here a graphic of the male vs female Interpapillary Breadth (aka Interpupillary Distance / IPD) from page 150 of the 2012 Anthropometric Survey of U.S. Army Personnel: Methods and Summary Statistics. Technical Report NATICK/15-007.

And here is a cumulative percent of females vs males to show that 16.57% of females have an IPD that is lower than the minimum IPD of 58mm for many VR HMDs, including the Oculus Quest 2. Data from page 150 of the 2012 Anthropometric Survey of U.S. Army Personnel: Methods and Summary Statistics. Technical Report NATICK/15-007.

Stanney, Fidopiastis, & Foster conclude in their paper that “As more females were unable to properly fit their IPD to currently available VR headsets, and any IPD non-fit experienced was more extreme in females than males, VR technology was indeed found to be sexist, but it does not have to be. If VR headset manufacturers implement an IPD adjustable range of ~ 50 to 77 mm to capture >99% of both females and males, it is anticipated that a far greater number of females will be able to harness the performance enhancing potential of VR technology.”

A reminder that the 2016 paper that Au cited used the DK2 with a fixed IPD of 63.5mm, which is is larger than 66.57% of most female IPDs according to the Army’s 2012 Anthropometric Survey of U.S.

IPD may be just one explanation for some of the potential gender differences in cybersickness, and Stanney, Fidopiastis, & Foster list a number of other possibilities saying, “there are many individual factors that could contribute to gender differences, including previous experience with virtual motion, field of view (FOV), IPD, field dependence, postural stability, female hormonal cycle, state/trait anxiety, migraine susceptibility, ethnicity, aerobic fitness, body mass index, among others… Researchers have yet to identify which of these factors are the primary drivers of susceptibility differences between the genders.”

Despite the robust amount of research available on the topic of motion sickness and gender since 2016, Au focuses his attention on Meta’s lack of response regarding danah boyd’s March 28, 2014 article “Is the Oculus Rift Sexist?” published in Quartz Magazine. This article was based upon boyd’s 2000 undergrad thesis paper titled “Depth Cues in Virtual Reality and Real World: Understanding Individual Differences in Depth Perception by Studying Shape-from-shading and Motion Parallax.”

Au characterizes boyd’s work as a “landmark study suggesting that women and girls tend to process 3D graphics in a way that often causes them nausea,” but I think this overstates what boyd was able to definitively conclude within these two published works. The conclusion of boyd’s 2000 thesis paper reads, “While the initial goal of this project and research was to address what potential individual differences may exist, doing so within the realm of this project was impossible. The framework for this area of research has not been developed far enough to make this level of detailed analysis feasible. Instead, I have started to dismantle the current framework, showing faults with previous research in this are. In addition, I have given some suggestions as to how to rebuild a more stable version of this framework, so as the research suggested in this paper can actually be completed.”

To me, that sounds like more research still needs to be done in order to more firmly establish her preliminary findings, and that she is challenging the existing framing of how this topic has traditionally been researched. boyd ends her 2014 Quartz article with the heading of “We need more research” and says, “However, I never did go back to the clinic to find out. The problem with this type of research is that you’re never really sure of your findings until they can be reproduced. A lot more work is needed to understand what I saw in those experiments.” As I give a close read to both of boyd’s citations, then I am not seeing definitive evidence that Au is claiming of how it finds that “women and girls tend to process 3D graphics in a way that often causes them nausea.”

boyd’s 2014 Quartz article was certainly a catalyst for VR research into gender bias with motion sickness represented by 23 direct Google Scholar citations including Munafo, Diedrick, & Stoffregen (which again gathered nearly 483 citations). Her article was a provocation for further research, and reading Au’s book gives the impression that no further progress on this topic has happened since 2016 because neither Meta nor other researchers have directly reached out to boyd. But there has actually been a lot of progress on the topic shown by some the hundreds of citations and literature reviews cited above.

Au claims that Meta has been negligently ignoring these issues, and it is hard to assess whether or not they are completely unaware of the existing literature on the topic or whether they opted to not reply to Au (see these contentious Twitter replies from Meta CTO Andrew Bosworth to Au here and here for context). I will reach out to see if Meta with this post to see if they’re willing to comment on the IPD issue, and update this post if I hear anything back.

I do believe that it is worth continuing to research and investigate, especially considering the minimum IPD ranges and how at least 16.57% of females have IPDs that are lower than the minimum 58mm of the Oculus Quest 2.

As a VR journalist, I did find it a bit irksome to see Au repeatedly throw shade at VR as a medium. It feels like Au cherry picked one bad result from 2016 to non-representatively extrapolate them into hyperbolic claims that don’t align with the broader literature on the topic. If there are significant gender differences within VR cybersickness that do exist, then it needs to be more firmly established within the literature and given a lot more attention from the broader industry. Hopefully this write-up helps to contextualize some of these issues to get some more definitive answers on whether or not Meta has been looking into it, what they think about the minimum IPD of 58mm excluding nearly 17% of women, and what can be done about it all.

Overall, I actually quite enjoyed Au’s book, and I really appreciated his Metaverse Manifesto declarations in Chapter 14. There’s lots of hard-earned lessons contained in his book, and history tends to repeat itself over the scale of 20 years of virtual world explorations. There’s a lot of valuable virtual world history that the broader XR and Metaverse platform industry could benefit from. He also features a lot of great perspectives on a variety of different virtual worlds, and his Metaverse definition and concurrency estimates helps to establish that there are already well over half a billion people regularly engaging with this proto-Metaverse platforms on a monthly basis. I do agree that virtual reality is not a mandatory perquisite for the Metaverse, but I also think it makes it a lot more better through the power of immersion and presence. Au’s book Making a Metaverse that Matters: From Snow Crash & Second Life to A Virtual World Worth Fighting For releases on June 27, and Second Life’s 20th anniversary is coming up on June 23, 2023.

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast that looks at the future of spatial computing. You can support the podcast at patreon.com.voicesofvr. So in today's episode, I have an author named Wagner James Au, who's got a book called Making a Metaverse That Matters, From a Snow Crash in Second Life to a Virtual World Worth Fighting For. So Wagner was an embedded journalist with Second Life from the beginning, back when it launched 20 years ago. Actually, the 20th anniversary is coming up on Friday, June 23rd, 2023. And so this book is coming out around that 20 year anniversary. So Wagner was there from the beginning as an embedded journalist, reporting on the different digital culture, talking to avatars, and just seeing what was happening in these virtual worlds. And he's continued to cover virtual worlds over the past 17 years on a blog called New World Notes, where he's been tracking both the evolution of all these different virtual platforms and virtual reality and these social VR places as well. And so he also wrote a book called The Making of Second Life, notes from The New World that came out on February 26, 2008 that covers some of the very beginnings of his involvement with Second Life as well. So Wagner is taking the definition of the metaverse directly from Snow Crash. So he cites these different passages to defend this definition that he has. And so he defines it like this. He says, the metaverse is, quote, a vast, immersive virtual world simultaneously accessible by millions of people through highly customizable avatars and powerful experience creation tools integrated with the offline world, through its virtual economy and external technology." So by this definition, he's able to define the metaverse with platforms like Roblox, Minecraft, Fortnite, VRChat, RecRoom, and a whole slew of other different virtual worlds that are out there. But all in all, there's well over 600 million monthly active users across all these different metaverse platforms. And Just like Tim Sweeney, Neal Stephenson, and Tony Parisi, Wagner doesn't see that virtual reality as a prerequisite technology in order to access these metaverse platforms. And so by that, the metaverse is thriving and growing in many respects. And so in this book, Wagner takes a retrospective look at what happened with Second Life, what went wrong, why did it never achieve this mainstream status as a technology, and what kind of lessons can we learn from that? as well as looking at Snow Crash and its influence as a book, but also what Meta is doing and what they're doing right and wrong with Horizon Worlds. But in the main thrust of the book, he's diving into these different Metaverse platforms from Roblox and Fortnite, Minecraft, VRChat, and chats with Neil Stevenson with what he's doing with Lambda01. And so he's getting a sense of not only the creators of each of these different platforms, but also sometimes some of the executives of the platforms, but always talking to folks who are on the front lines, creating different immersive experiences within these virtual worlds. And so he's got this embedded journalism perspective and has lots of original porning throughout the course of this book and lots of connections back to Second Life. So folks that he's known for many, many years. and Second Life communities have gone off amongst all these variety of different metaverse platforms and he's getting their perspective on each of their approaches for the metaverse. So I should note that Wagner does have a bit of a skeptical take for virtuality. He doesn't believe that it's going to be a mainstream mass consumer technology. And he also is focusing in on a small section of research that is drawing conclusions that I think go above and beyond what that research is saying. And I think that's specifically around motion sickness and cyber sickness within women. And so throughout the course of this book, he makes the claim again and again and again, that it's a fact that VR tends to make most females nauseous. He's basing this upon one study from like 2016 using the Oculus DK2 and a small sample size of like 18 women and on an experience that didn't even have any VR locomotion comfort modes or anything like that. It was basically like smooth locomotion through an unoptimized 2016 experience and 14 out of the 18 women, 77% reporting motion sickness. So it has been established that women are more susceptible to cyber sickness than men and generally to motion sickness as well. However, I think that some of the causes of that cyber sickness are not well defined and needs more research. There's some researchers that suspect that some of that difference is due to IPD range and how much of the existing VR headsets are accommodating from those different IPD ranges. Some women's IPDs can go as low as 50 millimeters and the minimum for most VR headsets are like 58 millimeters And so on average for like the oculus quest 2 15% of women are not going to be within the range of those VR headsets and so I just wanted to cite two research articles that I would point to that is a little bit more up-to-date than this 2016 or Even Data and Boyd's article that was written back in 2014 for Quartz, which I think actually catalyzed a lot of this other research. And so there has been follow-up research that he's not citing in the book. But there's an article that was published in the Frontiers of Robotics and AI on the 31st of January of 2020 called Virtuality is sexist, but it does not have to be. And so one of the things that they found is that the IPD non-fit is one of the primary drivers for the gender differences in cyber sickness. And they found that in both of their experiments that they did. They say as more females were unable to properly fit their IPD to currently available VR headsets, and any IPD non-fit experience was more extreme in females than males. VR technology was indeed found to be sexist, but it does not have to be. If VR headset manufacturers implement an IPD adjustment range of 50-77mm, then they'd be able to capture more than 99% of both females and males. And it is anticipated that a far greater number of females will be able to harness the performance-enhancing potential of VR technology. So I do think that this IPD issue is likely one of the primary drivers of some of the different gender differences in cybersickness. But there was also another recent paper that was presented at the IEEE VR 2023 conference called Gender Differences in Cybersickness, Clarifying Confusion and Identifying Paths Forward. After they did a literature review, they conclude that women experience more cyber sickness than men, but the size of that gender effect is modest. And they actually propose a number of different VR design mitigation factors to be able to reduce some of the different cyber sickness aspects. They go on to say that two recent systematic reviews determined that it is premature to draw conclusions about the relationship between gender and cyber sickness. So I think given the evidence that's out there, Wagner may be overstating some of the different research that's there and not necessarily doing a comprehensive literature review, getting into all the latest research on this topic. So anyway, I just wanted to give that as a caveat because I disagree with some of his conclusions that he's repeating throughout the course of this book that is driving a lot of his views on virtual reality as a technology in general. But I had a chance to do a whole deep dive with Wagner and get a little bit more context in his journey of writing this book and get a bit of some of the different highlights that I saw from the book. I think there's still plenty in the book that's worth diving into, and he's got lots of really good insights from his 20 plus years of covering these different virtual worlds and a lot of strong opinions for how to facilitate a metaverse that matters as we move forward. So, that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So, this interview with Wagner happened on Monday, June 19th, 2023. So, with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:07:29.746] Wagner James Au: So, my name is Wagner James Au. I'm the author of Making a Metaverse That Matters, from snow crash in Second Life to a virtual world worth fighting for. And as that suggests, I've been writing about metaverse platforms slash virtual worlds for now 20 years. I started as the official embedded journalist in Second Life, contracted by Lynded Lab. I came in as a freelance reporter and during the demo of Second Life, Philip and Robin Harper were like, well, maybe you could write for us. like there's already a burgeoning beta community of Second Life users doing amazing things. So what if you came in and started writing about the world and basically never left? And I've just expanded from Second Life to other platforms. So like in the book, I talk about Fortnite and VR chat and Roblox and weigh the pros and cons of what they're doing in terms of trying to build the metaverse. And As much talking with the developers, talk a lot with the creative communities that are there because, I mean, hopefully one thing that comes away with the book is that the user communities are really what matters with these platforms first and foremost.

[00:08:48.222] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, looking forward to diving into your book. Cause I do think the distinct difference between your book and say Matthew ball's book, where he takes much of a distant analytic look at things, looking at public reports and very little firsthand reporting. You do quite a lot of original reporting in this book, but before we dive into the book, I wanted to get a little bit more context as to your background and your journey into the space.

[00:09:09.842] Wagner James Au: Yeah, out of college, I started doing freelance writing for like Wired and Salon. And my thought originally was to write about games as an emerging culture. And as I was writing about them, I started getting a lot of interest in the mod community. that had sprung up around Half-Life and some other platforms, and was just amazed at the user creativity there. And so that kind of intersected with these early MMOs, not just Second Life, but like The Sims Online, where there was this thought of, okay, well, maybe we should take a spirit of modding and make it possible in a MMO context. And so, yeah, that's a bit of my background from, you know, starting as a writer, but seeing just that this was really huge, you know, years and years before anyone was talking about the metaverse, except people like Philip Rosedale and John Carmack and so on. But the modding community was already showing how powerful it could be if you give the users tools to create.

[00:10:13.002] Kent Bye: Yeah. One of the themes that I think is pretty consistent in your book is that you started as an embedded journalist at Second Life and was able to connect to a lot of different people at Second Life. And it's interesting to see people that are involved in the other platforms usually have some sort of connection back to Second Life. And that seemed to be a recurrent theme throughout this book is calling back to different people who have some connection to Second Life commenting on the latest Metaverse platform.

[00:10:38.818] Wagner James Au: Yeah, yeah, definitely. And I don't think this has been covered as much, but he's basically the co-founder of Second Life, Corey Andreka. He eventually ended up at what was called Facebook at the time, leading the mobile effort. And he's the one who drove the purchase of Oculus by Facebook. and started telling Zuckerberg and the other senior people there about Second Life and giving them long presentations basically about the Metaverse. And this is years before, this is like 2014 or before that, before they really went full on into the Metaverse and changed their name. But yeah, Corey and Drake is one of them. Richard, I talk a lot about who ended up in... He was with Second Life for 20 years and then he moved on to Roblox. So, Yeah, definitely try to connect those and wrap them into a broader narrative.

[00:11:27.786] Kent Bye: It's almost like all roads go back to Second Life.

[00:11:31.449] Wagner James Au: Yeah, well, I'm somewhat biased, but yeah, a lot of roads do go back to it.

[00:11:36.297] Kent Bye: Well, another theme is that you mentioned some point in this book, there's a famous quote by Alfred North Whitehead, where he says that all philosophy is just a series of footnotes back to Plato. You say that a large part of your work is like a series of footnotes back to Snow Crash. And so it's very interesting to see how you define the metaverse, almost taking a strict literary interpretation of how Neil Stevenson originally conceived of it back in 1990. And I think it actually works for the most part. And I'd love to hear you maybe elaborate on that decision to take a strict literary interpretation of how Neil Stevenson was defining the metaverse and how you broke it down into these nine different bullet points.

[00:12:17.934] Wagner James Au: Yeah, really that was your take because I was kind of starting to pull my hair out as the metaverse got hyped by meta primarily. And there's so many news stories of, what is the metaverse? We don't know what it is and no one agrees what it is. There's no clear definition. And really it's, you know, Like I say in the book, when I went into Linden Lab, Snow Crash was literally on the shelf. It was a reference point. When we were talking about how to do Avatar teleportation, Snow Crash came up because actually in Snow Crash, Neil mentions that that's too jarring. You should actually be on a train and there should be a physical consistency. But yeah, we use it as a reference guide and that's not the only person. It was Carmack, of course, Tim Sweeney. So Snow Crash has been a guide for 30 years, like a very direct reference point to all these people working on Metaverse platforms. And so yeah, I said, well, instead of us trying to create a definition of the metaverse based on whatever Zuckerberg thinks it is. Why don't we go back to the beginning? That's where the word came from and that's where all these leading developers were influenced by. So yeah, I really define the metaverse directly from passages of Snowcrash, which mentioned the metaverse. So it's a vast virtual world with millions of users with highly customizable avatars and powerful content creation tools that's linked to the real world economy. In other words, you can make a living off it. And this also can be linked to external technology. My favorite part of the book is being the inventor, he's brutally injured from the Vietnam War, so he's strapped up to IVs and kind of a life support system, but his mind is linked up to the metaverse and he's in a beautiful mansion and he has a van in real life which he goes around the country with and he pilots the van from within the metaverse, which I thought was just so kind of mind blowing and cool. And powerful too, because he's like, has huge physical disabilities, but he said, well, you people think that I'm disabled, but I think you are, because I'm merged with the metaverse and I still have all of these powers or even more affordances than you might. And so, yeah, I thought that was really powerful. And, and again, you were seeing that, like there's people connecting metaverse platforms like VR chat to hardware devices like that as a way of connecting the real world to the virtual world.

[00:14:47.037] Kent Bye: Well, your book is split into three major parts where you're going into first the conception and then the realization and then the promises and perils as we start to look at what's already there and how we start to move into the future. And so love to hear a breakdown how you make sense of these three major parts.

[00:15:05.495] Wagner James Au: Well, with the conception part of the first part, I wanted to Hopefully, for a general audience, just step back. Define the metaverse, but even go back before that. Try to explain why this phenomenon is powerful because I feel like If people are not active users of MMOs or virtual worlds, they might go, well, what's the point of these characters running around, these avatars? So like I talk about Nick Yee's really groundbreaking study at Stanford, where when you control an avatar and you're in a virtual space with another person controlling an avatar, you actually start replicating the unwritten rules of eye contact and physical proximity that we have. If you're at a bar or something, you do not stand one inch away from someone, they'll find that really intrusive. Nobody told us these rules, or at least generally, I don't think people say, well, here's the right amount of distance to be from someone. But virtual world space, when you have an avatar, you have such a strong connection to your avatar that you will actually replicate these rules of body language and body proximity and also eye contact. He found that men and women tend to have more eye contact, but if it was two men, they had less eye contact. If you're in a bar with a guy you just met, you have less eye contact. You're standing sideways and looking at, hopefully watching sports or something. A lot of these things that we don't even think about in real life are eerily replicated in a virtual world space. I talk about that and other concepts just to explain, no, this is really powerful. This is a thing that can be transformative and it's been proven to be transformative. For example, also, that's why I talk about the senior citizen in Second Life who she felt her Parkinson's symptoms were abated just by looking at her avatar and feeling enough affinity with her avatar that it helped train her mind. the theory goes to lessen some of the feeling of her body in real life being frozen up. So yeah, I set the concept, explain why I think it's powerful, and then get into the first instances of that. And so that's Second Life, of course. And then try to deep dive, especially for my readers who read my first book or follow my blog, of what happened with Second Life. Because it was basically considered the metaverse of its time during the hype wave between 2005, 2010 roughly. where people would say, oh, this is like the metaverse that Neil Stephenson described. And there was a huge hype wave, a lot of big companies got involved, and it just kind of didn't work the way everyone hoped it would. And so I really get into the weeds. Hopefully, I mean, I find it a really compelling, kind of hilarious story. and that all the personality conflicts and also the clash of utopianism versus what happens in real life. And so there's a lot of interesting clashes, which help explain why Second Life didn't take off. And then go from there into the platforms that are doing well, at least in terms of active users, where you have like Roblox. That's upwards of 250 million monthly active users and smaller, but also just much larger compared to Second Life platforms like VRChat, which I would kind of almost see almost a direct lineage between Second Life and VRChat in terms of just the creative community being really powerful. My estimate is five, 10 million users, so doing quite well. Definitely doing much better than Meta, as Carmack himself admitted. So yeah, I look at each of those successful platforms, VRChat, Roblox, Fortnite, to a certain extent, and kind of weigh their pros and cons. Also interview Neil Stevenson. Because I don't know if that's even been covered much. I mean, the literal guy who envisioned the metaverse, he runs a metaverse startup company. And I get into the tension because he basically inspired the metaverse industry directly. Now he's working in it, but he also kind of directly inspired the cryptocurrency movement through Cryptonomicon. and Neil Stephens' metaverse startup, LaminaOne. It's almost like a combination of both. It's sort of for the metaverse, but built with a blockchain layer. And his co-founder's a Bitcoin guy, so he talks about how much CryptoNomicon was influential. So it's sort of a combination of those two literary influences. So I interview Neil about that, because I definitely see some problems with the blockchain Web3 approach. Mainly because hardly anyone actually uses it. So yeah, we'll go into these, look at the pros and cons of these different platforms. And yeah, taking that and what I've learned over 20 years, you'll go into the promises and perils and get into kinds of negative aspects and also the hopeful aspects and really The takeaways, as I see it, of how to actually make this grow beyond what we have, which is pretty big. As I define the metaverse, it's over 500 million active users are in a metaverse platform that fits the definition I gave, but we definitely want to get it larger. I think a billion active users is within reach. And it'll probably be disparate across many platforms. I would like to see one get really large to us get to the point where it's what Neil described. And really his original goal with the metaverse was he wanted to think of an internet phenomena that would be as popular as television. And Roblox got close. Fortnite has gotten really close. Neil Stevenson talks about at any given time in the metaverse, there's like 14 million active users in it. And as you'll remember, Fortnite got very close to that with the Travis Scott show, where it was like 13 million. And that was the peak, peak moment, but we're very close to having everything that Neil was imagining. And again, I get to go back to explain why I think that's powerful. I say the thing that inspired me to write this book or one of the things was I randomly teleported once in Second Life and I saw this old, his avatar was an old black dude playing blues. And someone asked me to show what people were doing in Second Life. Oh, well, this live music is really popular. And this guy has made his avatar look like a classical blues guitarist. And then I checked his profile. It was a guy named Charles Bristol. He's 87 years old and he's playing live music in the Metaverse. And I didn't even know about it. I just totally randomly stumbled into it. And I'm like, if this is happening, there's got to be other things happening. And that's why making this as mass market, mass scale as possible is so important because you can have more diversity of people in it that make this kind of thing possible. And that's what I'm really passionate about.

[00:21:52.572] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's a great synopsis and overview of the different sections and highlights from each of those different sections. And for me, I really, really appreciated the chapter 14, which felt to me like the closest to like a metaverse manifesto, I guess, of your lessons and thoughts that are kind of woven in throughout the entirety of the book. I agree with the major things that you're calling out, especially your focus of the community and things being community driven. In your appendix B, you talk about reporting on how it's just as important to talk to the leading content creators than it is to talk to the executives. And I found that to be true. In fact, I get useful information out of the content creators telling me the reality of the different platforms and limitations that I do from execs talking about their own platform. And so I feel like that's a thread that is throughout the course of this book is that you do have that dedication of that embedded journalism of finding the top creators or folks that you can refer to to get the inside scoop of what's happening, but also when possible, talk to some of the execs. I know that's not always possible, but I really appreciated hearing from the founders of VR chat and just getting some updates from them. And just before we start to dive into the specifics of the book, there's been a lot of talk around the metaverse is dead. Yeah. One of the other things that you have in your appendix B is a big part of your practice is figuring out how to report on concurrency numbers to see how big the size of the user base actually is. And I think that by looking at those concurrency numbers, it's a pretty compelling argument that not only is the metaverse not dead, but it's actually already here in some sort of niche instantiation. So I'd like to hear some of that initial response to some of those articles from the press declaring that the metaverse is dead and your response to that.

[00:23:34.655] Wagner James Au: Yeah, it's been entertainingly aggravating because the media narrative would be, no one knows what the metaverse is, but I guess it's whatever meta is doing, but meta is not succeeding and therefore the metaverse is dead. And the syllogism is about that, literal. And it's just wrong on every step. And so I said, well, okay, let's go back and let's actually define what the metaverse is. Okay, let's look at the platforms that fit that definition. Metas, rising worlds is actually the smallest one of the ones I talk about. And the ones that fit the metaverse definition are Roblox and Fortnite. They're just massively huge. And then also, again, one of them is this idea fix that it has to be all VR. And that's something even Neil has pushed back on. He said, no, it doesn't have to be VR. It can be VR, but it can be a flat screen. So really, yeah, just trying to address that. I almost have to write this book to explain, no, the metaverse is not dead. Let me explain what we mean by the concept. And then let's look at the numbers and see how huge it is. And it's kind of entertaining because when Apple released Vision Pro, the whole narrative flipped right back to, oh, maybe the Metaverse isn't dead because Apple is now involved. And it's like, okay, well, like I was just saying, VR is not the core essential thing. It's an important thing to it, but it's not the only thing. And Apple is going to be a peripheral player to Metaverse platforms, but That's not the main driver, but it's like, okay, thank you for at least replacing your one dumb narrative with a new dumb narrative of Apple saving the metaverse, which I guess hopefully sells some books. But yeah, it's a constant cycle and hopefully my book helps address some of this.

[00:25:27.776] Kent Bye: Well, let's go back to your definition that you mentioned earlier, but I just want to call it out again, because it's important to say how you're grounding this argument that you're making in this book, going back to Neal Stephenson. And what I appreciated about what you do with the book is that you give this definition and then you cite the specific passages from Snow Crash. deliberately referencing that, but you say that the metaverse is a vast, immersive virtual world simultaneously accessible by millions of people through highly customizable avatars and powerful experience creation tools integrated with the offline world through its virtual economy and external technology. Now, I guess there's a number of different points there, and maybe it's important to note that not all of these different metaverse platforms meet each of those different specifications, or at least there's a critical mass of them. And so I'd love to hear you kind of elaborate on that point, first of all.

[00:26:15.692] Wagner James Au: Most of them have most of those, at least on the, well, again, on the community level. So for example, like with VRChat, like the company hasn't officially created tools to integrate with the external economy. The monetization tools, they're still integrating them. They just made some announcements a month ago that they're rolling out the community monetization tools. So they're going to release that in a year or two, it looks like. And so, you know, they don't have that. And so they don't necessarily meet the full definition, but they're on the path. And at the same time, you have, like I mentioned, this Japanese inventor who's already worked on a project to link VRChat with a giant robot. So he can pilot this giant robot from within VRChat. He's figured out how to connect VRChat to a Raspberry Pi and do that though. I forget if that's specifically from the Udon scripting, but so there's these hacker projects that satisfy that external technology piece. But yeah, there's, I think I said eight features and then most of them that I mentioned have either six or seven or eight, but all of them have an intention to have all of them and they're on the path to have all of them.

[00:27:26.920] Kent Bye: Right. And maybe it's worth diving into some of these different individual platforms. You mentioned that Meta on your list is at the bottom and you list Second Life still has more concurrent users monthly than Meta does. And that might be surprising for people. And also the, the economy breakdown I thought was interesting just in terms of the revenue split of 80% of the revenue going to the creators and 20% going to Second Life, which I think is pretty unprecedented relative to any other platform that's out there. Yeah. You talk about in Roblox, it's like only 30% goes to craters and. Yeah. So yeah, I'd love to hear for anybody who may not be aware that Second Life is indeed still around and actually has a really robust, arguably one of the most successful thriving virtual economies of all the different platforms.

[00:28:13.323] Wagner James Au: Yeah, it's about 600,000 monthly active users, but the creator economy is just really powerful. It's upwards of half a billion US dollars worth of Linden dollars are traded back and forth a year. And Philip Rosedale showed this to me actually because when Roblox published its IPO, it showed, I believe it was 1,200 Roblox community creators were earning over $10,000 through their Roblox content. It's actually much more in Second Life. The Second Life creators, I believe it was 1,400 Second Life grassroots creators make more than $10,000 a year from their content. And so just on sheer numbers, there are more people benefiting more from the Second Life economy than they are from the Roblox economy. And with Roblox, you have to get millions and millions of users to get any kind of decent revenue. With Second Life, you have a few thousand customers and you can do pretty well. And the other thing I found really fascinating with Second Life was that the community makes as much revenue, roughly speaking, as the actual company does. So it's roughly less than about 65 million that the company makes, most of that in profit. And it's about 65 million that the community cashes out from lender dollars to US dollars. So yeah, it's a very thriving economy. In many ways, it's the best model and I do think of it should be the model. We want the community creators benefiting as much as possible. And right now it's a very uneven playing field. Part of it is due to per Tim Sweeney, part of it's due to Apple and Google just taking an enormous revenue cut off in our purchases. But I think we should also hold the company's feet to the fire and say, no, well, you need to benefit the community a lot more. That's what makes these things thrive.

[00:30:09.406] Kent Bye: Yeah, I know that Philip Rosedale, when I was at the existing law and extended reality conference at the Stanford Cyber Policy Center, he was talking about how the centralized economy of Second Life was a little bit of like a pseudo universal basic income where the different residents would get certain money at certain times. And so it's striking just to reiterate the point that Roblox with 250 million monthly active users, there's actually more people in second life with only 600,000 monthly active users that are making more than $2,000 is actually more in second life. And so that economic disparity. And the thing I wanted to ask you about is that you know, there's this whole appendix A where you go into this protest of moving from subscription model into land ownership and going back to say things like the crypto-based world where it was all about land ownership and speculation. And if you think that the key difference is the motivation for creating, because they're both models of land ownership, but one works and one doesn't. And I'm wondering if it's the culture of, like you say, creating for the sake of social reputation or community engagement versus creating for the sake of profit seems to be some sort of differentiating factor for the underlying motivation for why you're owning the land. If it's just virtual speculation, then it's not really generating much broader social use of platforms like Decentraland or CryptoVoxels and Sandbox, these worlds that are crypto-based and selling virtual land, but doesn't work. But yet somehow with Second Life, it is virtual land and it does work. So I'd love to hear some of your thoughts on that.

[00:31:47.075] Wagner James Au: Yeah, well, with Second Life, for roughly a year, they were in beta. And so it was a community of early adopters who, like you're saying, they're exclusively creating for just social capital, just community mindedness. You create really fun, cool experiences. And the pleasure you get is from the creation itself. It's not from a monetary reward. So that was sort of the model that was established first. And then In 2004, Linden Lab added the monetization model where you could buy and sell land, and also you could convert your Linden dollars to US dollars. But there was already this really large, relative to the overall community, large amount of creators that were already there just for creating for the sake of itself. And that it's always been important, I think, not just Second Life, but other platforms that people can decide to monetize if they want, but they can also just create content mainly for the love of it. You can buy a lot of really interesting content in Second Life for basically nothing, for 50 cents. And it's just people that enjoy creating and having a fan base and creating really cool content for them and creating a community, a sub-community around that. So yeah, that's really important. And with the blockchain-based so-called Web3-based metaphor platforms, they immediately assumed, well, as long as people have a stake in this, that's going to create the community. And it's kind of done the opposite. It has this kind of feel of a ghost town where it's people who were positive the gold rush was going to hit their town and it never really did because it's everyone hoping to make a big score as opposed to they're there because they enjoy each other's company and they enjoy creating and sharing content. So it's really important to make sure you have ecosystem of content creators that are there and creating content because they enjoy it and they enjoy sharing that content. And that's why, for example, on the other end of the spectrum, VRChat has been so slow to add it. They've been around for almost five years, but only now are they starting to tease out the fact that they have monetization options that are coming down the road. But they're very cognizant of this, that once you add a monetary reward that can change the motivation for people to be there. So you want to have that balance where creators who love creating do not feel pushed away by the people who are there to do it for business and have a balance. And that's a constant struggle to balance both, but you definitely need both.

[00:34:24.222] Kent Bye: So I think that Tim Sweeney's announcement at GDC was pretty revelatory in terms of saying, Hey, look, you just go and create a new platform. We'll look at the usage statistics and we'll give you like a 40% cut of all the different profits. We'll distribute it in a way that is proportional to your usage statistics, which is a lot different than say every other platform, which still has to have a conversion where you have to have a game where you buy an extra thing, or you have to have some sort of economic component to the world in order to actually profit. Whereas. in the model that Tim Sweeney's suggesting is like, Hey, look, we have all these ways of monetizing the system. We're going to share that with you without you having to figure out how to do an extra level of monetization, which I feel like of all the different approaches that I've seen, I feel like that is to me the most different and more of what I would want to see in the metaverse, which is a little bit of this UBI, but not exactly UBI because it's not everybody. the same, it's basically like, I guess more to like the way that music royalties used to work with based upon how many times a station would play a song, you would get a amount of money in royalties proportionate to how frequently that was played. And just the same, just how many people are visiting it, then that's based on where it comes is coming. So that to me feels like one of the more exciting potentials as I look at all the different options.

[00:35:40.463] Wagner James Au: Yeah, no, I strongly agree. Hopefully they've figured out how to not have the dwell problem because actually Linden Lab did have a similar model called dwell where people would get a cut of revenue based on how much visits they got. And it got gamed almost immediately where people would have bots logging in or you would pay people Linden dollars to sit in a chair. I'd interview people, they'd say, Oh yeah, I'm like, it'd be a house where I say, Oh yeah, I just sat on the chair and I'm making like five Linden dollars an hour or whatever. And they're vacuuming and they come back and check. And so there's a lot of ways to game it. I'm sure Tim has thought of this though, but yeah, I think that's one of the better models. Definitely worth looking at. Other ones can get you into trouble where, you know, like Roblox has this with selling items, like virtual content items. high-end hats and other figurines and stuff. And that can work, and it's worked to Zernesend and Second Life, though you actually risk changing the culture too much, then you get into kind of a reality TV competing to see who could wear the most bling sort of thing. And that could change your culture. It could still be a thriving culture. But I mentioned that a bit with Second Life, like with the addition of mesh, high quality mesh content in 2010, it did start shifting the culture to a certain extent where a lot of it looks like the Kardashians reality show where people just really, that's what the activity is wearing as much high end bling as possible. Going to clubs, looking fly. And you know, that's fun and people like doing it though.

[00:37:17.289] Kent Bye: You don't want that overwhelming the entire economy Yeah, let me it's worth stepping through some of the big major metaverse platforms that you see from Minecraft roblox fortnight and VR chat you don't dive into rec room, but I think rec room probably deserves to be Yeah in the same room

[00:37:36.957] Wagner James Au: I really wanted to, I didn't have time, but yeah, I've been following them quite closely. They're probably really large. I think they're upwards of 20 million monthly actives would be my best guess estimate because they're much more cross-platform than VRChat.

[00:37:50.704] Kent Bye: Yeah, they have the mobile apps and the consoles and the, and monetization is already in place, the collaborative co-creation. So yeah, a lot of exciting stuff that's happening on record. But yeah, maybe let's step through like some of your initial thoughts on, let's start with say Minecraft as we go back to one of the OG sort of lower ends showing that you don't need to have photorealistic avatars that you can get with projecting your imagination into some of these worlds that are happening.

[00:38:19.051] Wagner James Au: Well, that was something I talked with Nick Yee a lot about. He was a PhD from Berkeley who did the study on avatars and avatar proximity, and also did some really groundbreaking studies with Jeremy Bailenson on VR and avatars. It's called the Proteus Effect, where you actually feel more attractive in real life and more confident in real life based on the attractiveness of your avatar. But he talked about some of the social problems, like I mentioned, when you have a very attractive, photorealistic avatar. But he was pointing out, conversely, if you have a non-realistic avatar, you have an abstract avatar, like a character in Minecraft or Roblox, it actually encourages mostly kids to explore their imagination a lot more because they're still figuring out who they are in real life. They're still figuring out their identity. If you give them an avatar that's more of an abstract character, and they can imbue it with the personality they want to have, and they can change costumes on it based on what their personality or their mood is of the day, or based on what peer group they're hanging out with on the day. Yeah, that opens up a lot of creative possibilities. And I think that's one of the reasons why Minecraft became such a just runaway success. It was the game aspect survived, the creepers and all that. But then my friend Amber Caseway interviewed said it was kind of like Maslow's hierarchy of needs in Minecraft. You have to survive first, you have to get shelter first. And as you get more of your needs met, then you start thinking about art. Then you start thinking about creating for a community and creating art in and of itself as the end goal. But you have to kind of start with that game aspect. So that's a big mistake, for example, Second Life made. They kind of said, go in and just make your Second Life immediately it's up to you. And there was no game. They were adamantly not calling it a game, but that's really hurt them. Just because most people do not want to suddenly be told, okay, you have to decide what you're going to do with your second life. When most people in real life haven't decided what they should be in their first life. So yeah, it's a big tension.

[00:40:33.582] Kent Bye: That's a common theme that you come back to again and again in the book of how a lot of the most successful metaverse platforms have a core component of a game. And I'd say the caveat there was probably VR chat that has game components, but probably the most part of VR chat is people just chatting with each other and then talking about people more authentically, just connecting to each other absent of any explicit game mechanics. So I'd say it's maybe the exception to that rule where you managed to have it. You save the karma system, but I feel like that's a very lightweight interpretation of gamification.

[00:41:07.551] Wagner James Au: Yeah, it's a very light meta gamification, quote unquote. I hate that term, but yeah, I talked to the VRChat developer about that. Yeah, it does help. The game, so to speak, is to be a productive member of society and you get more access to more features and content the more you prove yourself to be a productive member of the society, which I find really fascinating. Yeah, it's the most likely game of all those, but yeah, it's definitely working, at least on a, like I said, five, 10 million, but that's quite decent.

[00:41:43.995] Kent Bye: Well, to go back to Minecraft, one of the things that you point out that I thought was really interesting was the connection between how much content on YouTube is. On Minecraft experiences and quests, being able to see a potential possibility of something to do in Minecraft and a video that may actually be kind of in-world engagement, but also this dilemma of how there's things happening in real time. And unless there's, yeah. synchronous external manifestation of some of what's happening in that world, then sometimes it could stifle the growth and innovation and that Minecraft and VR chat have both found to capture different things happen in world and shared on these different platforms that then drives other user engagement and connectivities within communities.

[00:42:25.530] Wagner James Au: Yeah. I talk about how that was an innovation from the community. It's not something that came from the platforms that let's stream our activity in Minecraft or Rec Room or VRChat onto Twitch or YouTube, and you basically create a metaverse TV station. where it solves the problem that by definition, the Metaverse is going to be real-time engagement, but people are all over the world. So you could be having this amazing live concert in California time, but everyone in Europe is going to miss it, or everyone in Asia is going to miss it. But you solve that problem by having Metaverse TV, by which I mean YouTube and Twitch to a certain extent, where you show the fun experience that happened And that's a way of consuming content that, yeah, I was not really appreciative. Even in Snow Crash, I don't recall them ever mentioning that. There's actual whole TV channels and even almost feature length movies of content shot from the Metaverse. That's why I interview Sir Moore in VRChat. They're almost an hour long sometimes. These interviews with people in VRChat, they're really fascinating, often very profound and moving of people in VRChat who just start talking about their real life and unburdening themselves through their avatar, which is really great. And yeah, his channel, as I point out, on YouTube is bigger than a lot of people's magazines. YouTube channel is smaller than his. There's more people who would rather watch people in VR chat than watch people in real life on People Magazine's YouTube.

[00:43:59.473] Kent Bye: Yeah. And so if we move on to Roblox, we start with talking about the blocky avatars, which, you know, look like little Lego bricks and they've created more stylized avatars. And actually the rendering as time has gone on has gotten more and more photorealistic with different experiences. I've certainly been surprised with seeing some of the demo experiences. It's a way that they've created this game engine with literally like millions of different experiences that are mostly like user generated content. Yeah. pointing out the dilemma of child labor and the disproportionate amounts of how successful it's like playing the lottery and gambling as to whether or not you're going to get any return on the investment. And you can get lots of people using it, but still not really make it a viable business. So yeah, I'd love to hear some of your thoughts on Roblox as a metaverse platform.

[00:44:44.665] Wagner James Au: Yeah, I have a real ambivalent perspective of Roblox on the one hand. Again, they are directly influenced by the metaverse. Dave Boskoski was a Snow Crash fan in college. So they've been moving in that direction and started Roblox as a teaching tool for kids to teach physics in an online game space. That's the origin of the blocky avatars and they've made it more and more metaverse-like. But at the same time, it's been and still is extremely popular with kids. It's only by their own estimates, the company's estimates, only 25% are adults, over 17, which is still a lot of people. That's like way over 15 million, five, zero million people. But at the same time, yeah, most of the content creators are kids. And I tried to pressure Roblox the company as much as possible and say, well, what do you say about the objection that these are kids, mostly kids creating content for a for-profit corporation, publicly traded? And they kind of just said, well, we disagree with that. I put the whole quote in Roblox and I told the readers, you tell me whether that's an adequate answer. Because I think what's going to happen is they're one, going to reform that on their side. And on the other side, I think we're probably unfortunately going to see some kind of controversy where this does pressure the company to change more. rapidly to address the fact that yes, you have a lot of kids that are creating content for a big company. But yeah, that's a big challenge. And it's in their interest to improve that, especially if they want to keep the users as they go into adulthood, because you want to keep them. You don't want them to turn out and go to Fortnite or whatever. So they've definitely got to offer a better deal to keep these kids as the kids mature and go, wait a minute, I'm not getting as great a deal as I thought I was.

[00:46:37.869] Kent Bye: And speaking of Fortnite, was there a dedicated chapter to Fortnite?

[00:46:41.364] Wagner James Au: Yeah, it was a shorter one. I really tried to get Tim Sweeney, but yeah, he was tough. But yeah, I go into it. Partly one reason I devoted a chapter to Fortnite is I tell a story. His Second Life avatar name was AM Radio and he had a passionate art following. He created these really beautiful art installations in Second Life and they ended up going away, but his son was a Fortnite fan and went into Fortnite creative and recreated them. These really powerful passing on from one generation to the next across different metaverse platforms, which I find fascinating. But yeah, then I also talked to the Alliance, which is one of the original Fortnite content creator groups that actually started working through for real world brands, like they did something with Doritos and they did a campaign event for the Biden campaign in 2020, which I thought was really interesting. Also interesting that nobody wants to talk about that, like the Biden team, nor them. Like she said, the head of it said, I can't tell you about it, but yes, it was the Biden campaign paying us to buy a, what's it, Build Back Better with Biden Fortnite map. But it was the least metaverse when I first, started the book, but like you mentioned with the GDC talk, it's become more and more metaverse-like over the last year. So yeah, I think we'll keep seeing that progress over the next year or two.

[00:48:05.609] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's right. You had said that they could not bring up that they work on the Biden campaign, but since you brought it up, I can confirm it. And yeah, with the Fortnite creative and more integration with Fortnite tools, I think also having a big portion of the different engagement from those Fortnite tools, but also there is a certain limitation for how much avatar customization you can do because you're basically having other skins that have gone through proper IP verification channels, meaning that Epic has been working with companies to bring in different intellectual property. And what is probably a direct contrast to what you might see in, say, VRChat, where there's a lot more pushing the edge of what DMCA might be used or interpreted as fair use. Exactly. You have a quote from Worry Mirror from the EFF saying that people creating fan generated avatars should be covered under fair use. But I think part of the hesitation perhaps for VRChat introducing viable economic economy is that maybe that shielded them from a lot of those intellectual property violations. Because once there's money being exchanged, I think it changes the dynamics a little bit through some of the avatars. At least Epic has had the due diligence to get the authorization, but you don't have the vast wildness to create whatever avatar you want like you would have in a platform like VRChat.

[00:49:26.325] Wagner James Au: Yeah, yeah. No, I agree. They have cool wild avatars in Fortnite, but it's definitely less than VRChat. And hopefully Fortnite opens their creative palette a bit more so people can have more diverse avatars. Because I think that is very important. And well, like I talked about the association with avatars and a lot of people do not necessarily want to be a human person. It can bring up a lot of issues, cultural issues, especially around racism or sexism. If you're going to have your default be a human avatar that's realistic or quasi-realistic, then like Nikki said, you kind of bring in a lot of the prejudices from the real world into the virtual world. So you want options that you can kind of remove yourself from that like, Oh, no, I don't necessarily want to look like myself in real life, or I want to be a giant banana in Fortnite. So yeah, yeah, that's very important to have diversity of avatars.

[00:50:25.526] Kent Bye: In the VR chat chapter, I thought was interesting just to hear a lot of additional context and information from Jesse Jodri and Graham Taylor, who I've had a chance to interview over a number of years, but since pandemic and the lack of face-to-face gatherings, I haven't had as much opportunity to catch up with them. And so there's been a lot that's happening with the economy, but also the easy anti-cheat controversy that happened. But for me, I'm always super impressed with the amount of creativity that's happening with the very early introduction of their SDKs, going back to when I was first doing interviews with them in 2014, 2015, they were already introducing their Unity SDK to do customized avatars and customized worlds. And that's really been a core driver of their worlds. So yeah, I'd love to hear some of your embedded experiences or hot takes about VRChat as a platform.

[00:51:14.709] Wagner James Au: Yeah, it's the one platform besides Second Life where it's kind of on this runaway freight train of creativity where anytime I look back on whatever is going on in VR chat, you'll see it on Twitter because very active on Twitter, actually, the creative community, there's something just kind of mind boggling. It's like on my blog, New World Notes, this week I should be writing about this guy created kind of hard to describe, but he's created a world within a world within a world. So you see your avatar in kind of like a living room, but then you can also see a larger version of your avatar hovering above it. And then there's an even larger version hovering above that. It's just really mind boggling. I finally got an interview with him to explain, how'd you do this? What's also interesting with him, and this happens a lot, is he figured out a hack in Udon scripting to do this. And so it's not even something that the company anticipated someone using, but that happens a lot with these metaverse platforms is creators will come up with hacks with the platform. I mean, good hacks to create some really cool content. And then they create the cool content and then the company is sort of stuck. They can't update and remove that loophole from the code because now it's being used by the community quite a bit. And that's kind of a dilemma that companies have to be careful with. It's like, your community is going to create things you did not even anticipate. And once it's in the world, it's part of your platform. So yeah, I see that happen all the time in VR chat. And so yeah, like I mentioned, I profiled Seymour. He's kind of I almost see him like an invented journalist, like I was in Second Life, and he's in VRChat doing that. He's interviewed a bunch of veterans. I saw that in Second Life too, veterans who have PTSD or they're struggling with issues around PTSD. it's easier for them to be an avatar in VRChat or Second Life and talk anonymously about what's on their mind. So Sumer is One Eye Profile because he's really amazing. Another VRChat creator named Jar, she's built up a really large community. She's already monetized. She makes Actually a full-time living through Patreon. She's making, I think about 60,000 a year now, but she has a large community, upwards of 5,000 people that she makes these really fun social game experiences. And so I was talking with her about it and about her concerns about going full-time and then going full-time and becoming a full-time VR chat creator. So yeah, does really amazing kind of fun games. Like there's one, you're making pizza and you have to do it with a bunch of people and get the ingredients and run around the kitchen. There's like a murder mystery one. So yeah. Yeah. Really exciting. Cause it's a, it's the kind of experiences that an official VR company would probably not make, but I was pointing out that a lot of her experiences when they come out, they're actually more popular than all the VR games on Steam in terms of concurrency. So yeah, it's, it's amazing.

[00:54:18.246] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's often a lot of jar worlds are at the top of the popular worlds list with different experiences that she's created. You did have a whole chapter, chapter six on Neil Stevenson and Lamina one. And I, I generally agree with the crypto skepticism, but at the same time, it was very interesting to hear Neil Stevenson argue through the lineage of his different books, how there is this virtual world economic component that is integrated in each of his stories. And, I guess my problem with the crypto metaverse is not only what you'd point out with the low numbers of people actually using things like crypto voxels or decentraland or sandbox, but it's more of the economic dynamics called preferential attachment, meaning that if you already have a lot of money and you get in early, then you have a lot of cryptocurrency and you tend to have these dynamics where you have like 50% of all the lands owned by 7% of the people and you know, the top, And like crypto voxels and decentralized land, it's like the top 20% owns like 68% of all the land. So you have these vast inequities that happen with the cryptocurrencies that preferential attachment has been shown. That is a thing that happens with both Ethereum and Bitcoin. That's at the core level. So I don't know how they're going to overcome that type of preferential attachment dynamic of cryptocurrencies. You had a chance to talk to him about all of his plans about what they're doing in terms of the philosophical inspirations that has gone through his books that he's written. I thought that was really quite fascinating, but I'm still, I guess, in the same boat as you, uh, in terms of wait and see to see whether or not what they're doing is going to be anything different than what we've seen before in the crypto space.

[00:55:56.860] Wagner James Au: Yeah, I really haven't seen any evidence that it's going to be something that adds on to what we've seen with these blockchain worlds. I mean, yeah, philosophically, I agree with him. He's like, well, I want content creators to make good revenue across different platforms. It's just the blockchain piece of it is the part that, okay, I don't see how that goes from the, okay, everyone should make a revenue from these platforms and then somehow blockchain, ta-da, is the solution. So yeah, that's going to be a big challenge. And kind of the other one is really, and I talked to A lot of people for the book that are like Generation Z metaverse content creators, most of them have not heard of Snow Crash or Neil Stephenson, or it's a kind of a, oh yeah, that guy I heard about. And didn't that inspire Ready Player One? It's kind of that level. So it's sort of paradoxical in that Snow Crash came out 30 years ago. So there's a whole generation that might not necessarily be inspired by Snow Crash or Neal Stephenson. And so he doesn't necessarily have the brand awareness with the people in Roblox and VRChat and so on that are creating the content. So I think I mentioned he was inspired by the Metaverse with a vision of what would be so popular on the internet that it would replace TV. And I think for Lambda 1 to work, we'd have to see Snow Crash be turned into a TV show, because then that would be what he would need to drive enough awareness of Snow Crash in the Metaverse to help Lambda 1 scale. So yeah, that's interesting.

[00:57:40.840] Kent Bye: I think the approach that Tim Sweeney's doing with the 40% cut, that may actually start to redistribute that revenue more equitably to those users. Like I said, the blockchain has traditionally suffered, whether it's Ethereum or Bitcoin, this kind of preferential attachment dynamic where it's the small handful of people that end up owning all the stuff. Yeah, but I appreciated hearing his deep dive into an update as to what he was thinking about the metaverse. You're asking him stuff that I hadn't quite heard before. So that was really quite fascinating. Oh, good. So there was one thing that came up again and again throughout the course of your book, which was the citation that you have to Dana Boyd talking about an article in Quartz in 2014, asking whether or not VR was sexist, and then was saying that perhaps there's more women that become nauseous over VR. And it's something you repeat a number of times. But when I tried to really dig into it, I went back to like a citation to an esoteric army report that she cites. And then that was from Biaka 1992, a president's journal, which was citing a book from 1975, which was saying that this book in 1975 written about motion sickness says that more women are reporting they face motion sickness. But at the same time, right underneath that, it says that we suspect that the men are underreporting their motion sickness. But there has been other research from 2020 that I saw in the Frontiers, Stanley Fido Piestis and Foster found in their article called Virtual Reality is Sexist, but it does not have to be. They suspect that the IPD difference that there's a significant portion of women whose IPD anywhere from 15 to 30% to 45% of women's minimum IPD is lower than the lowest of IPDs for these VR headsets, which is usually around 58 millimeters. And some of the lowest for women goes all the way down like 50 millimeters. And that some of the research I saw was attributing the IPD difference to some of the biggest causes for nauseousness if you don't have the actual correct IPD. So I'd love to hear some of your thoughts, because I feel like while I'm sympathetic to the idea that the IPD ranges are in the proper range, but I'm not convinced that there's anything causing women to be more predisposed to nauseousness. And if that's true, then I think we need more evidence towards that.

[00:59:51.592] Wagner James Au: Yeah. Well, the real fundamental thing is we definitely need to see more evidence, but far as I can tell, Meta has not pursued this at all. And Dana Boyd is one of the most respected academics working in tech, and she published this early finding she did as an undergrad. There was a peer reviewed study in 2017 that did affirm that there was like, I think it was 73% of women do tend to get nauseous. And like you said, there's definitely more research that has to be done, but I talked to five people at META, including Corey Andreeka, John Carmack, and I had asked the question of Zuckerberg and Bosworth's people, and none of them responded, or they either didn't respond, or in Carmack's case, that wasn't his department. And Corey Andreeka said, yes, that's very important, and META should spend its money to look into that. But I can't find any evidence that they ever have spent any money on this research. And it's really kind of fascinating. They've spent tens of billions of dollars. And despite the fact that there is studies suggesting that women tend to get nauseous, and they're not doing the research, and at the same time, saying this is going to be the big next mass market platform. But half the population quite possibly gets nauseous with that. And so I want to put it out there that that should be a frontline question to any topic around VR on what Meta's doing and now Apple. Well, Apple's been smart because they do AR focus, but that should be the main question. Have you done the research? Because I can't find any evidence they've done it. And it's just incredibly irresponsible for Meta to just kind of ignore this. It's just really fascinating.

[01:01:40.297] Kent Bye: Well, I guess the way that you're framing some of this as 50% of all the population gets sick from VR, I don't think that's what the research is saying.

[01:01:48.203] Wagner James Au: No, they were propensity. Cause you know, we know there's a lot of women in the VR industry and enjoy VR, but yeah, there's just that if you really indeed think this is going to be mass market, then shouldn't you be spending at least some of your billions of dollars on researching whether that's the case or not, or indeed how to address it, which is just as important. Maybe, maybe it is addressable.

[01:02:09.959] Kent Bye: Well, from what I was looking at the research, the article you sent me from 2017 had a sample size of 36 people, 18 and 18. So they're not so huge sample sizes. And it wasn't like they were saying a hundred percent of women. So when you say 50% of all the population, you're saying a hundred percent of all the women. And that's not what the research is saying.

[01:02:29.778] Wagner James Au: Oh, no, no. I'm not saying that. I'm just saying that from what we can tell, they tend to have a propensity. So yeah, it won't be 50%, like in one study mentioned, it's like 73%, which is still quite a lot. But again, this is something that really needs to be discussed more. And like I asked Dana, has anyone in the VR industry asked you about this? And she said only the folks at HoloLens at Microsoft, where she's also a senior scientist, only they have looked at it. And the only one I talked to for the book who discussed this, in addition to Corey, was Avi Barziv, who's very well aware of Dana's findings. He's also very concerned about it. He thought it might be IPD. He got into some other speculation where it might even be biological based on evolution. But what's really interesting to me is Avi was a senior developer for Vision Pro for Apple. He's not with Apple now, but he led the early development of it. Apple has very smartly been AR focused, which is less problematic as far as we can tell in terms of nausea, because you're not shifting someone's perception entirely into VR space. You're seeing the real world and you're learning on virtual content. I think that's smart and I wouldn't be surprised if it's because Avi raised these concerns. He didn't tell me whether he did or not. Yeah, they are definitely taking a smarter approach. Apple is.

[01:03:53.687] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think the IPD thing is what the researchers Kay Stanley, Callie Fido-Piestis, and Linda Foster found in their article published on January 31st, 2020 called, Virtual Reality is Sexist, but it does not have to be. And so one of the things that they were saying in that article was that a lot of the research up to this point hasn't taken into consideration a lot of the latest VR headsets. So anything prior to 2014 is not going to be using the latest headset. Even the article you sent me from 2017 was using a DK2, which is from 2014, in using experiences that may not actually be using some of the best practices for designing comfortable experiences. And so there's both the hardware technology that has changed over time from the DK1 to DK2 to CD1 to both sequest. There's low resistance and other things that are happening technologically like the DK2 and DK1 made me motion sick. So that's one thing. But the other thing is the experiential design component. So to what degree is it a design that actually has comfort modes? VR locomotion can be motion sick inducing, but there's other options. And so I think there's other contextual dimensions there that there's other ways of mitigating nauseousness. So I feel like there's Not only the IPD issue that if people have, that's going to cause motion sickness, but there's also the hardware that's used and the reliance upon those other surveys from research sites prior to 2014, or even 2017, that's using this antiquated technology that already is making people sick and the design of the experience. And so for me, as I took a look at some of this research, those are the things that I was at least flagging in terms of things that need to be taken consideration.

[01:05:31.598] Wagner James Au: As far as we can tell, you've done more research than Meta has. I didn't get into this as a book, but I would speculate there's probably a political bias involved, just that Palmer Luckey is right-wing and John Carmack's pretty libertarian. It could be just they're gender essentialists and so they just don't even think that's a problem or they don't really even pause to worry about it. I definitely think it needs to be centered a lot more, especially if VR is going to have any chance of becoming even more of a larger niche. I don't think it'll go mass market. It could grow past the Quest under 20 million right now, but it definitely needs to be something to be discussed. I don't see press even bringing this up when Meta announces their latest VR thing.

[01:06:18.140] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah. I'm grateful that we're talking about it now. Cause in that paper, they go through all the details for all the different VR headsets in the table. They're saying what percentage of women are not being accounted for anywhere from like, let's see, 10%, 15, 45%, 35%, 40%. So yeah, a high percentage of women that at the baseline, the IPDs are not at the proper range. So I think it's a really important point to point out. But I did want to talk just briefly about some of the promises and perils. This is the last section where I think you go into a number of different aspects of looking forward, both the ethical issues and you have a list of different things. I wanted to maybe dig into some of the, I'm mostly agreeing on some of these, but some of these are taking a bit of a contrarian perspective on say that the metaverse should be interoperable is one. So I'd love to hear why you don't think that's as important.

[01:07:10.156] Wagner James Au: Well, the way I come down is that user communities should be interoperable, ideally. In other words, we should be able to take our friends' connections with us from one platform to another. That's the ideal. And I think why I really dive into the weeds of that is I think a lot of people have taken the interoperability concept from the web and tried to apply it to a virtual world. where the web, yes, we want the web interoperable. We want to go from one page to the next and the content more or less works across all devices. But when you have a virtual world, the metaphor is they immerse a virtual world and you can't really add hyperlinks and so on. Even Neil Stevenson, when I asked him about the metaverse concept versus the web, it's more, yeah, it's about having a persistent virtual world that's a physical continuity and logic to it. Anything within a virtual world, by definition, if it's like a contiguous virtual world, everything in it is going to be interoperable. But the idea that it needs to be interoperable across multiple platforms, I think it's just sort of assuming that it's desirable or feasible, or most of all, whether the community even wants that. And yeah, I'm very skeptical on all three counts. And what we've seen On the third count is platforms like Discord have become kind of an informal sort of a metaverse lobby where you have your friends in Discord and you go, Hey, let's go to this new Roblox world, or let's go to this new one in VR chat. You have your identity sort of hovering above multiple virtual worlds. And I didn't include Steam too, because you could say, well, let's go into this new Steam game. And so really following what the community is doing, I think just make it easier for people to take their connections with them. I interviewed Matt Ball for the book, and he made a really good point with interoperability of user communities too, is that's a way that companies could work to filter out bad actors, because you're going to have a group of trolls that'll go from one platform or another So if you can put them on a blacklist and say, okay, well, you can't just quit Call of Duty and go be a jerk in VRChat. No, we're going to know it's you. So that's another way of thinking about interoperability that benefits the community. And to me, fundamentally, that would be the thing is we need to think about interoperability in a way that benefits the user communities. Because right now the conversation around interoperability is whether it benefits the companies or benefits this kind of abstract model of the web. Yeah, I think that's just not taking the concept and really running with it of a virtual world. So yeah, I'd really love to keep talking about the interoperability thing because that comes up with the Web3 conversation as well. This Roblox thing, it's a wild garden. And so you need the blockchain to be interoperable across all of these platforms. And it's like, okay, well, Roblox is big, but why would they want to interoperate with Sandbox, which has like 10,000 users at most? So yeah, really, to me, it's benefiting the community and basing our concept of interoperability on what benefits the user community.

[01:10:24.542] Kent Bye: Yeah, the point that I'd push back on is that as I talked to the metaverse standards forum and some of the different entities that are interested in interoperability are companies like IKEA, who are just trying to put objects onto the web and they don't want to have to use like Unity or Unreal Engine. And even the companies that do use Unity, you have like VRChat, whenever they do a major platform upgrade, it breaks a lot of worlds. Yeah, if you had proper interoperability just by upgrading the VR chat SDK doesn't mean like all of a sudden two thirds of all your worlds break. That is the essence of the lack of interoperability that why that's so pernicious is because we don't have like an alternative that is actually make it so it's persistent and you know a lot of these applications that get built. You can't even run. It basically becomes deprecated after a certain point and unsupported so. You have formats like VRML that still are active that you can see and look at, but some of these different things that are created in these either Unreal or Unity become a black box and they basically are not archivable and they have a lifespan where they basically go extinct and you can no longer really interact with them. So that's where I push back for why interoperability is not only important for the broader industry, for folks like IKEA, but even internally with companies like VRChat where whenever they do a major platform grade, there's no real backwards compatibility and lots of stuff breaks.

[01:11:48.860] Wagner James Au: Yeah. Yeah. No, that's definitely valid. And that's something to pursue. I just, my point is, To push back really ultimately on the concept that, well, the metaverse doesn't exist until all this content is interoperable. And I think that's secondary to the communities and them growing. And you definitely want to have content that can go across different updates and so on, but really you want to keep the communities active. And so that should be as, at least as important at the conversation around whether file types are interoperating. It's like, how do these communities interoperate?

[01:12:23.818] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I think it gets to the other point that you make where you push back against that there should be only one metaverse. And it gets into this ability to seamlessly go between these different worlds and whether or not you have to use things like Unity or Unreal Engine. and even be able to have interoperable content between those two as a format. And that's part of what the metaverse standard form is trying to create is these formats to even like export something from Unity and import it into Unreal Engine or to export it and put it onto Godot or some other platform. That's like, even as a, from a content creator, you're basically getting stuff into these fixed platforms and being able to export it and put it somewhere else. I mean, with the internet, there's internet and intranet. So even within the internet, there's different ways that you carve out these more private aspects of local networks. But I don't know, I guess I'm more into seeing what the worldwide web and the internet is. And I'm a, I'm a fan of Tony Parisi's, you know, seven principles of the metaverse, which are building upon the open web. And more, more often than not, I agree with those, but I guess from your perspective, you're pushing back on some of these different

[01:13:30.687] Wagner James Au: I mean, you know, and Tony was part of the VRML back in the day. So, and there have been attempts to create a more interoperable metaverse platform. So VRML was one, get into OpenSim, which was an open source version of Second Life and ran into problems of different rules of content sharing across different platforms. And that was really challenging. So yeah, really those are the challenges that's been tried before and really didn't take off for one reason or another. And then the other thing I talk about is, well, is your metaverse vision really just Steam with a few extra steps? Because we do jump from one world to the next. There's a delay of a few seconds because we log out of one game in Steam and then we log into another one. And really, how much does it add if we can jump seamlessly through one and maybe saves us a few seconds, I guess? Something to think about. But yeah, really, I remember when OpenSim was announced and it seemed really exciting and IBM put a lot of resources behind it. But Again, getting back to the community, the Second Life community was like, well, all my friends are here, all my content is here, and so why should I go to another platform where I don't know anyone? And so, whatever. And it really didn't take off just from lack of consumer interest. And again, I don't think there's any even consumer awareness around interoperability. It's just they want an exciting virtual world. They can meet friends, make new friends and have exciting experiences. And within that walled garden and people are kind of negative around walled garden, but I think for most people, that's what they want and kind of what all they want.

[01:15:12.548] Kent Bye: Yeah. And so as we're starting to wrap up, I'd love to hear some of your thoughts on this third section that you go through both the potentials and the perils, you know, again, all roads go back to the second life to some extent where some of these lessons that were happening within second life, you see this repetition of same types of issues and problems come up within the context of these new metaverse platforms. So love to hear some of your reflections on this third section where you talk about some of those ethical and moral dilemmas and pitfalls that you've seen through a couple of iterations now of each of these different platforms, as well as some of the potential exalted futures that you start to lay out.

[01:15:51.557] Wagner James Au: Well, we kind of touched on one around IP rights, which will come more to the fore as these platforms grow where, you know, like we were talking about, there's a lot of content in VRChat that hopefully it's considered fair use, but the Walt Disney Corporation might have a different idea about that. And so we're going to see a lot more of those kinds of perils as big companies come in and, you know, either they work like you're mentioning, directly with Epic and have an official version of Captain America or whatever. But then you have these platforms where there's a lot of grassroots content that would be potentially infringing. So that's something to think about and something to prepare for because that's definitely coming down the pike. Another one I lay out, well, actually it was quoted Palmer Luckey talking about this because that's Kind of when it first showed up on my radar, where Palmer Luckey said it was a moral imperative to build a metaverse because there's a lot of poor people in real life that can't have the same great experiences that we do in California. So, let's give them a virtual experience that they can enjoy in the metaverse. I asked John Carmack about that and he said similar things. I talked to Matthew Ball and Jared Lanier and other folks, and there's a population of people in Silicon Valley who do literally think that a virtual world is an adequate replacement for people who are impoverished. And so that's the theme. It's not coming up at the moment, but again, I think we'll see that emerge in five, 10 years as these platforms grow larger. AI right now is sort of the whole transcendent focuses on that. But this whole idea of, well, no, we're going to upload our consciousness into the metaverse and be immortal. And the poor will get an adequate version of that on their Android phones. It's kind of a concept that's out there. It's kind of warned people that A surprising amount of people in the valley who are very powerful have this belief, and that's something to watch out for, at least from my perspective. I don't find that utopian. I find it dystopian. I'd rather think about how the metaverse can benefit people right now, grassroots people that can connect with people from all over the world. across races and genders, national barriers. I've seen that happen in miniature form in Second Life and see that now happening in Rec Room and VRChat and Roblox. That's what I want us to focus on ideally. That's my belief. If we focus on the communities and focus on making it more transformative and more beneficial for the communities, that's where our focus should be.

[01:18:30.218] Kent Bye: Yeah. And that calls back to your, your final chapter, which I really felt like does a really amazing job of like summarizing all the major points that you're making in terms of like the emphasis that community accessibility is a core feature. The fact that a lot of these metaverse platforms start as a game as a way of analyzing this. the in-world creation tools and the time-shifting aspect, avatar shaping culture and the community and company growing together. So yeah, I think that that final chapter, it felt like to me, that was like your manifesto where you're like, you're 20 years of knowledge, distilling it all down into that one chapter.

[01:19:06.584] Wagner James Au: Yes, exactly. Like, yeah, like the thing with the game, like there should be some kind of game-like aspect. And that's another thing I've seen a lot of people in the industry go, well, they started as games, but we got to get away from that. It's like, well, inherently a virtual world is a game-like experience. You're pretending that this digital creature that we call an avatar is you somehow, and all these 3D graphics are a world. But it's not. It's like it takes us back to our childhood of playing imagination and we'll pretend the floor is lava or there's dinosaurs there. It's going to be essentially a play-like experience and just think that there's already over 2 billion people who play some kind of game on either mobile phones or consoles and embrace that. Part of its value is just having an imaginative play space. Because we really need that, especially apart from social media, which is really algorithmically based on making people angry with each other and making people want to duck on each other. In the Metaverse, we have a real-time platform where people can engage creatively and with imagination and not think about their different real-life backgrounds, but embrace it. That's really exciting and we really need that more than ever.

[01:20:20.814] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of the metaverse and virtual worlds might be and what it might be able to enable?

[01:20:30.706] Wagner James Au: Well, I get into a lot of the real world applications like marketing is the one that's working right now the most, just because, for example, the audience in Roblox is very aligned with a lot of brands like Chipotle had a campaign recently that was really big. So that's working now. And I'd like to see that expand just because I'd like to grow these platforms to be a lot larger. But really, I think ultimately we need a alternate to social media right now, which seems kind of unfixable. It just keeps getting worse somehow. It's just like, you got a certain billionaire who's spending billions of dollars in an effort to kind of ruin one of the main social media platforms. And then Facebook has got its own problems. And so we got this cul-de-sac right now where so much of our activity on the internet is sort of stove piped and algorithmic ties to be exploitative. in a way that doesn't benefit us on both directions. It's meant to benefit advertisers, but also it's meant to keep us engaged, to get us angrier or more depressed about ourselves. Really, what I want is a metaverse that is large enough that it's a meaningful alternative to what we have now, and that people do not feel like they have to get put into the gravitational vortex of all the Facebook likes or, you know, Instagram likes or TikTok likes now and think about ways that they can engage in real time with people from all over the world. And, and really, you know, we're close in the sense that we've got 500 million, but I would love to get into the billion, 2 billion, where it is an alternative to all of that because yeah, it is desperately needed.

[01:22:20.208] Kent Bye: Great. And is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[01:22:25.304] Wagner James Au: Yeah, I'd love to talk more about the book and all the concepts it brings. Follow me on Twitter, ironically enough, at SLHamlet. Again, the book is Making a Metaverse That Matters, from snow crash and Second Life to a virtual world worth fighting for. I hope you'll go along with me on that journey of fighting for one.

[01:22:44.787] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, yeah. Thanks so much for writing this book and sharing all of your 20 years of experience now.

[01:22:50.853] Wagner James Au: And I guess it's on June 23rd that this book is coming out, which is second life's 20th anniversary, actually 27th, but it'll start appearing in people's bookstores and so on next week.

[01:23:02.165] Kent Bye: Okay. Is the 20th anniversary on the 23rd? 23rd. Yeah. Okay. So that's the 20th anniversary. And then you, you've been doing this for 20 years now doing all this stuff. So lots of different wisdom and insights in here. And I really appreciated the historical references back to second life, how a lot of the stuff that may be forgotten history for some who are just getting into this space from the consumer launch of VR from which happened on March 29th, 2013, which is the DK one. So we're 10 years into the consumer VR, but you're 20 years into the virtual worlds. And so lots of really great insights in here and really appreciate it. You're tying it all together and your embedded reporting as well.

[01:23:42.020] Wagner James Au: Thanks so much, Ken. Thanks for what you've been doing. It's been really great coverage.

[01:23:46.421] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you. So that was Wagner James Owl. His book is called making a metaverse that matters from snow crash and second life to a virtual world worth fighting for, which comes out next week. So I have a number of takeaways about this interview is that first of all, well, I really appreciated Wagner's general approach for how he covers these virtual worlds. Number one, he makes sure to try to dig into what the concurrency numbers are for these different platforms, which I think helps to at least give some objective comparison for the health and growth of some of these different platforms. So he has a whole practice for looking at concurrency numbers and extrapolating. And again, it's a bit of a dark art because a lot of times these companies either don't report those numbers or he has to do a lot of these different extrapolations. And so when they do report those numbers, then he's looking at those concurrency numbers and has some method of trying to estimate some of the different total monthly active users and total registered users as well. The other thing is that he is really trying to go into these platforms and find the different content creators and talk to those content creators of these different metaverse platforms, because oftentimes that's where you get the most juicy details for what's actually happening on the different platforms. He does have a number of different conversations with folks who are more of an executive position, but you get a lot more context for what's happening with these different platforms by talking folks who are at the ground level, building these different applications. And that's something that he recommends. in his Appendix B for tips for how to report on these different metaverse platforms. So overall, I think he's got some interesting insights and reflecting on these different platforms. And also, I think it's a compelling argument that things like Roblox, Minecraft, Fortnite, VRChat, RecRoom, all of these are already these metaverse platforms, and there's well over 600 million monthly active users across these different platforms. The metaverse is already here and it's already nascent. And for people to be declaring its death, I think is way premature and not really understanding what these different trends are, especially for these young generation of folks that Roblox has, maybe like 50% of all the youth of the United States have an account or involved with Roblox in some capacity. So I think generally there's a lot of really good reflective insights for these different platforms. And like I said, all roads go back to Second Life in this book. It has folks who have some sort of connection or relationship to Second Life that are commenting across all these different metaverse platforms. And yeah, I think that my biggest complaint with this book is that there's no footnotes, at least in the galley version that I have. I don't know if that's going to be different in the final version, but he does say that if you want to have more information, you can look it up on his blog to get more details on any of the different things that he's talking about. I found that when he's making different claims like, say, the fact that VR tends to make most females nauseous, or he characterizes Dana Boyd's paper that she wrote in her undergrad thesis as a quote, landmark study suggesting that women and girls tend to process 3D graphics in a way that often causes them nausea. Now, that's not actually what Boyd's published paper is concluding. If you look at the paper, it's looking at some of the different 3D cues and suggesting that this is a frontier for future research, but that it doesn't look specifically at nausea. What Dana Boyd's article in Quartz did was it actually catalyzed a lot of additional follow-up research, and there's been lots of continued follow-on research around that. And I think that This latest research from 2023 is digging into more of those details and trying to identify all the different variety of factors. The reason why I'm digging more into this very specific issue, because it seems to have cast this thought that shows up through at least half a dozen times throughout the course of this book, which is taking one research article from 2016 that had a sample size of 18, 14 out of the 18 women experienced motion sickness, but this was done back in 2016 it was done on a DK2 where the IPD was a fixed IPD at 64 millimeters and so 40% of women right there has a IPD that's gonna likely be lower than that fixed IPD amount and we have no specifications or details for what the frame rates were were they running this on a Mac other things that may have been contributing factors. There's been lots of different standards for if you're going to be shipped onto the Oculus Store, it has to meet specific performance optimizations. This was before the store was even launched when they did that study and they're pulling stuff off Oculus Share. in this VR game with VR locomotion mechanics that didn't have like comfort modes, no vignetting, no eliminating of the vection. What about teleportation as another locomotion option? So all these variety of comfort mode options weren't integrated into a lot of these studies. And so I think for me, in order to really get a sense for what the differences might be, I think it has to incorporate all these different contextual dimensions of looking at the IPD and looking at the design of the different experiences. And as research has gone on, this is what a lot of the academics are saying, there's lots of different mitigating factors for how to actually design comfortable experiences. And so in order to really get to the root of some of these core gender differences in cyber sickness, then I think all these other contextual dimensions have to be taken into account. And there likely does need to be more research that has to be done, that's an active area of inquiry to be able to look into all these different things and to really identifying what is the differentiating factors between men and women when it comes to motion sickness. And so, yeah, I think there still needs to be a lot of research that's done. But I think for me, the major point is that the IPD ranges are just not fully accommodating all the different women that like I said, as low as 50 millimeters, and the minimum a lot of times is around 58 millimeters, which is at that point, at least 15% of women on average are not going to be compatible to the existing IPD ranges. But overall, I really enjoyed reading through this book. And I actually really quite enjoyed the last chapter, chapter 14, Metaverse Lessons for the next 30 years, because I think he's, he's digging into a lot of like focusing in on the communities, the one that creates the value. Accessibility is a huge issue that needs to be looked into. In fact, I just went to the XR access symposium and did over five hours of interviews with different folks and I'll be hopefully diving into that series within the next week or so and Gaming and gamification seem to be a good catalyst for what's gonna be driving a lot of these different metaverse platforms Having different types of collaborative in-world content creation was something that seemed to be a big catalyst for a lot of these different experiences time shifting and social media are essential to be able to get out some of these different and experiences and just sharing what's happening in these different virtual world platforms, the degree that avatar has shaped the culture and how the company and the community must grow together. And looking at Second Life as an example, where the total profits and revenue from Second Life as a company is matching around how much money is being paid out to the content creators, which is like above all, no other Metaverse platform is even close to be able to do that. And so I think it's worth looking at the lessons of what Second Life was able to do in that front. And yeah, lots of different ways in which they're really able to sustain this really viable economy. So like I said, I really overall enjoyed the thrust of this book. I do think that Wagner has like this vendetta against VR that I think is based upon some skepticism that he doesn't think it's going to take off as a technology, but also maybe rooted in some lack of complete understanding for what the state of the art of the literature is on some of these different issues around cyber sickness. but also recognizing that there are some of these designs that haven't fully taken into account the ranges of IPD from women, which I think is actually a key point that needs to be amplified a lot more to say that, you know, if it is this IPD lack of compatibility that is driving some of the different differences in motion sickness, then that's something that these companies should consider. There's obviously been different limitations for the size of the technology, how they've arranged it for what the minimum IPD range is, trying to see if there needs to be changes in that design or to accommodate a more wider range of females. And like that article said, if the IPD range was 150 to 77, then that would account for like 99% of all the different IPD ranges. And actually that's something that the PSVR-1 was able to achieve. So that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoyed the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listed supporter podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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