UPDATED! MetaWorld: A Brief Introduction (No, Not THAT One…No, Not the Other One…This Is a BRAND NEW ONE!)

This Sunday, after a weekend spent working on various deadline-driven projects for my full-time paying job as a university librarian, I lay down on the sofa, exhausted, and opened up YouTube on my trusty iPad, eager to see what their recommendations algorithm would suggest to me on this fine and frosty Winnipeg evening (-20°C/-4°F).

And so I have YouTube personality KiraTV to thank (whom I first introduced you to when blogging about the continuing Cryptoland fiasco) for alerting me to this new metaverse project!

Yes, it’s called MetaWorld!

No, not that MetaWorld!

It is also not Dedric Reid’s MetaWorld, the sad, sorry project which I have written about at length on this blog (here’s a link to all those posts).

Yes, that’s right! It’s a brand new platform called MetaWorld! (Oh, joy! Oh, bliss!)

Here’s the requisite promo video:

Yes, that’s right, there are now three different projects called MetaWorld! This latest one is by an Australian company, so (to keep it separate from the other two), I’m just going to call it Australian MetaWorld.

Honestly, I totally would watch a reality TV show where Judge Judy presides over a court case where all the companies building the various and sundry MetaWorlds are suing each other for copyright infringement! 🤣

Seriously, though…couldn’t the company behind Australian MetaWorld come up with any other name? Didn’t anybody bother to Google “metaworld” to see what other platforms have already snagged that name? (I’m quite sure there’s more than two…somebody took over Dedric Reid’s old website domain name, so there’s at least three out there now!)

The first MetaWorld (this is the Dedric Reid project)
The second MetaWorld (by the people who took over Dedric Reid’s original MetaWorld website)
The third (Australian) MetaWorld

Here, from their Kickstarter page, is a bit about the company behind this third MetaWorld:

Hi there, my name is Matthew Sheath and I am the CEO of Elite Interactive Gaming Studios, the creator of the MetaWorld. We are a software company based in Sydney, Australia and we have a small team of 5 programmers and designers currently working on our MetaWorld project.  I have been in the software and gaming industry for over 20 years and have worked on many different software applications for companies in the finance,  gaming, and business sectors. 

During my time in the industry I have developed my skills across many different platforms, and have accrued a vast knowledge of computer programming and software applications. For the previous six years,  we have been mainly focusing on projects using Unreal Engine 4 and we are very excited with the upcoming release of Unreal Engine 5 (UE5). 

Unreal Engine 5 offers programmers exciting new possibilities to break boundaries in the gaming industry like never before. With the introduction of World Partition and a new robust multiplayer framework, UE5 gives us the opportunity to create worlds with many more multiplayers than ever before.  We are currently working on a ground breaking new host server platform called MetaHost, which will allow more users at any one time to access the MetaWorld and interact with hundreds and even thousands of other users in the MetaWorld.

Not so very long ago, I wrote a extremely snarky blogpost about a platform called Metafluence, which coined such ridiculous “meta” terms as metafluencer, metapreneurs, metaclans, even something called metahuts! 🙄

Well, Australian MetaWorld looked at Metafluence, and said, “hold my beer”…because here’s what it has:

Australian MetaWorld looked at Metafluence and said “hold my beer”…seriously, you couldn’t make up this shit if you tried! 🙄 The jokes just write themselves at this point…

So here’s the rundown, with all the metajargon…with descriptions taken from their Kickstarter page (oh yes, they have one of those, too; more on that later):

  • MetaEvents: “Host, perform and visit real time live music and events at the various stadiums and venues scattered throughout the MetaWorld.”
  • MetaMusic: “Well known and aspiring musicians will be able to book performance time slots and promote their performances ahead of time to fill venues and entertain crowds of fans.”
  • MetaSports: “Host, spectate or play in real time sporting events at the various stadiums and venues scattered throughout the MetaWorld.”
  • MetaGaming: “MetaGaming is the MetaWorld live multiplayer gaming platform that will enable members to host or join multiplayer games in various gaming genres.”
  • MetaShopping: “MetaShopping will offer an expansive array of shopping facilities, where you can purchase digital real world products and services for your homes, businesses and Metatars. Shop online in the comfort of your MetaHome, or visit the shopping precincts in person with friends using your Metatar.”
  • MetaSocial: “MetaSocial is the social networking platform we use to stay connected in MetaWorld. Keep in touch with your friends, family and business contacts using your interactive MetaWorld Personal Communications Device (MPCD). Choose to connect your MPCD to your phone, to receive alerts when you receive messages from friends or business contacts in the MetaWorld.”
  • Metatars! “Metatars are the are the characters we create and use to move around and interact with other people in the MetaWorld. Metatars are created using Metahumans, a brand new innovation by Epic Games and Unreal Engine. You will be able to create characters to look like yourself, or anyone you choose to.”
  • MetaHomes! “Come home to comfort and style in your brand new MetaHome. Beautifully designed homes and personal spaces will be available for you to enjoy in the MetaWorld. You can build your very own dream home, purchase an existing home, or rent a property that is perfect for you.”
  • MetaBusiness! “There are many different business opportunities and ways to promote and build a successful business in the MetaWorld. Whether you have a new concept for a start up business, or an already proven track record for success, you can take advantage of the endless opportunities to promote your business brand and increase sales.”
  • MetaFinances! “MetaFinances is your one stop shop for all of your financial and banking needs in the MetaWorld. Visit the MetaFinances tab at the top of the MetaWorld website to view the detailed lists all of the MetaWorld services that MetaFinances provides.”
  • CRYPTOS!!! “Cryptos is the currency used to purchase all land, buildings, building materials, vehicles, services, businesses, food and drinks, clothing and all items used within the MetaWorld Metaverse.”
  • METAWALLET!!! “The Cryptos will be exchangeable for real world currency using the MetaWallet feature, allowing you to withdraw your Cryptos into your nominated bank account and receiving the exchange rate value at time of withdrawal. All of your Cryptos will be stored in your electronic MetaWallet and used for purchasing items in the MetaWorld.”
  • CRYPTOSMARKET!!! “The CryptosMarket is the MetaWorlds equivalent to the stock market and will be responsible for keeping track of the value and exchange rate of the Cryptos in real time. A comprehensive software program is being built to handle all of the CryptosMarket requirements.
  • METABANK!!! “MetaBank is our online financial app that allows businesses to easily keep track of MetaWorld business transactions and safely and securely withdraw real funds into their nominated banking account.”
  • METATRADE!!!1! “You will be able to buy and sell anything you own in MetaWorld on the MetaTrade trading platform. Land deeds, real estate, building supplies, businesses, investments, vehicles and preowned items can all be purchased and sold using MetaTrade, and will fluctuate in value depending on many different factors. These factors will include things such as neighbouring land values, popularity and demand, age and condition, growth of investment and past business success.”
  • METACREATOR!!!!!1!!1! “MetaCreator – Making your dreams a reality. Our select team of licensed MetaWorld creators will help you to achieve anything you want or need in the MetaWorld. They will include everything you need from architects, builders, programmers and designers.”
  • METAVEHICLES!!!!!1!!1!!!!!1!!! “A beautiful, ever increasing range of vehicles is available to own in the MetaWorld. These include vehicles such as cars, trucks, motorbikes, boats and aircraft. You wont need vehicles to get around MetaWorld thanks to the innovative MetaWave instant transfer system, but they are nice to own and cruise around town in when you feel the need. MetaVehicles will increase or decrease in value at times, and can be bought and sold on the MetaTrade trading platform.”
  • METAWAVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1!!!!!11!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11!!!! “You will be able to move to any location in the MetaWorld instantly using MetaWave. MetaWave will be accessible through your MetaWorld Personal Communications Device (MPCD) and will transport you to any predefined location you need to get to. This service will cost Cryptos to use and the price will vary depending on the distance required to travel. To save money, for short trips it may be worthwhile to use one of your other modes of transport such as one of your vehicles or the public transport systems which will be operating throughout the MetaWorld.”

Oh f**k this, I have to go metavomit 🤮 …you can read about MetaConstructions on your own, if you’re still interested. Sweet minty Jesus. Elite Interactive Gaming Studios definitely needs some responsible adult supervision when it comes to naming products. MetaWave? It’s called TELEPORTING, people. 🙄

A company of five people, no matter how wildly talented and experienced you are, cannot even begin to build everything so breathlessly promised in the Kickstarter description and on the website for Australian MetaWorld. That’s a red flag, right there. (At least they’re a step up from Dedric Reid, who has no “team” to speak of.)

And using MetaHuman for avatars? I hate to break it to you, but that is also a huge red flag to me. There is no way in hell they are going to get such highly-detailed and resource-heavy avatars into any metaverse platform and expect it to perform at scale! Even bringing a small group of such avatars together would bring any computer rendering them to a stuttering halt (so much for the crowds of hundreds and thousands of Metatars at MetaEvents!). It’s just completely, utterly ludicrous.

As I said at the start of this blogpost, I have KiraTV to thank for first alerting me to Australian MetaWorld, so I leave you with his snarky take on this project:

As KiraTV did, I did some searching for the name of the company that is supposedly building Australian MetaWorld, Elite Interactive Gaming Studios. Like him, I came up with a lot of companies with similar-sounding names, but nothing. Nada. Zip, Bupkis. A Google search on “Elite Interactive Gaming Studios” Australia pulls up exactly one hit: the Kickstarter page. Hmmm….

At about the two-thirds mark, KiraTV does a reverse image search of one of the pictures used in the promotional materials for Australian MetaWorld (a futuristic-looking stage), to discover that it’s taken directly from an advertisement for an Unreal asset which literally anybody can buy and use.

He also points out that there are no avatars (sorry, Metatars) walking around the footage of the downtown cityscape used in the promo video (another red flag…it likely is another Unreal asset picked up at a store). Much like Dedric Reid’s MetaWorld, Australian MetaWorld appears to consist of pre-packaged assets thrown together into a slick-looking video, all to persuade you to invest, with maximum buzzwords per minute.

Oh yes, and did I mention? Australian MetaWorld has a Kickstarter, where they have already raised almost $14,000 Australian? Funny how these NFT metaverse projects all raise their money up front…before launching anything.

So, yeah, there’s a MetaWorld. No, not the first MetaWorld, and not the second one, either; this is the NEW one (although, if you squint, they sure do look a lot alike). Welcome to The War of the MetaWorlds, folks. Pop some popcorn and pull up a seat, because this looks like it’s going to an epic battle!

Or, not… 😉

At this point, based on all three MetaWorlds, plus innumerable other NFT/crypto metaverse projects to which I’ve been giving some serious side-eye, the modus operandi for these sorts of projects seems to be:

Step 1: Buy a bunch of pre-made Unity (or Unreal) assets, the more realistic-looking the better.

Step 2: Create a slick promo video using those assets (or even better, reuse existing video and images used to promote these assets!).

Step 3: Mint a cryptocurrency and some NFTs for assets like virtual land, virtual vehicles, avatar wearables, etc.—whatever you think you can sell to people who don’t know much about the metaverse. (Sneakers, even though you don’t have avatars or even a platform yet where you can wear them? No problem!)

Step 4: Create a slick website with a lot of jargon, and lots of images and videos of the assets you bought in Step 1, to promote your new platform and sell your associated cryptocurrency and NFTs. Appeal to users’ FOMO and use lots of buzzwords like “blockchain” and as many “meta” terms as you can coin!

Step 5: PROFIT! (It doesn’t matter if you can actually deliver a product; you already collected your money in Step 4.)

P.S. I would love it if those of you with more world-building experience could carefully watch the Australian MetaWorld promo video I linked to up top, and tell me from where they grabbed the various assets used: the house, the concert, the sports matches, the game, etc. My hundreds of blog readers (and the over 600 members of the RyanSchultz.com Discord server) are the best army of metaverse bullshit detectors out there! We’ve already done this for Dedric Reid’s MetaWorld, and now I ask you to look at this new one, too.

Thanks in advance! I cannot wait to see what you discover! ❤️

UPDATE February 7th, 2022: Well, that didn’t take very long at all! Enverex, a member of the RyanSchultz.com Discord, tells me:

Here’s your break down. Very annoyed that I can’t figure out what the music video/event is though.

0:14-0:36 – Stock Unreal Asset Pack – “Hillview – A Modular Modern House” (https://www.unrealengine.com/marketplace/en-US/product/hillview-a-modular-modern-house)
0:36-0:42 – (this concert footage is the only one I’m drawing a blank on)
0:42-1:02 – Fifa, NBA2K then Call of Duty Vangard.
1:02-1:08 – Unreal Promo Roll (Meet the MetaHumans – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mAF5dWZXcI)
1:08-1:22 – (this is just misc stock background animations)
1:22-1:37 – Mexico City Mall mockup by Lifang UK (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ak_pxQMTXa8)
1:37-2:04 – Stock Unreal Asset Pack – “Downtown West Modular Pack” (https://www.unrealengine.com/marketplace/en-US/product/6bb93c7515e148a1a0a0ec263db67d5b)
2:04-2:20 – Unreal Promo Roll (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oa2drgVThbs – 1:41)

Bonus Bullshit: The only other video on the Metaworld channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkom-li6yw4) is again stolen content, this time from a concert last year on the (now defunct) Wave virtual platform. Info on the event itself (https://ew.com/music/justin-bieber-metaverse-virtual-concert-trailer/). No mention that this is from Wave or anything else, again just blindly stolen content with any existing branding hidden.

Many thanks to you for your diligent detective work, Enverex! He adds, “the house may look more familiar from this image [of the Hillview asset] (which ironically isn’t compatible with UE5 it seems? LOL. Supported Engine Versions 4.21 – 4.25, 4.27)”:

Image of the house used in the Australian MetaWorld promo video

Here’s a still of the concert footage from the promo video; can anybody help us find out where it’s from? (Google image search isn’t helpful here.) Thanks!

UPDATE February 8th, 2022: I have it from a reliable source that Dedric Reid is once again shilling his MetaWorld on the social audio app Clubhouse. In addition, I have found a fourth MetaWorld, although it appears to be more a token than a metaverse platform:

I also came across a fifth MetaWorld project:

And then there’s a sixth MetaWorld, a Chinese blockchain-based game:

Which only goes to prove that all the people building these projects are singularly lacking in imagination when it comes to naming their products. C’mon, people. Don’t be so lazy! (I reminds me of the two platforms called Oasis, although one of them has now ceased operations.)

I leave you with my standard warning: Please remember to do EVERY. SINGLE. SCRAP. of your own research before investing a penny in ANY blockchain, crypto, or NFT project! Caveat Emptor!

UPDATE February 15th, 2022: A big thank you to eagle-eyed reader Daniel Trujillo, who emailed to tell me he had located the source of the concert footage! It’s Madison Beer’s avatar in Life Support, an immersive reality concert experience:

So, every single scrap of footage in that Australian MetaWorld promotional video is bought, borrowed, or stolen from somewhere else…there’s no there there, people! And I believe that it is highly unlikely that there will ever be an actual, working metaverse platform, and that those who are already investing in their Kickstarter campaign will not get anything back for their money. Look before you leap; research before you buy!

Caveat emptor!

After News Reports of Sexual Harassment, Meta Implements a Four-Foot Personal Boundary for Avatars in Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues

Unfortunately, sexual harassment online is pervasive, happening in such disparate venues as social media, chat rooms, Discord servers, and role-playing games. Virtual worlds and social VR are no exception. Again, this is not a new problem; I have been writing about trolling, griefing and harassment in the metaverse, and how companies are responding to it, since May of 2018 on this blog.

There have been several recent news reports about women who reported being groped or otherwise harassed in Meta’s social VR platforms Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues. For example, the U.K.’s Daily Mail had this report about a women who was assaulted after logging into Horizon Venues:

Nina Jane Patel watched and listened in horror through a virtual-reality headset as her avatar – a moving, talking, computer-generated version of herself – was groped aggressively in a sustained attack by three realistic male characters.

On a visit this month, the mother-of-four entered the ‘lobby’ – a virtual space serving as an entry point. But within seconds she was pursued by the men’s avatars, who groped her, subjected her to a stream of sexual innuendo and took screen shots of the attack for several minutes as she tried to flee.

Alex Heath of The Verge reported on December 9th, 2021:

Earlier this month, a beta tester posted in the official Horizon group on Facebook about how her avatar was groped by a stranger. “Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in VR adds another layer that makes the event more intense,” she wrote. “Not only was I groped last night, but there were other people there who supported this behavior which made me feel isolated in the Plaza.”

[Vivek] Sharma [Meta’s VP of Horizon] calls the incident “absolutely unfortunate” and says that after Meta reviewed the incident, the company determined that the beta tester didn’t utilize the safety features built into Horizon Worlds, including the ability to block someone from interacting with you. (When you’re in Horizon, a rolling buffer of what you see is saved locally on your Oculus headset and then sent to Meta for human review if an incident is reported.) “That’s good feedback still for us because I want to make [the blocking feature] trivially easy and findable,” he says.

This event was widely reported by a variety of news sources, ranging from the New York Post to the MIT Technology Review. Victor Tangermann wrote in a Dec. 16th, 2021 Futurism article titled Sexual Assault Is Already Happening in the Metaverse:

Rather than ensuring Horizon Worlds doesn’t foster a culture of strangers groping each other in VR, Meta is hoping to make the problem go away by making adjustments to its tools. The company says users can turn on a feature called “Safe Zone,” which creates an impenetrable bubble around the user when they want more space.

But personal space is likely to be a galling problem for social VR applications.

“I think people should keep in mind that sexual harassment has never had to be a physical thing,” Jesse Fox, an associate professor at Ohio State University, told MIT Technology Review. “It can be verbal, and yes, it can be a virtual experience as well.”

Bloomberg columnist Parmy Olson also wasn’t exactly impressed by Meta’s VR experience, either. Once in the VR lobby of Horizon Venues — Meta’s VR events platform that is serving as Horizon Worlds’ precursor — she was being surrounded by a “group of male avatars” who started taking pictures of her.

“One by one, they began handing the photos to me,” Olson writes. “The experience was awkward and I felt a bit like a specimen.”

Meta may have thought they would have avoided these kind of problems by deliberately designing their avatars to have no body below the waist. No genitals, no problem, right? WRONG. It’s not what the avatars look like that’s the issue here; it’s how the people using the avatars behave towards each other.

Note also Parmy Olson’s incident in the previous quote: in her case, the group of male avatars were using Horizon Worlds’ built-in camera feature to make her feel uncomfortable. Harassment can take many forms, and may involve the abuse of features which the developers never dreamed would be so misused.

On February 4th, 2022, no doubt in response to these and other news reports and the negative publicity they generated, Meta announced a Personal Boundary feature:

Today, we’re announcing Personal Boundary for Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues. Personal Boundary prevents avatars from coming within a set distance of each other, creating more personal space for people and making it easier to avoid unwanted interactions. Personal Boundary will begin rolling out today everywhere inside of Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues, and will by default make it feel like there is an almost 4-foot distance between your avatar and others.

This Personal Boundary feature is hard-coded, at least for now; you cannot turn it off or adjust the distance. According to the press release:

We are intentionally rolling out Personal Boundary as always on, by default, because we think this will help to set behavioral norms—and that’s important for a relatively new medium like VR. In the future, we’ll explore the possibility of adding in new controls and UI changes, like letting people customize the size of their Personal Boundary.

Note that because Personal Boundary is the default experience, you’ll need to extend your arms to be able to high-five or fist bump other people’s avatars in Horizon Worlds or in Horizon Venues.

Adi Robinson of The Verge clarifies that “it gives everyone a two-foot radius of virtual personal space, creating the equivalent of four virtual feet between avatars”, adding:

Meta spokesperson Kristina Milian confirmed that users can’t choose to disable their personal boundaries since the system is intended to establish standard norms for how people interact in VR. However, future changes could let people customize the size of the radius.

If someone tries to walk or teleport within your personal space, their forward motion will stop. However, Milian says that you can still move past another avatar, so users can’t do things like use their bubbles to block entrances or trap people in virtual space

Contrast Meta’s approach with other platforms such as Sansar, which gives the user control over whether or not they want to set up personal space between themselves and other avatars, allowing them to set up one distance for people on their friends list (or to turn it off completely, and set another for non-friends and strangers (see the Comfort Zone settings in the image below):

And, of course, VRChat has an elaborate, six-level Trust and Safety system, where you can make adjustments to mute/hide avatars, among other settings.

A few thoughts about all this. Because Meta is such a large, well-known company, it was perhaps inevitable that such reports would be considered newsworthy—even though sexual harassment has been around for decades in virtual worlds, dating back to Active Worlds, founded over a quarter-century ago!

Also, the immersive nature of virtual reality can make such harassment feel more invasive. Jessica Outlaw has researched and written at length about women’s experience of harassment in virtual reality (here and here).

Finally, like all the metaverse platforms which came before it, Meta is learning and making adjustments to its social VR platforms over time. This is common and is to be expected. For example, Second Life has had a long history of discovering and addressing problems which arose during its 18+ years of existence. Some fixes are good; others cause their own problems, and require further tinkering.

I personally believe that the best solution to the continuing problem of sexual harassment in the metaverse requires a deft mix of social and community rules and expectations with software solutions such as the Personal Boundary feature, and muting/blocking avatars. There is no easy fix; we learn as we go.