The BLUE: State of Harmony’s Metaverse
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The BLUE: State of Harmony’s Metaverse

Many projects in Harmony's ecosystem self-identify as metaverse-related. However, most lack several features generally considered as constitutive of a metaverse. Because many of these projects are nascent and lack traction in winning users, investment, brand interest, and developing features, there is often a sizable gap between their ambitious roadmaps and their current state of fundraising through selling NFTs.

Happily, the strengths of Harmony's chain point a road forward for the "Blue Metaverse" ecosystem to be considered not only as more than an aspirational "north star" or an empty marketing slogan, but as a true leader. To achieve this will require Harmony to 1) encourage the flourishing of a substantial metaverse which can gain significant traction, and 2) devote resources to providing technical interoperability and personal cooperation between the projects, so that the ecosystem will be a true a "family of projects" forming a coherent Blue Metaverse.

*Written by Brian Felsen. Approved by Giv Parvaneh, Jackie Lee; to be approved by Daniel Pegan, Leo Chen.

A. Community sentiment

The current sentiment around the "Blue Metaverse" of Harmony’s community projects, both in open-ended interviews and online, is decidedly mixed. This dovetails with public sentiment around the concept of a metaverse in general: excitement about experience, productivity, and commerce are often offset by the feeling that it can be elitist and expensive, dystopic, speculative, a fake, a solution in search of a problem, and a ghost town even in Decentraland and The Sandbox.

While Harmony's recent presentations around the Blue Metaverse have done little to change community sentiment, there is much positive feeling inside and outside of the community around certain features of our chain and ecosystem products which would be helpful to promote. These include the fact that the metaverse can be frictionless, give people true digital ownership, be engaging in real-time, connect with people and emotions, can bridge physical and virtual worlds, and can be more a fun social experience than play to earn games.

B. Financial and social traction

Most of Harmony's metaverse-related projects have not yet generated significant traction, with a couple of significant exceptions.

1. Financial traction

The lion's share of financial success thus far has gone to three projects (DeFi Kingdoms, Defira, and Xangaea), each of which have over $500k total value of assets in DApp's smart contracts:

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By contrast, Polygon has five games with over $500k balance (Planet IX, $186M; the Arc8 platform, $149M; Cometh, $654k; Ethlas, $649k; and Aavegotchi, $551k) and eight games with over 10k users. Avalanche only has one breakout game (Crabada, $194M balance and 11k users) and Ethereum has nine games with over $500k balance (Crazy Defense Heroes, $96M; Illuvium, $74M, Gods Unchained, $7M, Guild of Guardians, $7M, SuperWorld AR Real Estate, $4M; and EvolutionLand, MoonCatRescue, Cryptokitties, and Sandbox, with about $1M each.

None of Harmony's metaverse-related projects has the degree of partnerships or investment of, for example, The Sandbox, so comparisons can be seen as blueberries-to-pomelos, but for reference, the market cap of Decentraland (MANA) is $3.8B, Sandbox (SAND) is $3.3B, and Axie Infinity (AXS) is $2.8B.

2. Social traction

Time and again, projects cite marketing as a major concern, and they struggle to get the word out and attract more members to their community. Only four Harmony metaverse-related projects have more than 10,000 Discord members in their communities: DeFi Kingdoms, Blockchain Monster Hunt, Moon Robots, and Defira. The next 30 projects only have 79,000 discord members combined. By contrast, Planet IX on Polygon has 51,269 Discord members alone, and Ethlas has 26.099; Crazy Defense Heroes on Ethereum has 22,738.

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C. Development

There are dozens of metaverse-related projects in the Harmony ecosystem, many of which have minted NFTs, promising that they will be used in play-to-earn games, player-vs-player games, and even in forthcoming metaverses. But no project on Harmony has a fully-fledged physical/digital experience or one that feels truly immersive, or one that feels anywhere near as fleshed out as The Sandbox or Decentraland. Most Harmony metaverse-related projects which have advanced past the speculative stage are play-to-earn games or gamified DEXes, sometimes with top-down, 2-D maps.

1. Releases

Some promising Harmony metaverse-related projects are somewhat further along in development, although they are not yet fully launched. Five which have launched are:

Crypto Arcade: This project bills itself as an "open space with retro games inside an emulator type arcade." While they lack their own tech stack, they have a fully-functioning game suite with a navigable 2D overworld map built in Gather; inside each 2D building or parcel (available for purchase on daVinci), one can attach another 2D space or a fully immersive 3D/VR environment. Their reward token is off-chain, but almost all future planned game assets (land, buildings, inventory items, weapons, tickets, etc.) will be on-chain NFTs.

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DeFi Kingdoms: While DeFi Kingdoms is not truly a (social 3D) metaverse, as it does not allow the creation and customization of spaces and experiences and does not have social features, it has so much traction that it is worthy of mention. The 2-D map is attractive and functional, one can buy plots of land as NFTs, the interface is elegant, looped animations make the world seem more alive than it is, and its NFTs may one day wind up being functional across games.

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Defira: While this DeFi gamification project has some similarities with DeFi Kingdoms, unlike DFK, they call themselves a "true DeFi Metaverse," featuring a "bustling metropolis filled with magical powers and fantasy races" and NFT heroes. Their ambitious roadmap reveals that they plan to create a "season of a Defira anime series," but they make little mention of giving users any utilities (unfettered creation of buildings and experiences; identity crafting; etc.) that one expects from a metaverse.

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Rove: This project forking Mozilla Hubs gives users a 3D home where they can play music, load their own NFT images to decorate the walls with NFT art, add "pets" from an inventory, and have meetings. The space is beautiful, but right now users cannot participate in the economy, easily connect to other homes, build experiences, charge entry, trade land or NFTs, or do many of the things one would expect in the metaverse. Nonetheless, the project is exciting and they are creating easy-to-use drag and drop templates for e-commerce, showroom, AMA space, and homes for future release.

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Tranquility City: This is an ambitious Unity-based metaverse play-to-earn 3D game project recently launched on mainnet which calls itself a "social game." Although it currently is buggy, land sale and chat features are functional, giving the game social capabilities that DeFi Kingdoms lacks. While they have and will plan to release many metaverse features (transportation, in-game DApps, play-to-earn games, land and character NFTs, a marketplace to sell inventory, etc.), they may decide only to allow people to customize personal apartments rather than to have the full freedom to build.

2. Blue Metaverse’s technology

Game engine

Many projects are built in Unity; Harmony developers cited advantages of 1) its flexibility with 2D, 2d isometric, and 3D; 2) the ease of hiring developers; 3) use of the SDK connecting game engines to the blockchain; and 4) the ease of allowing users to build in-game or import or work with Blender or FBX 3D assets.

A few projects in our ecosystem are building in Unreal, praising its incredible graphic capabilities and integration with AWS GameLift while acknowledging its more unforgiving hardware requirements and disjointed developer tooling.

Several Harmony projects are working with WebGL (or the Three.js library often using WebGL to draw 3D) due to its lighter load and browser accessibility without the user having to download packages. Tranquility City notes that it works hand in hand with Unity and can run Unity content in a web browser, which can allow them to integrate with FoxSwap to allow web3 interactions in the browser.

Some Harmony projects build a flat map on a webpage with no game engine; some plan a map with a 2D reflection of the 3D assets; and one even uses Gather to integrate a web3 wallet into a flat 2D overworld map, integrating voice/video chat with a 3D/VR metaverse using Mozilla Hubs.

Hosting

Harmony projects use a number of different hosting options, including self-hosting, AWS (which The Sandbox uses), and VRChat. Rocket Monsters notes that as the AWS GameLift kit plugs into Unreal Engine to take all of the guesswork out of the integration, they hope to partition a large map onto different servers that all integrate with each other so there will be no lag.

VR / XR experiences

Most of the projects in the Harmony ecosystem either have foregone development for VR headsets, or are making sure that their experiences also will be accessible to those with mainstream phone/laptop devices. Developer sentiment expressed indicates that while VR on some of the top hardware devices can provide an immersive experience, there are the following concerns: lack of widespread adoption; incompatibility of many VR headsets with Mac; a lack of knowledge about best practices, setup, framerates, and even how to sidequest an app onto Oculus; and uncertainty on how one can purchase NFTs in a VR Gallery without leaving the world or removing the headset.

Sharding

While Harmony has faced issues with large projects with high-volume transactions on Shard 0, the chain is building out Shard 1 as a game shard and can incentivize developers to use it. This will ensure that our platform is strong enough and able to handle massive games, rather than using separate chains for game solutions like Avalanche and BSC.

Art style

Harmony projects are being developed in a number of styles like 2D, isometric, 3D low poly, and 3D high fidelity, with a trend towards a change from a voxelized to a low-poly aesthetic due to appearance and system requirements. These projects can create immersive low poly 3rd person world while still using high-res textures for the centerpieces of the metaverse.

D. Blue Metaverse’s characteristics

1. Interoperability

Most of the projects on Harmony's ecosystem lack significant interoperability of assets or utilities with other projects or a portal to other projects in the ecosystem. Conversations with dozens of Harmony projects have revealed the current state of their challenges and needs:

  1. Some of the larger projects want to collaborate with each other, especially for crossover publicity to get more users. One project has publicly cited the difficulty in knowing other projects in the ecosystem and would welcome town halls and AMAs to see how they can work together and learn from each other.
  2. While some see PFP identity porting as interesting, others are suspicious of how much people really want to flex their PFPs across games, and to what degree they can have a satisfying or consistent look (in voxelized vs low-poly metaverses etc.).
  3. Bringing in NFTs needs to be standardized (due to the difficulty cited by various projects in importing NFTs more than as mere pictures in a wall in an apartment). Unlike some NFT projects which inherently allow for this by design, there is no scalable solution on Harmony to generate FPX files for Unity/Unreal or to 3D render and rig the image so it will move properly. Suggested standardization could include curating assets (for young players); rigging Blender assets (like Fallacy) and then importing en masse to check for access privileges; and licensing rigging and animating of 3D objects to inexpensive content creation teams to sell on marketplaces with a revshare model.
  4. NFT functionality between different games is seen as intriguing, but difficult: each game has its own game mechanics, so transferring experience points or strength of a magic sword from one game to another is seen as difficult.
  5. The tokenomics of a prospective "metakey" granting benefits across metaverses is seen as difficult to develop and to secure developer adoption.
  6. There is significant enthusiasm for reciprocal portals between metaverses, especially if Harmony could assist in providing ones appropriate (as Blender assets with animations and visual/sound effects) for different art styles.

2. Flexible participation in economy

In a true metaverse, anything you wear, play, interact with, or build can potentially be monetized and exchanged, giving the user a say in how the metaverse's land and economics are run. But, as shown above, while many Harmony projects promise a future open economy where individual creators can develop, own, and trade assets, even the largest projects released on the chain do not yet allow them to do so.

Outside of the Harmony ecosystem, large metaverses allow people to become builders through incorporating prebuilt scenes and easily customizing land; to create their own games and quests; to rent land; and to host parties, events, concerts, and symposiums. These experiences allow for many flexible ways to participate in the metaverse's economy through mini-games, access passes, NFT launches, and merch drops.

Giving users economic participation through creating generates financial incentives for them to develop the metaverse so that it will look like more than an empty shopping mall. This development can come from designers (of games, fashion wearables, VFX, streets, interiors); guilds (which can make blueprints for spaces and experiences); estate agents; real estate investors; metaverse architects; and DAOs.

3. Social experiences: Games

A robust metaverse is one which is not only populated by content, but by social presence and social experiences such as parties, meetings, DAOs, virtual events, battles, puzzles, guided mediations, and poetry readings.

While most Harmony projects lack a strong social presence, some of the largest metaverses outside of our ecosystem do so as well: many of the plots in Decentraland, The Sandbox, and Somnium Spaces are "frontier" towns which are basically vacant. On Harmony, MAD|NFT plans to use developing proximity chat to make their gallery more social, and one of the first features launched on Tranquility City was its chat functionality, in order to further their mission of being a true "social game."

Two types of metaverse social experiences are especially prominent: games and live performance.

In addition to DeFi Kingdoms and Defira, there are several games live on Harmony which could become a part of a metaverse ecosystem and may one day develop into metaverses of their own, including:

  • Atlantys: a "play-to-earn blockchain game that rewards the players with its native token." The game is launched on mainnet; they have a map and you can mint ocean plots which will give the player advantages in their play-to-earn game.
  • Evoverses: Only the token and staking platform are live on mainnet, but they are planning a Pokemon-like 3D game with GameFi.
  • Fishfight: an interactive NFT collectable game where users can catch, breed, and fight unique fish.
  • Harmony Play: A couple of games are live on mainnet, and they have announced a planned play-to-earn engine (using Harmony HPLAY tokens) and NFT gaming platform with tournaments and in-game prizes.

In addition, Harmony's partnership with ZYZZY will bring in some exciting games with fun and interesting game mechanics, and hopefully leverage their community of over 45,000 game developers and relationships with dozens of YouTube and Twitch influencers. Although more studios are in the works, as well as some action games planned, there are no AAA games on Harmony at present. Meanwhile, some of the larger studios have web3 plans of their own; also, Polygon Studios is doing research together with major studios to help with tokenomics to be the AAA partner of choice, and has made some major hires as well.

4. Social experiences: Live performances

No projects on Harmony have had substantial development in throwing live concerts, which can be one of the most exciting components of a metaverse. Potential collaborations may lead to exciting concert experiences, where users could attend live or prerecorded virtual festivals in the Blue Metaverse.

Some Harmony metaverse projects mentioned above are well-positioned to do this; in these, prerecorded videos with a 360 perspective may be able to be placed into spaces as orbs, so users can walk directly into them for a full VR experience and feel being on stage with the artists performing. Other notable Harmony projects that would be positioned to throw metaverse concerts include:

  • Immersive.page - they can do live production with volumetric video, or even inexpensive realtime tracing on a webcam without motion capture which can be translated to any 3D avatar. While the project is new, there is potential for people to experience live concerts no matter their hardware.
  • Heavenvue has a cloud-computing based platform in alpha which can create concert experiences with true live elements in flexible virtual spaces. Their platform will allow for live concerts, even with a body prerecorded with motion capture and a live camera running on top of that for the head; they also hope to develop performance spaces.
  • MAD|NFT successfully broadcasted artist Rime, shown as a video screen on a curved screen, in their space; they have the capability of creating 3D avatars as well. The platform's skyscrapers and large land plots make the virtual concert experience practically limitless.
  • Blueverse and Vibe Stream Network both hope to have the capability to showcase music, which can potentially be shown live on metaverse Jumbotrons, or prerecorded for metaverse stages, with LIDAR for 3d volumetric video or spatial audio communication.

Although none of these have yet hosted major live events on Harmony, the current state of industry trends can give guidance on how best to proceed:

  1. Virtual concerts are a growing component both of large games and of metaverse platforms The Sandbox and Decentraland. As a result, companies are partnering with blockchains and metaverses to provide avatars, XR mixed reality, and ticketing. Additionally, gaming engines and production companies are partnering with blockchains and expanding to use virtual music experiences to create their own metaverse economies.
  2. Metaverse platforms and games are using celebrity partnerships to help get traction, as massive shows have proven that people will follow the celebrity into new platforms.
  3. Prerecorded metaverse shows with big budgets have been the prevailing model for the past few years. Even the "live" Justin Bieber show by Wave, which enbabled fans able to chat and send "virtual expressions" to "influence" the show and see themselves on the virtual "Wavercam," still was actually a prerecorded choose-your-own-adventure show with a branching narrative and with no live components.
  4. Online music experiences which are more truly "live" will soon become commonplace. Ristband's SXSW showcase with Epic Games was an exciting new vision of a metaverse city where artists have the choice of having their live shows livestreamed into a virtual venue, or of creating more advanced shows where concerts can be pre-recorded and motion capped into a 3D avatar.

5. The ability to shape your online identity

The ability to own, create, and shape one's identity online is an important feature of the metaverse - but identity is inevitably expressed within a social setting, which most projects in Harmony's ecosystem currently lack. Also, as noted above, very few released projects allow people to build unique experiences online within their games or proto-metaverses, so user identity cannot be expressed, or sense of agency felt, through one's creations either.

Still, Harmony has made two important moves that could allow Blue Metaverse users to express their identity online:

  • Timeless 1Wallet: In the metaverse, your wallet and identity can be one and the same: as your values are defined by your NFTs and interactions as shown by transaction history, your wallet can be both an ID card and a flex. For this reason, wallets can be a portal to the metaverse if they are flexibly incorporate NFTs, which are the lifeblood of a metaverse experience. With its social-first design and ambitious roadmap (including speedy wallet creation, PFP flexing, group chat, multisig capabilities, location proximity, PIN-code enabled group chat, subscribable channels), Harmony's Timeless 1Wallet is well-positioned to become the leading metaverse wallet. The current state of the 1Wallet beta includes chat, sending images, stickers, weather, sending and receiving ONE, and buying crypto with fiat functionality. The product has almost 812 weekly active users, 1,385 members of the Discord community, and 2,790 waitlist signups, and is soon to be released on the iPhone App Store.
  • iTokens: Cross-Chain NFT: Harmony has created a token standard which allows Ethereum NFT token holders to "use their PFP as their identities in the Harmony ecosystem." Currently, there are 7 mapped tokens on Harmony, and DeFi Kingdoms supports players using their Bored Apes PFP as the profile pictures.

Key Reference

Action Items for May 2022

  • Create metaverse creative DAO with 3 governors
  • Spec out interoperability tools needed for Blue Metaverse
  • Select one metaverse project for accelerator program
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