Gadgets

How a VR startup took the money and ran to the Metaverse

Engadget first interacted with Reid in 2016 when a UK startup called Improbable arranged a meeting inside a MetaWorld prototype to demonstrate Spatial OS, the startup’s scalable server technology. Reid was one of several developers using the company’s public SDK, and Improbable thought MetaWorld created an effective demo to promote its “open community platform”.

Shortly after this prototype was released, Improbable stopped promoting or mentioning MetaWorld. By 2017, questions had been raised about Reid’s ability to deliver on ambitious promises, including a custom avatar system, a living world the size of the state of Maryland, a virtual economy, extensive environmental simulation, and cross-platform capabilities for a variety of VR headsets.

Reid started an Indiegogo campaign in April 2017 a step that led his former business partner and MetaWorld prototype developer Carelton DiLeo to publicly distance themselves from the project. DiLeo noted that he was “not currently working on MetaWorld” and did not know how Reid was going to “deliver on the fund’s promise.”

The Indiegogo campaign was unsuccessful and eventually raised $ 3,674 from a flexible target of $ 50,000, which meant Reid had to keep all of the promised money. This was followed by a new revenue-generating initiative: land speculation. In September 2017, Way to VR noted that Reid was selling virtual land for real money and explained the many questions surrounding the project. Land could be bought in three tiers, from $ 15 for a quarter of an acre to $ 100 for two acres, although it was unclear exactly what players would do with that property, how the economy would work, or how people would do that Bought no land, would take part in the game.

MetaWorld was listed as an Early Access title on Steam in mid-2017 and promotes consistent updates and transparent, community-driven development. There was no real game to play, no virtual world to explore, but Reid still sold land in MetaWorld. on 09/28/2017, a blog post on the MetaWorld Steam community claimed that land titles were being sent to investors backed by a cryptocurrency that Reid had developed called MetaCoin.

In his September 2017 article Road to VR, Road to VR concluded, “MetaWorld is entering Early Access, which partly excuses that this is an incomplete product but the inconsistency in messaging around the game’s core mechanics and features should worry you about the stability of the as-yet-unreleased MMO. “

In early 2018, Reid claimed he had invested in crypto for several years to shape MetaWorld’s economy and used the money from early land sales to build the MetaCoin fund. He said he wasn’t making any money personally from doing this, and all of the money that went into MetaWorld was converted into cryptocurrency and kept in a single place called Metabank, where it was specifically reserved for this new virtual economy.

Engadget experienced the MetaWorld prototype in 2016.

MetaWelt

Reid told Engadget in 2018: “We are a community funded facility. So we worked on it, actually took cash and turned it into cryptocurrency and built an economy. ”He said he was using“ robo-trading, a couple of different investment vehicles to make money ”.

About a year after Reid said this, Reid left his final message on the original MetaWorld Discord and disappeared from the server.

A few weeks after Reid’s quiet exit, a user named Immortal posted in the lobby: “It’s been a while since I’ve heard about this game and even longer since my money was happily taken for it. Does anyone know anything about this release or is that just one of those things that never happen? “

“I don’t expect anything to happen,” replied a user named Myrothas. “Asked for a refund a year and many times ago. I only heard: send me an email. I’ve done this several times and never received an answer. For me the red flag. “

Myrothas, real name Johannes Fischer, shared an email exchange with Engadget in 2018 requesting a refund through the MetaWorld help channel. “I supported this project about a year ago and expected it to come out already,” he wrote in the email. “I want to request a refund.” He says he never got his money.

Engadget interviewed Reid twice in 2018. In these interviews, Reid explained how paying customers would build MetaWorld themselves and how cryptocurrency would make the whole thing work as a decentralized, libertarian dream landscape. With the players themselves responsible for funding and developing MetaWorld, it was difficult to figure out what exactly Reid was selling.

A year after starting his crowdfunding campaign, Reid said he had “worked out a design in Unity” for MetaWorld and planned to translate that into the existing Spatial OS ecosystem – although Improbable, the parent company of Spatial OS, doesn’t endorse that Project no longer active. He claimed he had built a procedural terrain generator for VR and also a robust avatar system with “head tracking, eyes, wink, moment, lip sync, upper body support”, although these functions were never demonstrated.

Most of Reid’s goals were never realized. The release date of MetaWorld was pushed back again and again, until finally it was simply “Soon” on the Steam page. Reid showed off high-fidelity environments on YouTube and Discord, and later revealed that MetaWorld would be a Google Blocks project, making those assets impossible. MetaWorld never went live.

“We had many broken promises straight away, that was a pretty important flag,” an early adopter told Engadget on condition of anonymity. We call her Morgan. “And the community was very quick to snoop around.”

Engadget spoke to 11 original MetaWorld investors, including people who were deeply involved in the community and often interacted directly with Reid. Many of these members asked not to be named because Reid had their personal information and they did not trust him not to misuse it.

MetaWorld DiscordUsers regret the original Discord server in 2020. (Enlarge)

MetaWorld / Discord

After several months of missed launch dates and hollow promises, MetaWorld members discovered that Reid was using images from the TurboSquid 3D model site to sell land and in-game items, and they said he had critical details about the engine and the development process apparently changed on a whim. Since people were asking for refunds on the original Discord server, Reid called them trolls and deleted their messages.

At the time, as claims for refunds were flooding the MetaWorld community, Reid told Engadget that he was “about to come up with a better refund policy” and that he wanted to accommodate those requests, but it was difficult to do without serious impact on development . Not that Reid planned to develop a lot himself – as he put it, he was a designer, the guy with the vision. According to his plan, the community would do the actual programming and game-making after they had bought into MetaWorld.

“At that time, we learned that users are also responsible for creating assets,” said Morgan. “Assets included everything from buildings to animals … but we would also be responsible for creating jobs and doing those jobs to make money on the blockchain.”

Also, Reid told Engadget that he plans to piggyback the work of multi-billion dollar companies like Facebook, IBM and Google. He pointed out that these organizations had already developed VR worlds, avatar systems, and AI frameworks, and said he would simply use these to create MetaWorld. He did not seem to be concerned with the concepts of intellectual property and trade secrets.

“From my point of view, all of the code is finished and written,” said Reid. A few minutes later he continued, “The code that powers artificial intelligence – Watson, or just call your AI code – exists, doesn’t it? So I can play with concepts while code is already written, right? You know what I mean? I can take any code set I want. And I think by understanding code – I also write code. But instead of bothering with writing code, I enjoy coming up with concepts and just understanding how things are put together. “

In the end, Reid was basically selling an early-concept Roblox concept, in VR and for adults. But first, he asked players to develop the game themselves and pay him for the privilege. After all, actually creating MetaWorld is the easy part, he said.

“This stuff is like, it’s not rocket science,” he said. “It’s really pretty easy to throw around some objects and do some simulations, do some VR simulations and put them together. That’s not the hard part of making some VR games, for example. “

This rudimentary demo from 2016, created before developer DiLeo left the team, is the only public evidence that Reid’s MetaWorld ever existed as a habitable virtual space. DiLeo built his own simulated environment with Spatial OS and so did he sold in October 2018 to Somnium Space, an established, decentralized VR platform based on blockchain. As part of this deal, Somnium Space offered disgruntled MetaWorld customers a refund and land swap program to help restore confidence in overall VR development.

In October 2021, two years after Reid’s last message on the old Discord, a new MetaWorld server popped up. It had a new logo, links to its clubhouse group, and the same space as before. A “Passport” channel linked to a page on which people can buy $ 10, $ 20, or $ 30 for “exclusive community access,” the ability to build MetaWorld, and early bidding for future NFT- Drops can pay.

At the time of publication, MetaWorld NFTs have raised 5,126 MATIC (approximately $ 11,000) since their inception on Nov. 25.

MetaWorld NFT samplingListings for MetaWorld NFTs.

MetaWorld / Niftykit

Reid is now selling virtual land and real estate as NFTs on the Polygon network, and people are buying. Land costs between $ 50 and $ 600, payable in Polygon’s MATIC currency, while a piano house costs $ 650 and is apparently only available for cash. The MetaWorld website claims that only 10 of these houses will be embossed and simulated.

“So much excitement, creative thoughts and passion for the future,” wrote Discord user Clare Bratina on November 25th on the new MetaWorld server. “Definitely support the creators and look forward to learning how to create in the metaverse and in the metaworld.”

Every now and then on the new server a random member will spam the channels with warnings claiming MetaWorld is a scam and Reid will refuse and delete the messages. Like in the old days.

There’s a new, unexpected feature in the redesigned MetaWorld campaign: Reid, who happens to be black, is targeting People of Color.

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