Legal-tech luminary to the igaming world, Ian Gaucci, describes the weird and wonderful fusion of virtual reality and digital assets, its implications for the gambling industry, and even more profoundly, for regulators
The advances in technology are inexorable and they are shaping our lives. Technology however should not be perceived as an exogenous force upon which we cannot have any control, but as an invitation to reflect on our role in this world, a digital world which is converging around us.
With the Fourth Industrial Revolution now upon us, we are living in a new digital world which according to Thomas Friedman has; (a) integrated circuits on microchips, (b) memory units to store information, (c) networks that help to enhance communication, (d) software applications that provide a direct link to consumers’ needs, and (e) sensor capacity that allows artificial intelligence to analyse most things which were previously only accessible to the human mind.
This revolution is the result of ‘technological convergence’, which can be described as the concept of merging, blending, integrating and transforming independent and previously unrelated technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain and Virtual Reality (VR). Joined together, a completely new technology is created, integrating the physical, digital and virtual worlds.
The Metaverse to a certain extent is the culmination of technological convergence. The phrase “Metaverse” was initially coined in a 1992 Science Fiction novel by Neal Stephenson called Snow Crash. “Metaverse” is a combination of the prefix “meta,” which means beyond, and “universe”. So, the Metaverse is a world beyond the real world or universe. In the Metaverse, virtual property, avatars and services can be tokenised, purchased and sold. This is most often done using tokens cryptocurrencies and NFT. This purports to be an online dimension where through convergence we have the fusion of virtual assets, virtual financial assets, NFT, DEFI, digital ledger technology, smart contracts and online gambling.
It’s not just technology companies or gatekeepers that want a metaverse. Gaming and online gambling companies and esports enthusiasts are interested in using the Metaverse to create more accessible, immersive, and value driven gaming environments. The Metaverse will introduce a more encompassing open economic model particularly in the gaming sector, side stepping the predominant one-sided capitalist driven model to a more vibrant and inclusive play-to-earn gaming ecosystem. The players and online participants will gain a more immersive experience. Aside from the more encompassing online gaming exhilaration, the players and users will also be an integral part of this new economic model. With digitalisation, tokenisation as well as the proliferation of NFTs, the players will be creating and garnering value and also supporting the ecosystem and players in innovative ways whilst at the same time creating more value to their patrimony. The Metaverse and this new economic model will extend the value beyond the non-Metaverse reality, within the real brick and mortar world too, where the digital and physical worlds will also be fused together.
The fusion of the digital and physical worlds aside from augmenting the notion of value, will also undoubtedly bring about new risks, forcing us to redefine and change many of our laws and policies to mitigate such risks and foster the safe functioning of the new digital economy. The boundaries of service provision will also be tested here, as players will be actively participating, creating value and also subsidising this new economic model, where we also have the fusion of gaming, decentralised finance as well as electronic commerce.
The dependency of this new converged reality and ecosystem is entirely dependent on trust and aside from adequate Laws and regulations, we should not forget the main lynchpin here. Technology and in particular the code used to generate the activity and value as well as to imbue the required rights to the beneficiaries and owners of this new value should be safe and apt for its intended use. The regulatory mindset in the gaming/gambling sector would thus needs to evolve and regulators should also be empowered to install proper governance structures with accountability and transparency obligations even in this new paradigm. The trust element in the Metaverse and in a converged digital world must start from here, making sure that the Metaverse is trustworthy by design.