Upon the IPO of Roblox, the rise of Bitcoin, and the $69MM sale of Beeple’s NFT art, I can no longer ignore the prophecy, “Metaverse is coming!” I slightly predicted this befalling in 2016 when I was in an army boot camp. I eavesdropped on an interesting conversation from my teammate, who claimed that he spent about $20,000 in the game called Maple Story, but his mother found out about it and threatened to cut his allowances. I first saw it as a triumph of a marvelous invention called Free To Play (F2P). Now I see it as the stepping stone of the metaverse economy where people invest real assets in the virtual world, and it bloomed early in a small country called Korea. However, I foresee a virtual dystopia if we continue with the F2P system for the upcoming metaverse.
One of the biggest causes of the F2P system was the notorious digital content pirating that plagued the gaming industry. Before the birth of the F2P, the dominant model was Buy to Play (B2P). That is, the game companies sold CDs or collected monthly subscriptions from their users. Unfortunately, the 2000s was an age of piracy where people refused to buy digital content including video games. During this winder of the gaming industry, Nexon invented a brilliant solution for its game called “Q Play.” Q Play abolished the subscription fee but instead started selling cash items (source). This system not only made the game successful but also brought the golden age to Nexon when they applied it to the famous “Maple Story”.
This system that was created to survive ultimately became the dominant strategy for most of games today, especially the mobile ones. For example, Candy Crush Saga is essentially a free game, but it is hard to resist the temptation to purchase cash items. Clash of Clans applies the same system where users have to spend money to shorten the time it takes to upgrade their villages. As such, F2P allowed anyone to play the game, but at the same time trapped users in the system as same as reality. You have to Pay to Win.
One of the reasons why people play games is to escape from reality. People get fascinated by this virtual space because they can grow their avatars in an easier and more accomplishing way. All they need is to complete a series of quests and enjoy their avatars evolve as clearly reflected by levels and specs. However, the F2P system no longer makes it true. F2P games classify, rank, and categorize users based on how much they spend on it, which is a harsh attribute of the real world that people wanted to escape.
However, even if you invest real money, that does not guarantee the status you bought for. Recently on news, gamers in Korea turned very furious with Nexon, the service provider of Maple Story, for selling a fraudulent game item called “The Red Cube”. The item randomly produces a combination of rock-paper-scissor where all-paper should provide the best item options, but the game intentionally blocked such combinations without notifying the users. This item has been around for a decade with false advertising, but only recently the exact probability logic was unveiled. Such revelation helped gamers to realize they have been spending tens of thousands of dollars for an item that technically does not exist (source).
As such, no matter how much you spend, you are essentially under the control of the system. The game determines the probability and existence of everything in its world, but there is no way for the users to find out what they really look like. A series of events tells us that the metaverse is coming to us fast, and I see a clear agenda to prepare; a transparent metaverse economy. If the current F2P system extends to the future metaverse, we are so fucked. The time and effort you spend in the metaverse will matter less than how much cash you can deposit from reality. If the platform intends to hide certain truths and logic on its behalf, users cannot know them. This is a rebirth of society controlled by class and God which reverts us to the Middle Ages Feudalism. Ironically, it can happen in the future virtual space.
To skip the dark age and prevent dystopia, a transparent metaverse economy is a must. Any rules and probability that involve the asset transaction between the real world and metaverse should strictly be monitored. Any logic in the program that can potentially harm users must be prohibited and regulated. If what happened in Maple Story repeats in the metaverse economy, the scale of the damage would be much worse. The current F2P system is NOT a way to go for the metaverse.