Today I sat down with Timmu Tõke, the CEO and co-founder of the cross-game avatar platform Ready Player Me, to talk about the mindset behind the Metaverse, avatars for VR, deep learning, blockchain, interoperability, and more!
The Metaverse is coming. And it won’t be a single app — there will be thousands of them. Create your avatar and explore virtual worlds with one consistent identity. It’s your passport to the Metaverse.
A Multiverse of Connected Worlds
Alex: What is the Metaverse?
Timmu: The Metaverse for us is a network of virtual worlds that people visit for different purposes. It’s mostly virtual worlds that people visit to play games and collaborate, but it can also extend to virtual interactions that are 2D. But in general, we see it as a network of many different apps, worlds, and so forth.
Alex: And they’re all interconnected in some respect?
Timmu: Well, they should be! Most worlds are closed systems with no common layer across them. And that’s what we’re trying to do — connect these virtual worlds. The Metaverse should be a network of digital worlds, definitely not one world.
The Decentralized Mindset
Alex: Do you see blockchain fitting into the Metaverse ecosystem at all? Because right now Ready Player Me doesn’t use NFTs or any decentralized technology, but whenever I hear about the Metaverse, it usually has to do with blockchain.
Timmu: Yes, I do think blockchain has a place, but what is more important is the mindset behind the Metaverse — it’s the mindset of building open platforms that are interconnected and that communicate with each other. And that’s a big mindset shift for the gaming industry because so far the gaming industry has been very closed. So, I think the blockchain world is helping push the Metaverse from both a technological perspective — obviously it’s a great way to manage assets and economies — and also from a philosophical perspective.
For us, NFTs are on the roadmap, and the promise of NFTs is interoperability. But most NFTs are not very interoperable, and to actually make these assets work in many different experiences, you need to integrate them in each respective experience.
Is Blockchain Necessary?
Alex: Well, that’s why I found Ready Player Me to be so interesting, because your platform is essentially fulfilling the promise of interoperable NFTs without blockchain. So you got me thinking — is blockchain even necessary to build the Metaverse at all?
Timmu: Blockchain is definitely the way we want it to go, that’s for sure. It is a very unique way to create scarcity which is important. I mean, there are other ways to do that within a centralized system like the Steam store and CS:GO skins, but they are still controlled by one central entity, and assets are not transferable. So we want to see blockchain succeed — we want to see it as a part of the Metaverse. But we will do this regardless, and if blockchain does not become widely adopted, that’s fine.
Avatars as Wallets
Alex: How do you see avatars fitting in to the Metaverse ecosystem?
Timmu: Your avatar is a representation of you in the virtual world, so they’re a very important part of the Metaverse experience. They allow you to feel like you can express your identity in the digital realm. However, the key aspect in regards to avatars is interoperability. We believe that avatars are the most logical interoperable element of the Metaverse because they represent who you are. You buy stuff for your avatar and can wear and attach them to yourself. These assets travel with you, and that creates a more unified experience when traveling between different virtual worlds. Your avatar can become your wallet.
Deep Learning-based Avatars
Alex: When I made an avatar with Ready Player Me, it really looked like my face. I was surprisingly pleased with the technology. How do you build the avatars from photos?
Timmu: So, my co-founders and I have been working on this for seven years. We started building hardware scanners, and we scanned tens of thousands of people. We actually have the biggest proprietary database of face scans on the planet, and we spent around four years only doing data science and building a deep learning solution that predicts how to shape faces from a selfie. And that was our previous product.
Avatars for VR
Alex: That makes sense. So there are two kinds of avatars that you can create with Ready Player Me: VR avatars and full-body avatars. Why is there a need for two types of avatars?
Timmu: There is a very practical reason that. A lot of VR experiences don’t want to use a full-body because they need to develop a kinematics system. So, when you move around with the headset, developers need to create a system that will predict what the legs will do, and usually, it just looks terrible. So, most avatars in VR just have a head, torso, and hands. But, in the future, we will definitely have more body types and styles of avatars.
Alex: What are you doing for developers to allow them to integrate your interoperable avatars?
Timmu: What we’ve done to make it easy is to create SDKs for Unreal Engine, Unity3d, and mobile native platforms and so forth. Integration usually only takes a couple of days. It’s extremely straightforward compared to spending six months to a year to build a decent avatar system yourself.
Ready Player What?
Alex: Why did you choose the name Ready Player Me? Because it sounds like an homage to Ready Player One.
Timmu: So like the joke is that in the future we want people to think that the movie was named after Ready Player Me and not vice versa. Through our name, we want to express that our company is about the Metaverse and building this virtual world. We chose the name before the “Metaverse” became such a buzzword and wanted to make sure that people understood the vision. However, in Ready Player One, there is one gigantic company controlling the virtual world, and we’re very much against that. We’re trying to build an Open Metaverse that is built by millions of developers, not one big company.
Building The Open Metaverse
Alex: Do you think that an Open Metaverse is possible without the use of decentralized technology like blockchain since Ready Player Me isn’t based on decentralized technology now?
Timmu: That’s a great question. For me, the challenges to building the Metaverse are more rooted in philosophy and less about overcoming a technological problem. We already have great virtual worlds that people spend crazy amounts of time in like Roblox and Fortnite, and I think they can be considered “Metaverses” more than some of the crypto Metaverses out there now. Most of the crypto Metaverses don’t have many users and haven’t built engaged user bases like the worlds I mentioned earlier. Anyways, the point is that it’s about the philosophy of building open platforms. “Open” doesn’t need to mean blockchain, but it can. A connected world can be achieved in multiple ways.
Alex: I guess if you look at something like Minecraft, which is a non-blockchain-based world, it’s still very open and has a great environment for developers.
Timmu: Same thing with Roblox. Now, if you could go from Minecraft to Roblox, that would be cool.
Alex: So that’s the crux of my question. Let’s say we want to go from Minecraft to Roblox. How would interoperability work in an “Open Metaverse” that is not controlled by one company that also does not use decentralized technology?
Timmu: Right, another thing that needs to happen is allowing players to be able to go from one app to another without having to exit the world.
Alex: Like a Metaverse hyperlink?
Timmu: Exactly. Like portals.
Alex: Yes. I guess because the Metaverse is currently being built, everything is still being figured out.
Alex: Do you have any ethical concerns surrounding the Metaverse?
Timmu: Yes, if one entity controls too much of it, then that will be a dangerous thing. And like with all the new technologies, governments don’t understand it and won’t know what laws to pass. But, it will be very powerful, which means it can do a lot of good but also be very harmful.
Alex: Thank you so much for your time! Is there anything else you would like to add?
Timmu: For the Metaverse to happen, the main thing that needs to change is mindset. The technology will follow, and that’s just another problem to solve. I think the biggest roadblock currently is that everybody is trying to build their own “Metaverse,” and we’ll continue living in a closed system. Some of these worlds are great, but we won’t have the big interconnected virtual multiverse we dream of. We believe, more communication and connection between virtual worlds is better for everyone. And that’s what ultimately enables the Metaverse — cross-game services and connections.
The Metaverse Mindset
Everyone has their own theory of what the Metaverse will be and how it will be built. In a world where everyone is so focused on what the latest technology is, Timmu’s approach of emphasizing that philosophy and mindset should come first was refreshing. You can create your own avatar at readyplayer.me.
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