One nft monkey and Chatterhead with another nft monkey.
In the Messages from the Metaverse series, VICE roams around this virtual universe to see if it’s good enough to replace the physical world.
This week, the first MET AMS festival took place in Westergasfabriek, one of the first major offline events dedicated solely to the digital worlds of metaverse. Cryptomillionaires, NFT artists and virtual reality traders from all over the world crawled out of their computers to meet each other during the festival, the tickets cost between 289 and 899 euros (for a legendary ticket). We were also there to ask people if virtual universes have a future after the pandemic and the collapse of cryptocurrencies.
Virtual universes have been the stuff of dystopian movies and books since time immemorial, but last year the metaverse suddenly seemed much more than sci-fi: Entire countries were locked inside the home because of the pandemic. After months of handling low-tech solutions such as video calling, a digital VR environment suddenly sounded like a solution to a problem that did not exist before. Tech giant Facebook thought it was so promising that they renamed themselves “Meta” after the meta-verse. NFTs also broke through: digital ownership certificates that could enable us to buy houses, land, clothing, art and even boats in these virtual environments. These NFTs use the same technologies as cryptocurrencies, and prices rose synchronously. Now we can go outside again, and cryptocurrencies have collapsed enormously: Bitcoin fell in value by two-thirds, and Ethereum, the second largest, even lost three-quarters in value. The festival’s slogan “where metavers and reality meet” gets a sour aftertaste.
Still, there is a cozy atmosphere in De Westergasfabriek. The audience consists of metaverse enthusiasts who already know each other from the Internet, but there are also employees of companies who are allowed to leave the office for a day to learn all about the possibilities of the virtual universes. The large round dome is divided into two areas, one for panel discussions and one where all sorts of spectacular projects are exhibited. There are stalls with all kinds of NFT and crypto applications. Magnum does something with the digital world Decentraland, but especially the ice creams that they provide for free seem to be popular. There is also a booth at the Habbo Hotel, the iconic online world founded in 2000. They seem to still exist and keep up with the times: they now support NFTs in collaboration with the NFT brand Cyberkong. As a result, you can walk around the Habbo hotel like a monkey doll for a fee or with a spinning banana over your head.
There are screens where you can see digital models walking around in digital fur scouting, so no animals have to be killed. There is also a VR experience that supposedly incorporates fragrance, but there is a continuous line there. I manage to go through an “immersive sound” experience. In the headphones I hear a recording of a forest with taps. First in stereo and then as “immersive sound”. The truck driving past during the second shot appears to be driving right through my head. Not an ear-pleasing sound, but impressive.
In the second room, a presentation of Metafluence is a company that sells digital environments to influencers. According to their boss, Ermin Vall, the metaverse will in the future take over the function that social media has now. There is also a lecture entitled “Boundless Revolution” where activists talk about the limitless possibilities that the meta-verse can offer to experiment with your identity. “Do not hesitate, you can be anything in the metaverse!” 14-year-old Indian NFT artist Laya Mathikshara cheers. The artist Fat Baby draws the somewhat less inspiring conclusion that most of those in power in the metaverse, just like in the real world, are still white cis people with a lot of money. “Web3 reflects society.”
“We are monkeys who put on clothes to hide that we are monkeys …” says the presenter in front of the panel about digital scarcity and luxury in the metaverse. “… and we have always collected things. They used to be stones, now they are jpegs. “He thus skips a few thousand years of human civilization, where man built pyramids and cathedrals and produced beautiful art and haute couture. As if it is an achievement that people nowadays pay hundreds of thousands of euros for an avatar of a monkey to hide that they are a monkey.
In the panel, Emanuel Erdem from the NFT platform Exclusible will talk about the digital property he is selling. “For example, we’ve created five luxury NFT penthouses where you can invite fifty people.” The moderator of the conversation is excited: “Wowowow,” he says. Erdem explains that digital worlds have limited space and that a piece of coveted digital land with a beautiful digital building on it can increase in value. He compares it to the domain names that were heavily paid out during the internet bubble of the late 1990s. Until the bubble burst and many people lost their money, but then he does not say it.
Between the stalls in the other room, I strike up a conversation with Eléonore Blanc. She has nothing to do with the digital scarcity that people like Erdem find so promising. “People want scarcity and exclusivity, and therefore all kinds of boundaries are now emerging in the digital world. It should not, it is contrary to crypto-ethos. Cryptocurrencies are unlimited, no matter who you are or where you live. “She does not flirt with all kinds of expensive avatars or NFT art when she’s in the metaverse.” It would be like showing everyone who follows you on Instagram, but then you paid for it. “For Blanc, crypto is not about speculating and making a lot of money, she claims.” It’s such a boring and limited view of it. You have to use it. “She is therefore continuously paid in crypto for her courses, and she does not mind that prices have now fallen tremendously, despite the evaporation of her money.” I go with the highs and lows: If it goes well, I spend a lot of money, and if it goes bad, I do not. “She thinks that big crashes like this are only good.” Then it is the strongest surviveand only the good companies and cryptocurrencies are left.
The low prices also seem to have little effect on the mood of NFT artist Robbin Snijders. “I have been a graphic designer for dance festivals for fifteen years, where I have made flyers and logos for DJs. When the corona crisis started, we had sixty festivals on the shelves, but we had to switch to corporate assignments. I could not put all my creativity into it, so I started making NFTs. “It quickly started to go well, and his clientele includes international collectors and also many Dutch youtubers, such as Bram Krikke and the rather noisy game-youtuber Jelle van Vucht† For that reason, Robbin does not mind that the Ethereum coin in which he is paid is only a quarter of the value it was at the beginning of this year, he explains. “The recognition is worth gold to me.”
The last panel on that day is about “digital assets as a viable investment”. This panel is also mainly about what still needs to be done before you really benefit from your digital assets. Farbod Sardeghian, CEO of a company that helps people invest in NFT art, says that just like with the traditional financial system, the cryptocurrency world needs more overview to create a secure investment climate. As the moderator of the conversation asks how more women and their capital can be lured into the NFT world, Wouter Kloosterman, who trades in NFT art, says that it will probably happen soon, now that NFT fashion also exists. The paradigm needs to change, everyone agrees.
Jordi van den Bussche, best known as his alias Kwebbelkop, is also present at this panel. Van den Bussche has amassed 15 million subscribers on his youtube channel by playing games and talking very loudly about them. He recently bought a giant penthouse in Amsterdam and recently owns a digital avatar and an NFT company. “Follow your dreams!” is the advice he gives the audience.
After the conversation, I talked to Van den Bussche outside in the sun about his “digital assets”. They turn out to be more than just an investment for him. With the Bored Apes he has, he gets access to parties in the foreseeable future. “For example, there will be one in New York next week.” Bored Apes are the most well-known NFTs, which, although the value has plummeted, are still sold for a ton for a ton. When all the owners stop by for a drink in New York, Van den Bussche will be in a famous company, including Snoop Dogg, Serena Willams and his colleague Enzo Knol. And access to celebrity-filled gatherings is just one of the many joys of Bored Apes owners: “I got digital tokens, digital land, from adidas I have something digital to pick up because I have such a monkey. You can get a real training suit with that. ” Van den Bussche does not have his monkey to make money with, he says. “I really like the technology and the movement. The meta-verse that we all build together. “He thinks it’s a shame that for many other people it’s about money, but he sees primarily the potential in the meta-verse.” Let’s on a do things and not make money fast and promote your stuff to your fans and then get out. “I ask if he likes the monkeys.” I think he has a part. I do not want to say handsome enough to hang on the wall. It is art in its own way. ”
Van de Bussche’s latest projects revolve around digital avatars, which allow him to retire from influencers in the future. A computer-generated clone should then do the honor. But he says he does not want to spend his retirement in the meta-verse yet. “Well, the way the metaverse looks now, certainly not. Only when it’s as good as the real world, gets close to it or gets better, will I sit there. Then you can go on adventures there again, parachute or go to Mars with friends. ”
Lost in thought, I then leave the Westergasterreinet. I have enjoyed myself: At most festivals, the visions of the future do not reach beyond the next day’s hangover, while here I have talked to people who have a solid belief in all sorts of things that are still fantasies, even though they have big crypto losses in the past.
The most realistic vision of the future I heard was the most dystopian: a world where the metaverse replaces social media, so you also have to buy all sorts of things online to look a little decent. In several panel discussions, it was also said that a major player must step in to ensure that the meta-verse becomes user-friendly so that the masses can start using it.
Somehow I wonder why not all this intelligence and all this money that is now being pumped into this future is not being used to quickly tackle poverty and climate change and achieve world peace. Then humanity will not need those extra worlds, advanced social media and new financial systems at all.