April 4, 2023

Metaverse Highlights: Week of April 04, 2023

This week, we highlight a successful event for the crypto community: Paris Blockchain Week. The event, which took place amidst demonstrations in the streets of the French capital, came with much-needed optimism and announcements. 

Firms from around the world gathered around a single message: crypto isn’t dead. And some had concrete ways to prove it. For instance, the French startup Ledger, which designs and manufactures hardware wallets for crypto, just raised $108 million in new funding. The event, and the news that came with it, interrupted a stream of bad news for the crypto world. 

Meanwhile, regulators in the US and abroad continue to wrestle with new technologies. In the US, artists are fighting for recognition of AI art, hoping to secure a new copyright framework. In China, the government just announced a popular consultation to re-think its approach to crypto, which has so far been fairly hostile. Lastly, as Meta and Disney cut metaverse-related jobs, some are questioning the sector's future. Yet other developments, such as the release of Apple’s headset, Epic Games’ new toolkit for creators, and new AI metaverse applications, give us reasons to remain hopeful.


The bottom line: Last week’s Paris Blockchain Week took place during nationwide protests as the creme de la creme of crypto and corporations descended on the City of Love. There was a sense of cautious optimism amid the chaos, with the bear market doing little to extinguish France’s bid to become a crypto hub. Last year, The Block had already spoken to Bpifrance's crypto lead Ivan De Lastours who said that the French ecosystem was able to lean on its strong reputation in the creative industries from gaming to film to fashion. 

The bottom line: Paris Blockchain Week has risen to the public’s attention as one of the most esteemed annual events in the industry. The event has since aimed to bring together blockchain enthusiasts, developers, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders from across the globe to explore the latest opportunities in the blockchain industry. One of the most notable at this year’s event was using the decentralized ledger in telecommunications.

The bottom line: French startup Ledger has added more money to its Series C funding round. The company designs and manufactures so-called hardware wallets (devices shaped like USB keys that offer a high level of security) to secure crypto assets. In 2021, the company raised €356 million ($385 million at today’s exchange rate). And the company is adding another €100 million ($108 million) in new funding.

The bottom line: The metaverse, the virtual world that was hot in tech less than two years ago, is facing a harsher reality. Walt Disney has shut down the division that was developing its metaverse strategies. Microsoft Corp. recently shut down a social virtual-reality platform it acquired in 2017. And Mark Zuckerberg, who renamed Facebook Meta to signal his seriousness about the metaverse, focused more on artificial intelligence on an earnings call last month.

The bottom line: Last year, Kris Kashtanova typed instructions for a graphic novel into a new artificial intelligence program and touched off a high-stakes debate over who created the artwork: a human or an algorithm. Initially, Kashtanova received a copyright in September and declared on social media that it meant artists were entitled to legal protection for their AI art projects. It didn't last long. In February, the U.S. Copyright Office suddenly reversed itself, and Kashtanova became the first person in the country to be stripped of legal protection for AI art.

The bottom line: Given the rising adoption rates recorded in the sector, China’s government is seeking ways to improve the country’s blockchain standards. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has taken the initiative to create uniform standards for blockchain throughout China. The ministry disclosed in a statement that the timeframe for the new developmental initiatives is scheduled for 2025. On Tuesday, a public consultation was launched to seek stakeholders’ opinions on the best ways to upgrade the national blockchain standard.

The bottom line: At its State of Unreal event last week, Epic Games showed off not only the visual magic of 3D graphics of games in the future. It also showed off the business models, the trends like user-generated content, and its Verse programming language. Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, talked about how Fortnite is integrating Unreal Engine tools so that everyone can make games – announcing that Epic would give 40% of the net revenue of Fortnite to creators.

The bottom line: According to Dirk Lueth, co-founder of the Upland Metaverse, the colonization of the metaverse by tech giants and the building of so-called “walled garden systems” is not sustainable. Lueth argues that instead of “locking users in,” the metaverse should usher in “a future where they are free to move between platforms and can easily take their assets and identity with them.”

The bottom line: For Metaverse Fashion Week’s second iteration, the Decentraland Foundation partnered with other metaverse companies to offer a broad experience. “Last year, the brands were just showing up, but now they know a lot more about what they want,” said Mike Charalambous, CEO of Threedium – a start-up that enables the digitization of physical assets, helping brands from Dior to Fendi generate commercial opportunities. “There’s now a coherent strategy behind it, employing real narrative and brand values.”

The bottom line: As it stands, the metaverse is “not yet set,” says Micaela Mantegna, an affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard. Because of this, it might still be possible to limit the rampant toxicity that has infiltrated the web and social media. The metaverse is still connected to its more organic roots, and if those populating it—be they people or corporations—can remember the lessons learned about online safety and moderation, the metaverse could be a less horrible place. Put another way, “we already ruined one internet,” Mantegna said during a recent panel at the Game Developer Conference, but there’s hope for the one to come.

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