GADGETS

How a VR startup took the money and ran into the metaverse


Engadget first interacted with Reid in 2016, when a UK startup called Unlikely arranged a meeting inside a MetaWorld prototype to demonstrate Spatial OS, the startup’s scalable server technology. Reid was one of several developers who took advantage of the company’s public SDK, and Improbable Thought MetaWorld provided a powerful demonstration promoting the “open community platform”.

Shortly after this prototype was released, it likely stopped promoting or mentioning MetaWorld at all. By 2017, questions were being raised about Red’s ability to deliver on his ambitious promises, which included a custom avatar system, a living world as large as Maryland, a virtual economy, rich environmental simulation and multi-platform capabilities for a variety of VR headsets.

Reed launched the Indiegogo campaign in April 2017, a move that prompted his former business partner and MetaWorld prototype developer, Carelton DiLeo, to publicly distance himself from the project. DeLeo noted that he is “not currently working at MetaWorld” and does not know how Reed plans to “fulfill the promise of the fund.”

The Indiegogo campaign was unsuccessful, eventually raising $3,674 from a flexible target of $50,000, meaning Reed should keep all the money pledged. This was followed by a new initiative to increase revenue: land speculation. In September 2017, the road to virtual reality He noted that Reed was selling virtual land for real money, and detailed the many questions surrounding the project. The land was available for purchase in three levels, ranging from $15 for a quarter of an acre to $100 for two acres, although it was not clear what exactly players would do with the property, how the economy would function or how people who did not buy the land would join the the game.

MetaWorld was listed on Steam as an Early Access title in mid-2017, to announce consistent updates and transparent community-driven development. There was no real game to play, no virtual world to explore, but Red was selling land at MetaWorld regardless. On September 28, 2017, a post on the MetaWorld Steam community claimed that land titles had been sent to investors, backed by a Reid cryptocurrency created as MetaCoin.

In a September 2017 article, The road to virtual reality He concluded, “MetaWorld is heading for early access, which partly excuses it from being an incomplete product, but the inconsistency in messaging about core game mechanics and features should make you concerned about the stability of the yet-to-be-released MMO.”

By early 2018, Reed claimed that he had been investing in cryptocurrency for several years to shape the MetaWorld economy, using cash from early land sales to build a MetaCoin fund. He said that he did not personally earn any money in the process, and all the money received into MetaWorld was converted into cryptocurrency and kept in one place called Metabank, where it was reserved specifically for this new virtual economy.

The 2016 MetaWorld prototype from Engadget was tried out.

Meta World

“We are a community-funded entity. So we’ve been working on it, actually taking the cash and sort of turning it into crypto, building an economy,” Reid told Engadget in 2018. He said he was using “automated trading, a couple of different investment tools to grow the money.”

Almost a year after saying that, Reid left his last message in the original MetaWorld Discord and disappeared from the server.

A few weeks after Red’s quiet exit, a user named Immortal posted in the lobby, “It’s been a while since I’ve heard anything about this game and even longer since my money has been happily taken for it. Does anyone know anything about this version? Or is this just one of the things that never happened?”

“I don’t expect anything to happen,” replied a user called Myrothas. “I asked for a refund a year ago and many times. All I heard was: Send me a mail. I’ve done this several times and never received an answer. This is a red flag for me.”

Myrothas, real name Johannes Fischer, shared with Engadget’s 2018 email exchange requesting a refund through the MetaWorld help channel. “Supported this project about a year ago and expected it to come out already,” he wrote in the email. “I would like to ask for a refund.” He says he never received his money.

Engadget interviewed Reid twice in 2018. In these interviews, Reid explained how paying customers can build a MetaWorld on their own, and how cryptocurrency will make everything work as a decentralized and liberal dreamland. With the players in charge of financing and developing MetaWorld themselves, it was hard to say exactly what Reid was selling.

One year after launching his crowdfunding campaign, Reed said he had a “design done in Unity” for MetaWorld, and was planning to port this to the current Spatial OS ecosystem — although the Spatial OS parent company isn’t likely to actively support the project yet. right Now. He claimed to have built a procedural terrain generator for VR and also a powerful avatar system with “head tracking, eyes, eye blinking, eye staring, lip syncing, and upper torso support”, although these features were never shown.

Most of Reid’s goals were never achieved. The MetaWorld release date was repeatedly pushed back, until the Steam page finally read, “Coming soon.” Reid showed off high-resolution environments on YouTube and Discord, and later revealed that MetaWorld would be a Google Blocks project, making these assets impossible. MetaWorld has never been launched.

“We had a lot of promises broken right away, and that was pretty big science,” one of the early adopters told Engadget on condition of anonymity. We’ll call them Morgan. “And society was very quick to do some snooping.”

Engadget spoke with 11 original investors in MetaWorld, including people who have been deeply involved in the community and often interact with Reid directly. Many of these members requested anonymity, believing that Read had their personal information and did not trust him not to misuse it.

MetaWorld Discord
Users frequenting the original Discord server in 2020 (zoom in)

Metaworld / Discord

After a few months of missed launch dates and hollow promises, MetaWorld members discovered that Reid had been using images from 3D model website TurboSquid to sell lands and in-game items, and said he had changed important details about the engine and development process seemingly on a whim. Since people will ask for refunds in the original Discord server, Reid contacts them with the trolls and deletes their messages.

At the time, as calls for refunds were flooding the MetaWorld community, Reed told Engadget that he was “in the process of coming up with a better refund policy” and wanted to meet those requests, but that it was difficult to do without seriously affecting development. Not that Reed planned to do much of the development himself – as he put it, he was a designer, the man with a vision. According to his plan, the community will actually code and make games, after purchasing their way to MetaWorld.

“At the time, we knew that users would also be responsible for creating the assets,” Morgan said. “The assets included anything from buildings to animals… but we would also be responsible for creating jobs, performing said functions to earn currency on the blockchain.”

Besides, Reed told Engadget that he intends to divest from the business that takes place at multi-billion dollar companies such as Facebook, IBM and Google. He noted that these organizations have already created VR worlds, avatars, and AI frameworks, and said he would simply use them to create a MetaWorld. He seemed uninterested in the concepts of intellectual property and trade secrets.

“From my point of view, all code is done and written,” Reed said. After a few minutes, he continued, “The code that drives AI – Watson, or just name your AI code – it’s there, right? So I can play with the concepts, while the code is already written, right? You know what I mean? I can take any A set of code that I want. And I think by understanding code – I also write code. But instead of thinking about writing code, I kind of enjoy imagining concepts and understanding how to put things together.”

In the end, Red was basically selling an early concept roblox game, in virtual reality and for adults. But first, he was asking players to build the game itself and paying him for the franchise. After all, he said, actually making a MetaWorld was the easy part.

“This stuff is like, ‘It’s not rocket science,'” he said. “It’s really easy to just throw some stuff in and make a couple simulator, a virtual reality simulator and put them together. That’s not the hard part, like making some virtual reality games.”

This primitive 2016 demo, created before developer DiLeo left the team, is the only public evidence that Reid’s MetaWorld ever existed as a habitable virtual place. DiLeo continued to build his own simulated environment using Spatial OS, and in October 2018 sold it to Somnium Space, a decentralized virtual reality platform powered by the blockchain. As part of the deal, Somnium Space offered a cash back and land exchange program to angry MetaWorld customers, in an effort to rebuild trust in the development of VR as a whole.

In October 2021, two years after Red’s last message in the old Discord, a new MetaWorld server appeared. He had a new logo, links to his Club House group, and the same stadium as before. The Passports channel is linked to a page where people can pay $10, $20 or $30 for “exclusive community access,” the chance to build a MetaWorld, and early bid on NFT in the future.

At press time, MetaWorld NFTs have raised 5,126 MATIC (about $11,000) since launching on November 25.

MetaWorld NFT sampling
Listings for MetaWorld NFTs.

MetaWorld / Niftykit

Reed is now selling virtual land and property such as NFTs on the Polygon Network, and people are making the purchase. Lands range in price from $50 to $600 and are paid in Polygon’s MATIC coin, while the “Piano House” costs $650 and appears to be available by cash only. MetaWorld claims that only 10 of these homes will be minted and simulated.

“Lots of excitement, creative ideas and passion for the future,” Discord user Claire Pratina wrote on the new MetaWorld server on November 25. “Definitely support the creators and we look forward to learning how to create in the metaverse and metaworld.”

Every now and then in the new server, a random member will spam the channels with warnings claiming that MetaWorld is a scam, and Reid will reject it and delete the messages. Just like the old days.

There is one unexpected new feature for the revamped MetaWorld campaign: Reid, who also happens to be black, targets people of color.



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