GADGETS

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


Engadget first interacted with Reid in 2016, when a British startup called Improbable arranged a meeting within the MetaWorld prototype to demonstrate Spatial OS, the startup’s scalable server technology. Reid was one of several developers to use the company’s public SDK, and Improbable think MetaWorld made an effective demo to promote its “open community platform.”

Shortly after the launch of that prototype, Improbable stopped promoting or even mentioning MetaWorld. By 2017, questions were being asked about Reid’s ability to deliver on its ambitious promises, which included a custom avatar system, a living world as big as Maryland, a virtual economy, rich environmental simulations and different platform capabilities for different VR headsets.

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

The Indiegogo campaign was not successful, eventually raising $ 3,674 from a flexible $ 50,000 target, meaning Reid had to keep all the promised money. This was followed by a new revenue-raising initiative: land speculation. In September 2017, Road to VR he noted that Reid sells virtual land for real money and described in detail many issues around the project. The land was available for purchase on three levels, ranging from $ 15 for a quarter of an acre to $ 100 for two acres, although it was unclear what exactly the players would do with the property, how the economy would work or how people who did not buy the land join the game.

MetaWorld was listed on Steam as an early access title in mid-2017, advertising consistent updates and transparent community-driven development. There was no real game to play, no virtual world to explore, but Reid was selling land at MetaWorld nonetheless. On September 28, 2017, a blog on the MetaWorld Steam community claimed that land holdings were being sent to investors, with the support of a cryptocurrency created by Reid called MetaCoin.

In his article from September 2017. Road to VR he concluded, “MetaWorld has embarked on Early Access, which partly justifies it as an incomplete product, but inconsistencies in the exchange of messages around the basic mechanics and characteristics of the game should leave you worried about the stability of the as yet unpublished MMO.”

By early 2018, Reid claimed to have invested in cryptocurrencies for several years to shape MetaWorld’s economy, using cash from early land sales to build a MetaCoin fund. He said he personally did not make money in the process, and all the money that came to MetaWorld was converted into cryptocurrency and kept in a place called Metabank, where it was reserved specifically for this new virtual economy.

The 2016 MetaWorld prototype has experienced Engadget.

MetaWorld

Reid told Engadget 2018: “We are a community-funded entity. So we worked on it, actually taking cash and somehow forming it into a cryptocurrency, and building an economy. ” He said that he uses “robo-trading, several different investment tools to increase money”.

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

A few weeks after Reid’s quiet exit, a user named Immortal announced in the lobby: “It’s been a long time since I’ve heard anything about this game, and even longer since my money was happily taken for it. Does anyone know anything about this release or is this just one of those things that never happens? ”

“I don’t expect anything to happen,” replied a user named Myrothas. “He asked for a refund a year ago and many times. All I heard was: send me an email. I did it multiple times and never got an answer. A real red flag for me. ”

Myrothas, real name Johannes Fischer, shared with Engadget an 2018 email exchange asking for a refund via the MetaWorld help channel. “I supported this project about a year ago and I expected it to come out,” he wrote in an email. “I’d like a refund.” He says he never got his money.

Engadget interviewed Reid twice in 2018. In these interviews, Reid explained how paying users would build MetaWorld themselves and how cryptocurrency would make the whole thing function as a decentralized, libertarian dream landscape. Since the players themselves were responsible for funding and developing MetaWorld, it was difficult to determine what exactly Reid was selling.

A year after launching his crowdfunding campaign, Reid said he had “developed a design in Unity” for MetaWorld and planned to move it into the existing Spatial OS ecosystem – although Improbable, the parent company of Spatial OS, was no longer actively supporting it. project. He claimed to have made a procedural terrain generator for VR, as well as a robust avatar system with “head, eye tracking, eye blinking, eye contact, lip synchronization, upper torso support”, although these features were never demonstrated.

Most of Reid’s goals were never scored. The release date of MetaWorld was moved over and over again, until at the end the Steam page simply read: “Coming Soon”. Reid showed high-fidelity environments on YouTube and Discord, and then later revealed that MetaWorld would be a Google Blocks project, making those funds impossible. MetaWorld never came out live.

“We had a lot of broken promises right away, it was a pretty big flag,” one early user told Engadget on condition of anonymity. We’ll call them Morgan. “And the community sniffed very quickly.”

Engadget spoke with 11 original MetaWorld investors, including people who were deeply involved in the community and often communicated directly with Reid. Many of these members asked not to be named, as Reid had their personal information and did not trust him that he would not misuse it.

MetaWorld Discord
Users feel sorry for the original Discord server 2020 (Enlarge)

MetaWorld / Discord

After months of missed launch dates and empty promises, MetaWorld members revealed that Reid used images from the TurboSquid 3D model page to sell land and items in the game, and said he changed critical details about the engine and development process seemingly out of whim. In order for people to demand a refund on the original Discord server, Reid would call them trolls and delete their messages.

At the time, while calls for a refund flooded the MetaWorld community, Reid told Engadget it was “in the process of devising a better refund policy” and wanted to meet these demands, but it was difficult to do without serious development impact. It’s not that Reid planned to do the development himself – as he described it, he was a designer, a guy with a vision. According to his plan, the community would do real coding and game making, after buying its way into MetaWorld.

“That’s when we learned that users will also be responsible for creating funds,” Morgan said. “Assets included everything from buildings to animals… but we would also be responsible for creating jobs and doing these jobs to earn currency on the blockchain.”

In addition, Reid told Engadget that he plans to work in companies worth billions of dollars, such as Facebook, IBM and Google. He pointed out that these organizations have already built VR worlds, avatar systems and AI frameworks, and said he would simply use them to create MetaWorld. He did not seem interested in the concepts of intellectual property and trade secrets.

“From my perspective, all the code was done and written,” Reid said. A few minutes later, he continued: “The code that drives artificial intelligence – Watson, or just call your AI code – exists, doesn’t it? So I can play with concepts while the code is already written, right? You know what I mean? I can take any set of codes I want. And I think by understanding the code – I also write the code. But instead of going down to writing code, I enjoy coming up with concepts and just understanding how things are put together. ”

In the end, Reid basically sold the early concept Roblox, in VR and for adults. But first he asked the player to make the game itself and pay him for that privilege. After all, he said, actually making MetaWorld was the easy part.

“This is like not rocket science,” he said. “It’s really pretty simple to throw a few objects around and do a couple of simulations, a couple of VR simulations and connect them. It’s not the hard part, like, to make some VR games. ”

That rudimentary 2016 demo, made before developer DiLeo left the team, is the only public evidence that Reid’s MetaWorld ever existed as an inhabited virtual place. DiLeo continued to build its simulated environment using Spatial OS, and sold it in October 2018 to Somnium Space, an established, decentralized blockchain-powered VR platform. As part of that deal, Somnium Space offered a refund and land swap program for angry MetaWorld customers, in an effort to rebuild confidence in the development of VR as a whole.

In October 2021, two years after Reid’s last message in the old Discord, a new MetaWorld server appeared. It had a cool logo, links to his Clubhouse group and the same point as before. A “passport” channel linked to a site where people can pay $ 10, $ 20 or $ 30 for “exclusive access to the community,” an opportunity to build MetaWorld, and early bidding for future NFT downturns.

At the time of publication, MetaWorld NFT had collected 5,126 MATICs (approximately $ 11,000) since their launch on November 25th.

MetaWorld NFT Sampling
Ads for MetaWorld NFT.

MetaWorld / Niftykit

Reid now sells virtual land and real estate as NFT on the Polygon network, and people are buying. The land usually costs between $ 50 and $ 600, payable in MATIC Polygon currency, while “Piano House” costs $ 650 and appears to be available in cash only. The MetaWorld website claims that only 10 of these houses will be forged and simulated.

“So much excitement, creative thoughts and passion for the future,” Discord user Clare Bratina wrote on the new MetaWorld server on November 25th. “I definitely support creators and look forward to learning how to create in the metaverse and meta world.”

From time to time on the new server, a random member will spam the channels with alerts claiming that MetaWorld is a scam, and Reid will deny this and delete the messages. As in the old days.

There is one new, unexpected feature of the renewed MetaWorld campaign: Reid, who happens to be black, targets colored people.



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Naveen Kumar

Friendly communicator. Music maven. Explorer. Pop culture trailblazer. Social media practitioner.

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