The Metaverse, Video Gaming, and Criminal Virtual Currency Transacting

Introduction


For the past 30 years, the internet had grabbed the world by storm. The birth of a concept in which everyone could communicate, and interact with each other, within seconds became reality. It revolutionized mail, communications, infrastructure, and life in general. In 1992, science fiction writer Neal Stephenson wrote the novel Snow Crash. In this book, there was a coined term, “metaverse,” which was a three-dimensional space, virtually encased in its own universe. Human users or players could enter this space via goggles, and would become a character, to interact with the other “avatars” and/or NPCs or Non-Playable Characters.[1] There is a very good to almost definite possibility, that criminal elements, are utilizing metaverse technology to conduct their business, under the radar of law enforcement and regulators.


Before Snow Crash there was the movie, Tron, in 1982, and several other works of fiction. These depicted virtual worlds, but nothing “coined” the term that would lead to today’s immersive future and motivated a technological revolution. In the next ten years, technology was catching up to the capabilities of Stephenson’s vision. Blockchain was also rearing its head out of the clouds. Blockchain, or “a distributed database that is shared among the nodes of a computer network”[2] was a concept that nobody predicted would have taken off. Most notably, proof of work, and conceptualization of a cyber currency mining based on a computer’s power was being developed.[3]


In the early 2000’s, the video games Roblox and World of Warcraft were created and allowed players to create content for other players in the games. Roblox had a marketing scheme providing “a global platform that brings people together through play.”[4] World of Warcraft started developing their “gold economy” in game. This laid out the fusion of closed digital currencies, and video gaming. Closed digital currencies are different from cryptocurrencies in the fashion that they are housed in their own ecosystem, and technically “cannot be used as a legal tender in business transactions.”[5] Technically was used very loosely for a reason, as users found ways around this dilemma.


Shortly after in 2009, Bitcoin became popular and took the financial world by storm. The “blockchain” slowly started to become mainstream.[6] Bitcoin though, was an open digital currency, and “can be exchanged for real cash because it has a determinable value.”[7] This caught a lot of governments by surprise, but still brushed off the progression of the idea.


Around 2011, Ernest Cline wrote a work of fiction called Ready Player One, which created an evolution of the metaverse concept in terms of technology, and utilization of the universe. The book would mold the current view of what was possible. With bitcoin picking up steam, new forms of cryptocurrency were being crafted and born. Of those assets, NFT or Non-Fungible Tokens were devised in 2012. NFT represented a unique item, instead of one currency or token. The first virtual reality “space” was created in 2015 with the advent of Decentraland.[8] It was a proof of work concept that gave “land” to investors or players.


In the same year of 2015, Smart Contracts, or as Nick Szabo in the early 1990’s coined, “a set of promises, specified in digital form, including protocols within which the parties perform on these promises” became an intricate part of Ethereum blockchain, an Altcoin, or anything other than Bitcoin.[9] This would be the final ingredient for the evolution of gaming and generating income in the metaverse.


After 2016, decentralized currencies and markets became mainstream. Decentralized means that it “enables investors to deal directly with each other instead of operating from within a centralized exchange. Virtual markets that use decentralized currency, or cryptocurrencies, are examples of decentralized markets.”[10] The next year, a very popular video game was created, Fortnite, which enabled players to buy V-Bucks and purchase “skins” to paint their players with. V-Bucks could be purchased at retail stores on a special card, or in game.


Throughout the later part of the 2010’s, these closed ecosystems started to pick up steam. Arline Miles, Hotel Rewards, Convenience Store Points, and Video Game Currencies were a part of everyday life. Everywhere one went, had a rewards program, or point system. In 2020, the world was rocked by the Covid Pandemic, which sheltered users in place. This created another synergy of video gaming, and entertainment at home.


One of the largest social media company, Facebook, in 2021 unveiled their newest brand change. The name Meta was announced, to focus more on the metaverse, and utilizing VR or virtual reality technology. The company pivoted its mission to “help bring the metaverse to life.”[11] Unfortunately, criminals are migrating to this technology because it is fast, untraceable only to the game’s servers and developers, and can be exchanged right back to Fiat Currency (i.e., USD, Pounds, EUR.).


The Current Metaverse vs. Multiverse


Meta was a prime example of what the current metaverse was molded into. Virtual Reality was the core platform that the metaverse was functioning through. A user could put on VR Goggles like the Oculus Quest, or the HTC Vive and “enter the world.” Once the player entered the environment, they could have gone to workrooms, played with friends in social games, traversing through various concert scenes, watch movies, etc. Meta stated they would invest $150 million in Augmented Reality / Virtual Reality training and resources. But don’t confuse this technology with the current “multiverse” theme going around at the moment.


The multiverse, like Roblox and Fortnite have “avatars” that log into the environment. Through those games, users can create content like clothes, weapons, furniture for their in-game world, also rooms that can sell event tickets. One individual creator, Zara Larsson, sold content into the seven figures. BBC reported that she “hosted a virtual "dance party" within the game in May, allowing fans to hang out, watch her perform, and take part in an online scavenger hunt.”[12]


Don’t mix up “meta” and “multi” verses. The “multi” verse is “a hypothetical collection of potentially diverse observable universes, each of which would comprise everything that is experimentally accessible by a connected community of observers.”[13] For example, Roblox and Fortnite; but on the other hand, “meta” is “a hypothetical iteration of the Internet as a single, universal virtual world that is facilitated using virtual and augmented reality headsets.”[14]


A great analogy that I found to separate the discussion, is a WIRED Magazine article that stated, “saying that Fortnite is “the metaverse” would be a bit like saying Google is “the internet.” Even if you could, theoretically, spend large chunks of time in Fortnite, socializing, buying things, learning, and playing games, that doesn't necessarily mean that it encompasses the entire scope of the metaverse.”[15] So in this statement, the metaverse is not technically “there yet.” But all of the mechanisms for the concept are in place.


Transacting in the Metaverse


To use Roblox as a hypothetical example, the initial process entailed the following:

It was a very streamlined process, and if utilized correctly, left no trace to the buyer and seller, except within the game or metaverses database. For example, if a drug dealer wanted to sell his/her “stash,” they could make an “item” of a baggie “in game.” Whomever was interested in this “baggie” could easily have gone into the game, transacted with the seller, and received the “baggie” in physical form through various means of logistics. The seller could then have taken his/her closed virtual currency and traded it for cash through an exchange or backend developer-based deposit program.


Current Exchanges


Figure SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 1: Closed Virtual Video Game Currencies: https://i.redd.it/kafb9irmrunz.jpg

The current ecosystem of closed virtual currency within video games alone, was constantly evolving. The graphic was just that, an example of how vast these ecosystems were. This was taken from a reddit postdated four years ago. It showed a plethora of video games, some say metaverses, but had active, living currencies in game. These in game currencies could have been transacting human trafficking fees, drugs, weapons, terrorist recruitment and fundraising, money laundering, ect.


Some examples of these currencies were Skyrim Septims, Eve Plex, Animal Crossing Bells, and World of Warcraft Gold. With these currencies, players could have gone to exchanges like the following to transact for real fiat currency:


https://www.playerauctions.com

https://mmoauctions.com/

https://www.g2g.com/


Future of the Metaverse and In Game Currencies


Within the next several years, metaverse would possibly become the next social media sensation and trend. Imagine a world like Facebook, a few billion strong, transacting within the universe. South Korea announced they were releasing a Minecraft based metaverse to promote agriculture.[16] The country gave away headsets to trek through this “virtual world platform.”


Even the predominant publication Bloomberg, wrote this article titled Navigator: After the Pandemic Comes … the Metaverse? The article stated, “By some speculative accounts, Big Tech's idealized dream could mean the end of city services like transportation as we know it, and the rise of "virtual teleportation." On the other hand, the metaverse could turn out to be little more than a few new pieces of technology from companies like Amazon, a far cry from the dystopian science fiction that dreamt up the metaverse as a form of satire.”[17]


It is safe to say, either way the metaverse went, closed virtual currencies have been around for almost twenty years now. They are still an existential threat to law enforcement investigations, and a way for criminals to have transacted under the radar. As open virtual currency is reaching into the trillions, there have been reports that closed currencies have reached into the tens of trillions of dollars. Unfortunately, it is unregulated, not investigated, and free to transact under a free market, in other words, Darkweb 2.0.

[1] Frey, Thomas; Futurist Speaker; The History of the Metaverse; Created on 16 September 2021; Accessed on 9 November 2021 at https://futuristspeaker.com/future-trends/the-history-of-the-metaverse/. [2] Conway, Luke; Investopedia; Blockchain Explained; Updated on 4 November 2021; Accessed on 9 November 2021 at https://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/blockchain.asp. [3] Frey, Thomas; Futurist Speaker; The History of the Metaverse; Created on 16 September 2021; Accessed on 9 November 2021 at https://futuristspeaker.com/future-trends/the-history-of-the-metaverse/. [4] Roblox; Roblox; About Roblox; Accessed on 9 November 2021 at https://corp.roblox.com/. [5] Gordon, Jason; The Business Professor; Closed Virtual Currency – Explained; Updated on 11 October 2021; Accessed on 9 November 2021 at https://thebusinessprofessor.com/en_US/investments-trading-financial-markets/closed-virtual-currency-definition. [6] Frey, Thomas; Futurist Speaker; The History of the Metaverse; Created on 16 September 2021; Accessed on 9 November 2021 at https://futuristspeaker.com/future-trends/the-history-of-the-metaverse/. [7] Gordon, Jason; The Business Professor; Closed Virtual Currency – Explained; Updated on 11 October 2021; Accessed on 9 November 2021 at https://thebusinessprofessor.com/en_US/investments-trading-financial-markets/closed-virtual-currency-definition. [8] Frey, Thomas; Futurist Speaker; The History of the Metaverse; Created on 16 September 2021; Accessed on 9 November 2021 at https://futuristspeaker.com/future-trends/the-history-of-the-metaverse/. [9] Ibid. [10] Tardi, Carla; Investopedia; Decentralized Market; Created on 9 October 2021; Accessed on 9 November 2021 at https://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/decentralizedmarket.asp. [11] Meta; Meta; About Meta; Accessed on 9 November 2021 at https://about.facebook.com/meta. [12] Savage, Mark; BBC; How pop star Zara Larsson made a seven-figure sum on Roblox; Created 5 November 2021; Accessed on 9 November 2021 at https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-59163449. [13] Aguirre, Anthony; Encyclopedia Britannica; multiverse; Accessed 13 January 2022 at https://www.britannica.com/science/multiverse. [14] O'Brian, Matt; Chan, Kelvin; ABC News; EXPLAINER: What is the metaverse and how will it work?; Created on 28 October 2021; Accessed on 13 January 2022 at https://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory/explainer-metaverse-work-80842516. [15] Ravenscraft, Eric; WIRED Magazine; What Is the Metaverse, Exactly?; Created on 25 November 2021; Accessed on 13 January 2021 at https://www.wired.com/story/what-is-the-metaverse/. [16] Joo-heon, Kim; Aju Business Daily; S. Korea releases Minecraft-based metaverse game to promote agricultural policies; Created on 15 November 2021; Accessed on 15 November 2021 at https://www.ajudaily.com/view/20211115152853393. [17] Poon, Linda; Bloomberg; Navigator: After the Pandemic Comes … the Metaverse?; Created on 13 November 2021; Accessed on 15 November 2021 at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2021-11-13/what-the-metaverse-means-for-urban-life.

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