Introducing the Virtual Worlds Type Indicator (VWTI), an attempt to categorise the universe of metaverses into sensible boxes.

Now everything is Metaverse… But virtual worlds are significantly different from each other, so how can we categorize these? We can’t just have “open” and “closed” because everyone will wave their hands and say they are open

Inspired by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator for personality types (ENTJ, IFSP, etc), I thought it might be helpful to have something similar for metaverses or virtual worlds, to help quickly figure out where they sit in relation to each other.

I know: it’s not an exact science, and there is a lot of nuance, just as when MBTI tries to pigeonhole all of humanity into one of 16 four-letter categories. There are nuances and overlaps, and further differentiations should be made. Further, these virtual worlds will evolve over time, so the questions we ask will also need to adapt. So while this can never be perfect, it could at least be helpful as a start.

So, how can we sort the, ahem, universe of metaverses into boxes? I needed to find some questions which would help to characterise the different virtual worlds, where the answers to each question lie on a spectrum (eg open, closed) despite the nuances involved, and where the questions are sufficiently differentiated such that the answers don’t overlap (ie we won’t want the case that if you’re an X, you’re always also an A), and where ideally the answers would all start with different letters, er, mainly for aesthetic and stylistic reasons (eg I don’t want an OOOO type).

Note: I’m typically pretty pedantic with definitions and I try to select words carefully. But in this post I deliberately throw the word metaverse around interchangeably with virtual worlds because I’m not trying to define what a metaverse is, I’m trying to figure out how to sort it into a category.

So here’s my attempt at version 1 of the Virtual Worlds Type Indicator.

Open Metaverse is open (anyone can enter it and build in it), whereas World of Warcraft needs signing in and Blizzard can kick you off, so it’s controlled.

Worlds that use blockchain addresses for access and content, rather than needing to sign up for a new “account” with the operator tend to lean open. Openness typically correlates with identity (Bring your own vs assigned by the operators) and content property rights (Owned by the users, perhaps with data stored outside the control of the operators vs Rented (you own it until the operators say you don’t, like your Twitter account or Facebook posts).

Decentralisation also features here. Remember decentralisation is a means to an end (free speech), not a goal in itself. Websites tend to start open (for growth, user acquisition) then when they get to a certain scale and importance, they are forced to implement controls. Decentralisation is often used as a mechanism to achieve openness. In fact I’d argue that it’s been very hard to be open at scale until we had decentralised compute and storage..

NB I avoided the word “closed” because this has connotations of exclusivity. Microsoft might describe Minecraft itself as an “open” world but in this framework it would be a “controlled” group because Microsoft Inc can terminate your account and censor what you might build.

NB2 I could have split access (open/controlled) vs build (open/controlled), but typically if there is an org that can control access it can and does also control/moderate content (ie build), so I think they go hand in hand.

NB3 User Generated Content (UGC) is relevant here, and could arguably be a question unto itself. Can users create objects and maps to the platform and have other users see/use it? This clarifying question helps to categorise virtual worlds.

Question 3: G-S General or Specific purpose? Is this designed as a General venue for multiple uses, where different people can happily have their own goals and do their own things, or is there a theme to the world that dictates a Specific purpose such as winning a game or improving a skill? Is there a common goal or set of goals that users are trying to achieve?

Second Life is a general purpose world – you can build whatever you want there, hang out etc – there is no specific goal; PUBG has a specific goal: To be the last person standing and bring home the chicken dinner.

NB There are nuances! For instance with Microsoft Fight Sim, some people play it for fun (general), others use it for training (specific). But in this framework it would skew specific as the experience is about flying planes.

Question 4: P-R Persistent or Resetting? Does the virtual world persist ie endure, where there is a “history of the world” and actions actually matter, or does the world reset every so often, initiated by users or the operators?

Typically blockchain-based worlds tend towards aiming for persistence, with the history of what’s important being on the blockchain.

Note that many resetting worlds have persistent elements. Then the question is, how persistent? For instance my skins and score and achievements persist across Fortnite battles, but then Epic can terminate or reset my account if I’m found to be a toxic player (I’m not!). Here persistence should mean that even the operator can’t reset something that a player has done. Persistence tends to group with Openness.

Fortnite has two modes – Fortnite Creative with enduring persistent(ish) worlds, and Fortnite Battle Royale whose arenas reset every match.

That’s it! I wanted to keep this to four big questions. There are a bunch of other questions to ask of virtual worlds, but I wanted to put this out there as food for thought. Of course things are going to change over time as this industry figures itself out.

So, given these questions, how would we categorise well-known metaverses or virtual worlds?

W-F World or Family?
O-C Open or Controlled?
G-S General or Specific purpose?
P-R Persistent or Resetting?

This is of course all debatable, but:

Roblox skews FCGR. It’s clearly a family or worlds, and access and content is controlled and moderated. We can argue the General/Specific: Roblox is more or less a game (specific), but it also allows for a great deal of heterogeneity between games (general). In general the worlds/games reset from time to time.

Fortnite Battle Royale skews FCSR. It has a bunch of maps/arenas, it’s controlled, the aim is very specific (be the last person standing) and the worlds reset every time a battle ends.

Fortnite Creative skews FCGP ish. Fortnite provides for people and businesses to build out individual generic worlds, still under the control of Epic, that don’t reset according to a schedule (though the operators can reset their worlds). This isn’t perfect.

Decentraland, Sandbox, Open Metaverse skew WOGP. They are each attempting to be one World, as Open as possible, for General activities, with as much Persistence as possible. These are the “Open Metaverses” that are important, and they are to virtual worlds what crypto is to finance.

There are bunch of other questions that are also important, and we touched on some of these earlier. Is the content provided by the developer top-down, or user-generated? Which content? Skins or objects or objects? Is the world primarily designed for entertainment or productivity? Are the graphics meant to be blocky low-fi or photorealisic hi-fi? Are the graphics attempting to be as real-world as possible, or is there a thematic aesthetic, for example with fantasy or other “unrealistic” elements? Is this world designed to be attractive for a niche/clique or to attract as wide a range of users as possible? Is the rule-making and content moderation designed to be democratic or autocratic? Are some users making money or are most just spending, with the revenues accruing to the operator? Can you make a living hanging out there? Is the economy circular and closed, with very controlled value “pipes” to move value in and out of the world, or is the economy open, and designed for value to move in and out of the virtual world easily? Etc… Plenty more to think about! I would love to hear what you think!