The topic of the metaverse has actively flooded our information space over the past couple of years. This was greatly facilitated by Mark Zuckerberg, who even renamed the parent company Facebook to Meta. It was joined by other technology companies such as Microsoft, Epic Games, Huawei, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Unity, and Adobe, which together created the organization Metaverse Standards Forum, which aims to develop standards compatibility for an open metaverse.
Of course, metaverses have their critics. Or people who don’t understand why a metaverse is needed. Like, for example, Tim Cook, the head of Apple, who recently expressed skepticism that people will want to spend long periods of time in VR in the future. And Snap CEO Evan Spiegel told The Guardian that the company avoids using the term altogether because it is “quite ambiguous and hypothetical” and that if you asked a room of people to define it, the answers would be “absolutely different.”
We decided to ask what a metaverse is directly from the person who is engaged in their creation. And also inquire about the trend of holding events in metaverses and prospects for the development of this technology. So, for your attention, an interview with Yurii Filipchuk, CEO and co-founder of Party.Space – a metaverse of platforms for virtual corporate events and online parties for various communities.
Let’s start with what is the metaverse in general? What benefit can be gained from creating such a platform?
This is a good question that cannot be answered easily. As we joke: a good metaverse conference should have at least one fight over the correct definition. Otherwise, it’s like a wedding without a fight. There are several main approaches. The first defines the metaverse as a virtual reality in which people will spend most of their time. The reference for this is the movie Ready Player One. When you put on a helmet or plug in like in the Matrix and live in a metaverse. This is interaction with an unreal world. This is how the metaverse is seen by most ordinary people. And that’s what marketers are selling, even though current products are a far cry from that.
Yurii Filipchuk, Party.Space CEO
More professionally and philosophically, people approach the metaverse from the point of view that the Internet, which currently exists, is already a metaverse. After all, each resource in it is a separate world. Everyone can be anyone else on the Internet. And this is one of the characteristics of the metaverse – you can be whoever you want. It is completely interconnected. The current metaverse has text, audio, and video content. The idea is that the metaverse we imagine is the next step in the development of the Internet. The Internet that will be completely filled with the 3D picture, and 3D impressions, Internet that will be felt more alive.
So is there any actual benefit in metaverses to the end user right now?
Indeed, you can do little so far. You can put up a house, a banner with advertising, or your online store and hope that there will be traffic. Considering that Decentraland, the largest metaverse, has officially confirmed 6,000 daily users, and Mezha.Media has 1 million monthly users, I can assume that you have a larger metaverse.
Joint project Snoop Dogg and Sandbox
When Snoop Dogg announced that he was buying land in Sandbox, all the neighboring pieces of land increased in value 10 times. But how much of it was bought in advance by users who knew about the rapper’s upcoming purchase? They believe that each such case is a “hamster haircut” for investment.
What are the most popular uses of metaverses? What are they created for?
The first are platforms that exist to collect money and disappear. Unfortunately, there really were a bunch of projects that either promised to build the world or made some very basic prototype, collected a lot of money, and simply disappeared.
The second group is platforms that offer activation for brands – to create a “virtual Disneyland” in which you can attract traffic for the brand. On the Internet, you can find a table that shows how successful are brands in conducting such events. The most successful cases were at Nike. The company did not sell regular sneakers, but NFT sneakers. And it seems that 20% of Nike’s profit in the past and current year already comes from the sale of digital goods [as of October 2022, Nike’s income is $184.79 million from the sale of NFT collections – ed.]. That is, they have quite strongly changed the structure of their own incomes.
RTFKT x Nike NFT Sneakers
But so far it is difficult to assess the effect of such brand activation because companies primarily do it for PR. So that as many media as possible write about your case. And whether this will help Unilever sell deodorants in Roblox – we don’t know yet. It’s like the 2000s when websites weren’t created because companies knew the business would come from there, but because it was cool.
When talking about metaverses, an association with NFT immediately arises. How exactly are these technologies related?
Everything is quite simple here. NFTs were primarily bought to speculate on the hype. Certain NFT collections have become so valuable that people have started using Bored Apes and Cryptopunks as Twitter avatars. It was an opportunity to show that you belong at the party. And there was also a stir because users saw that the coolest and most fashionable people on Twitter have a monkey on their avatar.
The average value of NFT Bored Ape Yacht Club is more than $100 thousand
Same with virtual Nike sneakers and other digital goods. If you see in the metaverse that a cool dude has unique Nikes, and only 100 of them are available, then you want to become just as cool. You’ll go and buy them because they have investment appeal, they create hype, and they give you some flex in the metaverse. That is why most metaverses are immediately built on blockchain integrations to secure NFT rights for the user.
By the way, the very principle of decentralization in the metaverse is very difficult, if not practically impossible, to implement. Servers and backend are needed, and the blockchain cannot currently provide what is needed for the metaverse to be fully decentralized. If we talk about an ideal metaverse, yes, it will be completely decentralized and hosted on the blockchain. But how we get there is a big technological question that many teams are solving.
How did the Party.Space platform come about? Why did you choose this direction of development?
Our philosophy was different from the beginning. We gathered in May 2020 with the co-founders to gamify video chats. We saw that there would be a lot of video chats during the pandemic and thought this would be a cool topic. Very quickly we were lucky enough to close our first client, which is one of the largest and most popular streaming platforms in the world. They told us: “We want to work with you, but we have a problem now because we need to hold a corporate event online for 5,000 people. If you could help us solve it, it would be great.” And then we took the issue of gamification of chats to the next level. For the client, we made a solution that made it possible to gamify the entire corporate event.
We created a 3D assembly hall, the entrance to it was directly from the browser, and there was no need to use VR helmets or other additional equipment. In this hall, people communicated through traditional video. We combined 3D and video streaming. As a result, the client’s employees spent an average of 132 minutes at the event. Knowing how zoom-corporates usually go, where after 10 minutes everyone turns off the cameras, it was simply a shock that we were able to attract people to our platform for so long.
After that, we created a strategy because we saw that there are clients who are willing to pay big money for this kind of employee engagement. We saw that we could make a 3D platform, put it all on stream, and become a virtual platform for events. And just as we were moving toward this strategy, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook is now Meta. This tailwind immediately helped us, because everyone started calling Party.Space a metaverse platform.
That is why we are in this market not because we dreamed of building a metaverse. We are simple guys who solved the client’s problem of attracting employees to a corporate event. But, as has been repeatedly proven, the main factor for the success of a startup is good timing. The team, investors, customers, technology – there are many places where you can get professional, but if the timing is wrong, no matter how brilliant you are, you will burn out. Therefore, we were very lucky with this.
So your metaverses have a temporary effect, are they created for specific tasks?
Our goal is to move from temporary use to more regular use. Product-market fit can be “nice to have” and “must have”. The first are the so-called vitamin products. They do something better, but you can live without it. Currently, Party.Space has a 100% “nice to have” product-market fit. But we know how to move to “must have” product-market fit.
If you look back 15 years, people held conference calls using a switch that connected several subscribers. This was normal practice. Zoom has existed on the market for a long time, it has been used, but the real push for mass market use came only with covid. And now, if you offer someone to conduct a conference call simply by phone, you will be looked at as a not very adequate person. The same with 3D events. Now everyone is used to communicating in Zoom, but as soon as it becomes common to do events in 3D, we will move to “must have” product-market fit.
One of the recent big news: Microsoft and Meta announced that Microsoft Teams will be able to make calls in virtual reality using Oculus Quest headsets. This is exactly what we are currently working on with Cisco Webex, a huge enterprise system, and serves as confirmation that we are moving in the right direction. And this is also hinted at by calls from investors who woke up and remembered us, so this is really a very good moment.
Who are Party.Space’s main customers? Your site lists companies like Grammarly, Preply, EpidemicSound, and even Juventus Football Club. How do they use the platform?
With companies, everything is quite simple – they often have a need to hold various events. By the way, since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, more Ukrainian companies have come to us, and they have started holding various social events on Party.Space.
Juventus is a case when our salesman Vlad, a big fan of Arsenal football club, offered our product to the English, but they did not want to make a virtual fan zone, so he went to other football clubs. We held a test event for the Juventus football academy, all the sponsors of the Italians, and their management came there. They liked it and said they wanted an eight-story metaverse. We are currently discussing this contract with them, so hopefully, we will implement it soon. There are very different requests, different tasks arise, and the market looks at this technology in different ways. Someone experiments and someone immediately tries to close certain needs.
Eight-story metaverse – what is needed for its functioning? What team will be serving it?
In terms of support, this is a support that scales to all spaces. The main scaling problem on our side was that until recently, we helped clients do most of the events turnkey on our backend and we didn’t let the client into the admin panel. We have now resolved this issue and are gradually supporting customers to do it themselves. The product is complex, there are many nuances. And this is the main product design problem with which we are currently working. Simplify the platform so that people can completely manage and create events themselves.
The first metaverse office in the Party.Space portfolio
When it is a large custom project, as for Juventus, 3D designers and an art team are involved, who plan it. It’s like building a similar project offline, where you need to have expertise from the design project to implementation. In September, we launched the first project where they worked with a professional architect office. Our client, a law firm, ordered a virtual office from us, and they wanted to order the design from an architect office that created an offline office for them. This is how we got our first metaverse office. It is a kind of mix: on the one hand, it is a traditional office, but it is located on a mountain, where you are surrounded by clouds, mountains, waterfalls, and a slightly surreal landscape that resembles the Carpathians.
Can the customer add custom functionality to the platform? Any other types of quizzes or games? Are there any restrictions?
Yes, there are definitely limitations. The virtual world still imposes certain restrictions on the number of people, the level of graphics, and the space we create. Therefore, we already have well-developed templates, which are sharpened for various events. What is convenient about the template – the manager just needs to upload the logo, color scheme, and various posters, and immediately the space starts to look the way the client wants.
Some people approach this very creatively, like our client Obrio. During the corporate event, they created a separate room where there were posters with photos of Crimea on the walls and a large poster with the Kremlin burning near the center. And when you enter the room, you hear the sound of a fire burning. They spent a lot of time there and really liked it. We don’t know why, but the presence effect existed.
You can approach it in different ways, working with templates is a basic self-service functionality. Where the client says “we need an eight-story metaverse with a parking lot and a museum,” there is already a need to work with a design team, these are really custom projects.
How long does it take to create a metaverse based on a template?
15-30 minutes. This will be plenty of time, but usually, people spend much more time there, because it resembles the creation mode in Sims – this is to move, then to place, etc. But in fact, it can already be done quickly.
Tell us about your new Halloween event. What experience will users who visit it get?
This is an online quiz, as much as possible reminiscent of the show “Who wants to become a millionaire?”. Four questions have, a very similar interface. In the current event, everyone plays individually, but there is usually an option for teams as well. You sit down at the table, the host starts asking questions. Whoever chooses the correct answer from the four options the fastest gets the maximum number of points. Questions are open, closed, audio, video, various.
But actually, at the Halloween event, the quiz is not the main entertainment. We have already seen that for a good event, it is enough to give people a good topic, somehow stir them up so that they become interested. Halloween Quiz Night is such an excuse to get together, play together, especially since we recorded the questions in advance with the legendary horror actor Kane Hodder, who played Jason in “Friday the 13th”. This is an opportunity to listen to interesting questions from a professional actor, tell or guess the answers, and then there will be something to discuss with others. By the way, yesterday we launched Halloween Quiz Night on Product Hunt, so you can learn more about the platform here.
I would also like to add that, in our opinion, the metaverse is a technology that allows you to turn a lonely online experience into a social one. In fact, corporate zoom calls, where something happens, are not very social. Because this is one talking head. You can do it live on YouTube, but people do it in zoom webinar mode. In our case, if you are inside the metaverse, we try by all means to involve you in interaction. So that you get up from the table, go to someone else, do something. This is a social experience.
Party.Space applied to participate in the Japanese project called “Sake Viva!”. This is a project from the Japanese tax office. They note that Japanese youth began to drink alcohol much less, in particular, much less socially. That is people who drink do it alone at home. And this is not useful from the point of view of society because alcohol is social glue. It is easier for you to get to know each other, and the relationship becomes closer. That is why this project was born, which aims to stimulate the social consumption of alcohol by Japanese youth. And we believe that if they drink sake in a virtual karaoke bar, it will be much better than just drinking alone.
How do you see the further development of metaverse-platforms? What are the prospects for this technology and what can users expect?
In the next 5 years, a lot of changes await us in the market, where those who have found real value and usefulness will accumulate an audience and customers. In parallel with this, there will be a lot of technologies that are currently lacking. For example, NVIDIA is working on technology that will help deconstruct people’s faces and send them not as a video stream, but as a 3D picture. This is 10-20 times less traffic, and it will allow making photorealistic avatars in metaverses. Also, you need a lot of VR helmets. According to estimates, there are currently only about 50 million of them in the world. And this is taking into account old models that are no longer suitable for use. So the next 5 years will be very interesting.
NVIDIA’s Avatar Cloud Engine technology for creating 3D models of people
Then a kind of consolidation will begin. There will be a Facebook of metaverses, and everyone else will be competing with one big player. Or we will see many metaverse projects that will be interconnected by blockchain. There will be full interaction, that is, you will be able to transfer your avatar from one metaverse to another. Nike sneakers will work in all metaverses – you can go to a corporate party in them, and walk on Roblox. In this case, it will be more similar to the classic Internet. Probably, I want to see more of the second version of the development of events, because it is more organic, and in this metaverse, it will definitely be more fun than if it is taken over by one large, not even necessarily evil, corporation.
So for now we can not be afraid that the metaverse will replace our real life?
Definitely not yet. As long as there is something to do offline, while offline you can donate to the Armed Forces and help Ukraine, I would focus on this. By the way, in the spring we cooperated with the MetaHistory project and managed to collect one and a half million dollars in aid for Ukraine. Vitalii Buterin’s father came to us for the virtual auction and brought many other famous figures, so overall it was a successful event.
And what do you think about the metaverse? Will this become our future? And if so, when to expect a real metaverse boom? Share your thoughts in the comments!