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Part I Future of Metaverse Governance

Updated: Nov 16, 2022

This is a small series of blog on the history of governance in the "metaverse". It is inspired from a previous paper I was part of that was published as part of the IEEE SA.


While there is a consensus on the concept of the metaverse, as imagined from 1992 onwards, it is NOT technologically feasible yet. However, there is a tremendous investment in its potential, estimated at the higher end of USD 8-13 Trillion. Metaverse is a place where the real world and the virtual world interact seamlessly together so a person can live their lives in both worlds, accessing many of the real-world services in the virtual world and, through those interactions, also carry some of the activities in the real world. Besides technology, we still need to address data portability, regulations, sustainability, and even ethics issues.

Figure 1: Metaverse: A interchangeable virtual-real-world space a person can inhabit

Source: Author (here devices can help capture data from both worlds and interact with both worlds)

While we wait for the technologies to develop further, it is clear from a governance point of view we will need (1) anticipatory governance and (2) agile governance.

Anticipatory governance is a process that employs foresight to create plans and make relevant decisions resulting in regulations, laws, rules, guidelines, and processes that determine stakeholders’ rights and responsibilities through coordination with various stakeholders.

Agile governance is defined as a way of mobilizing public resources in a fluid, interactive, flexible, and resilient manner that optimizes public value generation without rigidity while utilizing fit-for-purpose policies and procedures

For anticipatory governance, we need a strong understanding of the past: What works and what does not. We need to share our experiences (positive and negative) for the greater good. This knowledge creation may mean moving away from competitiveness to collaboration. For agile governance, we need a networked, knowledge-sharing government that measures impact and keeps people and public value as its north star.

Why do I say this? Let me draw from the history of gaming and virtual world governance, which form a foundation for the metaverse regarding technologies, experiences, and business models. It is a story of hardware, software, data, and human endeavor. I am not looking at cybersecurity in this article. Tracing history is not easy. Much of the early internet has not been archived. The topic of governance of the early gaming and online communities only remains in a few archived chats or some preservation efforts like the one done by Stanford. In addition, server space was limited, so some stories only exist as folklore (like the World of Warcraft pandemic). However, we can learn from all of these entries.

Some Lessons from the Past (early years – the 1950s)

The metaverse is an outcome of developments in infrastructure, protocols and standards (internet, data), software, the entertainment industry, globalization, and funding (government and industry). Much of the early financing was from the defense sector, indicating a need for national competitiveness, which persists today. For example, the UAE Minister of AI suggested measuring the gross metaverse product (GMP), allowing people to earn on assets without being physically present in the country.

The 1950s

Development: Simple online games existed. Bertie the Brain (1950) was introduced at the Canadian National Exhibition; Nimrod (UK) (1951) at the Festival of Britain and the Berlin Industrial Show; and OXO (1952) was part of a dissertation thesis (UK). Still, these games did not have a graphical motion display; hence in the strictest sense may not be considered video games. Tennis for Two (1959) used the analog computer and oscilloscope screen, it was also introduced at the Brookhaven National Laboratory visitors day, but the inventor never patented it.

Figure 2: OXO Game

Source: Wikipedia

Figure 3: Tennis for Two

Governance: The earliest internet history conservation efforts are from 1996. Even now, with the closure of websites, changes in succeeding governments, conflict, etc., finding historical records becomes harder. Nevertheless, some early lessons may help design better innovations and governance policies. This issue of traceability remains a problem even today, some of it is because of proprietary or security reasons, and others as companies fail and disappear, leaving only oral histories that are lost or distorted with time.

Some Lessons from the Past (The 1960s-70s)

Development: The USA Government began sharing information over the new Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), developed by the defense sector. Similarly, in France was the CYCLAD project. International scientists started using the Telnet protocol developed in 1969. Early simulations for defense were also in the area of simulations. A patent was given for a guided missile simulation (Patent No: US3046676A applied in 1959, granted in 1962, applied in Germany (1959) and Switzerland (1960).

Figure 4: TELNET (still in use today)

Source: Busybox

In the 1960s-70s, chat and text-based games emerged, often used by tech-savvy communities. These communities were small (not more than 3000 members). Most people knew each other or had a common interest that they shared. Hence governance was based on community norms. The Whole Earth Catalog(1968) was an early catalog of communities and spawned WELL, one of the first online communities. In 1973 chat (outside of work communication like ARPANET - 1971) became a new communication tool (Talkomatic – 1973; Listservers – 1975, MSGGROUP -1975).

In 1962, Spacewar was invented at MIT (funded by the Pentagon), but only those with cutting-edge computers could play it. It led to navigational controls and monitor-as-sight set-up that would become important in developing newer video games. Another prototype of the game console to be played with the TV was developed by Ralph Baer (called the Brown Box), employed and funded by a military subcontractor, Sanders Associates (later BAE Systems). They applied for a joint patent in 1969, awarded in 1972. It included a game of hitting the dots (like Tennis for Two or Pong).

Arcade games were instrumental in developing new features of video games (scoreboards, leaderboards, challenges). Pong was introduced as an Arcade game by Atari in 1972, and it is often considered the birth of the video game industry. Pong had no software or a microprocessor; it was exclusively hardware-driven. It was so popular it was widely copied and enhanced by other arcade game manufacturers.

Figure 5: The Brown Box

Source: US patent No 3,659,285 (Lockheed Sanders) related to patent 3,72,28480A (Sanders Associates Inc.)

Figure 6: Pong – a two-player game

Simple games were introduced –Spacewar (1962), Maze Wars (created on ARPANET by NASA in 1973) or Atari games (console based, Pong was released in 1972) and the introduction of the multiplayer multiprogram game, The Brown Box (1967) or Adventure (1976 – a single player game. Many of these communities were niche. The business model was monthly subscription-based, but the considerable cost was hardware and data transfer for users.

Figure 7: Spacewar

Source: : Wikimedia

Governance: Fast forward

The first recorded lawsuit in video games was in 1973 between Allied Leisure Industries, Inc. and Midway Manufacturing, Inc., competitors of Atari, who had developed Pong. The copyright infringement involved a part of the printed circuit board (which should have been a patent as it was a machine but was submitted as a drawing). This case was settled out of court. However, it showed the difficulties associated with qualifying types of IP for game protection (the case is here). The patent Sanders attained expired in 1990.

Figure 8: The Printed circuit board of Allied Leisure Industries

Source: here

Tennis for Two ended up being brought into the first video game legal issue about patents (to establish precedent) in 1974 between arcade companies (Atari brought in Pong in 1972) defending themselves against a Dutch entertainment company (Magnavox Odessey). They were the first home video console with a ping pong game based on tech licensed from the first game patent for the “game box” filed in 1971 (by a military subcontractor, Sanders Associates). The inventor of Tennis for Two had never patented the game. Atari ended up settling the case for US$1.5 million and licensed the technology to continue marketing Pong.[1] Litigation has already become complex, even in those early years, and there was limited protection for game manufacturers (most were smaller companies). Magnavox made more than US$ 100 million through copyright lawsuits. Meanwhile, copying games was a severe issue across countries. For example, early video games in USSR were based on the Japanese games industry.

Conclusion: Here, much of the focus is legal – about competition and patents. Today it does raise interesting questions about big tech versus smaller companies and the legal protection they can afford.

[1] Many of the early federal case records in USA are being destroyed by The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) from the period 1970 and 1995 and they have not been all preserved as digital records.

NEXT BLOG: Part 2: Future of Metaverse Governance: The 1970s-90s (coming soon)

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