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How Vancouver is shaping the metaverse

With 30 years of video game development and visual effects work, the B.C. city has become a hotbed for the development of the Web3 technology shaping the future of the internet.

The word
Vancouver technology companies are shaping the future of Web3, the next iteration of the internet.Calvin Finger/CBC Creator Network

In 2017, Dieter Shirley developed CryptoKitties, one of the earliest attempts to use blockchain technology for recreation and leisure. The game allows players to purchase, collect, breed and sell virtual cats. What started as a bit of a joke quickly became an online sensation.

Five years later, CryptoKitties has become one of the most popular games on the blockchain. Its open-source code, written by Shirley, the chief technology officer at Dapper Labs, allowed the adoption of NFT technology — unique cryptographic tokens that exist on a blockchain and cannot be replicated — by creators and collectors.

A cartoon cat.
A cartoon cat.
A cartoon cat.
A cartoon cat.
A cartoon cat.

Vancouver’s Dapper Labs was one of the first companies to popularize trading over blockchain through the online platform CryptoKitties. (Dapper Labs/CryptoKitties)

Dapper Labs is one of many Vancouver-based companies developing the building blocks of the next iteration of the internet, often referred to as Web3 — a decentralized internet not reliant on major companies like Facebook or Google to operate.

And the metaverse is how people will access this new version of the internet, one that’s more interactive and lifelike, with the help of technologies such as augmented reality (AR) glasses and virtual reality (VR) headsets.

“One way to think about the metaverse is as a collection of immersive video game-like experiences that resembles real-world experiences in which everyone can participate,” said James Hursthouse, chief technology officer of Departure Lounge, a company also based in Vancouver that provides technologies that facilitate access to the metaverse.

WATCH | What is the metaverse?:

For over a decade, the city’s film, animation, visual effects (VFX) and gaming industries have been building 3D worlds, from high-budget, high-profile video games to Hollywood blockbusters — from Image Engine’s Star Wars: The Mandalorian and Game of Thrones to Electronic Art’s FIFA and NHL games.

According to a 2020 report from the Vancouver Economic Commission, there are more than 200 video game development companies and 60 visual effects studios in Vancouver, placing its virtual and augmented reality industries second only to California’s.

City of opportunity

An overhead shot of Vancouver.
With decades of experience in the film and game industries, Vancouver is well-positioned to work in Web3 and metaverse technology. (Web3Worlds/CBC Creator Network)

Since the pandemic, DigiBC — the Creative Technology Association of British Columbia, which helps promote and grow B.C.’s creative technology industry — estimates the province’s creative tech sector has hired between 1,000 to 2,000 new workers per year.

The talent this has cultivated now has the opportunity to help build the metaverse, experts and industry leaders say.

The opportunities are really endless. We have only scratched the surface in regard to the types of innovation that are possible within this industry.

Dan Burgar, CEO of Frontier Collective

“The opportunities are really endless. We have only scratched the surface in regard to the types of innovation that are possible within this industry,” said Dan Burgar, CEO and co-founder of Frontier Collective, which comprises entrepreneurs and investors involved in emerging technologies.

“With the right investment and support, Vancouver has an immense opportunity to lead the world in metaverse technology, ushering in a new wave of transformation, economic prosperity and high-paying jobs.”

WATCH | Vancouver’s impact on the metaverse:

According to a report by Citigroup, the metaverse and the industries associated with it could potentially deliver an estimated $8 to $13 trillion US to the global economy by 2030.

“Many of the companies we work with are looking to Vancouver’s 3D talent to help build their vision of the metaverse,” says Marco DeMiroz, co-founder and general partner of the Venture Reality Fund based in Silicon Valley.

From blockbusters to blockchain

A series of cartoon faces.
CryptoPunks were one of the first widely-popular forms of art to incorporate NFTs.
An illustration of a cartoon person looking up with a rainbow in the background.
In September 2022 the Vancouver company Doodles, which created this piece of NFT art, announced the closure of a funding round valuing it at $704 million US.
3D people engaged in meditation.
Metaverse technology allows people to take part in activities in online environments with other people.
A collage of artwork.
A collage of NFTs owned by collector Ashley Smith.
A cartoon cat with a unicorn horn.
CryptoKitties allows users to create their own NFT-minted cats.
images expandArtists are exploring blockchain technology by creating and sharing collectible art.

An NFT is a digital asset that typically exists on the Ethereum blockchain and stores unique data that includes a record of ownership and transactions.

WATCH | How NFT collecting works:

Conducting meetings in 3D environments, where people are present through digital avatars — instead of through screens and Zoom meetings — shopping in virtual stores, owning items that only exist in digital worlds: these are some examples of things that can be done in the metaverse.

One of the things needed for this to be possible is for assets in the digital world to hold real-world value. That’s where NFT, or non-fungible tokens, come in.

Unlike cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, non-fungible tokens are not interchangeable — the value of one NFT, for example, is not equivalent to the value of another.

To purchase and own an NFT, a person needs to use cryptocurrency.

Richerd Chan is one such collector who developed his online identity around CryptoPunk #6406, a cartoon avatar of himself wearing 3D glasses.

In 2021, he says he rejected an offer to sell that avatar for what would have been the equivalent of more than $9 million US because of the personal attachment he has to it.

“This was something that represented my identity that I plan on using going forward,” he said.

WATCH | Vancouver’s famous NFT collectors:

With that sort of monetary interest in NFTs, several Vancouver artists have embraced blockchain technology to earn extra income.

By embedding NFTs certifying they are the creators of digital artwork, creators are able to earn income from their work not just when they sell it initially but, also, every time it is resold.

“This is the biggest game-changer,” said self-taught artist Vancouver-based artist Fvckrender. “You get paid during your sleep, basically.”

“Aligned” by Fvckrender

Interest in NFTs has jumped beyond the digital space, as well: Fvckrender’s first work was sold independently for roughly $5,000 US, but more recently, he has had his digital work auctioned off through Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

“Being able to prove ownership of digital assets completely changes the way we think about building an economy and relationships in a digital space,” said Hursthouse, who has also worked as a video game developer for 30 years.

“What was once a ‘game’ can now have massive real-world implications.”

WATCH | How digital artists are using blockchain technology:

Creating representation

In addition to bringing 3D worlds to life, some companies in Vancouver are also bringing more people to the metaverse — including teens from different backgrounds.

“We are creating a virtual space where Black people feel respected, reflected, and protected,” said Athonia Ogundele, founder of Ethos Lab.

“By creating these types of environments, you’re creating a more inclusive environment for all.”

WATCH | Creating a more inclusive metaverse:

Ethos Lab is a non-profit academy that offers in-person and online programs for teens to learn how to create and interact with metaverse technology. Participants learn such things as using software to design 3D worlds, how to interact with the blockchain and the business of 3D assets.

Among the students’ projects is a virtual world called Atlanthos — a space for immersive online events and workshops. The space is designed by the students and developed by Active Replica, another company that builds 3D virtual worlds for community organizations to experiment with.

Jacon Ervin, the CEO of Active Replica says, “Our mission is to make the metaverse accessible to the community and do our best to advocate for the open 3D web where everyone has access and the ability to contribute.”

WATCH | Addressing the challenges of the metaverse:

“It’s really important that these kids are able to see themselves and know how to be in these virtual spaces,” said Ogundele.

“It comes down to them needing to be creators and not just consumers.”

WATCH | Creating virtual worlds:

Story by: Mack Stannard • Editing: Johna Baylon and Mike Clarke • Design and layout: Andrew Kurjata

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