Nike recently acquired RTFKT, a design studio that was founded in Jan 2020, and is known for its virtual “metaverse-ready sneakers and collectibles”. Metaverse land purchases are making headlines with multi-million dollar price tags. We’ve also seen mainstream adoption for NFT art this year and the sales are expected to surge to $17.7 billion by the end of 2021.
Beneath the hype and frenzy, we can spot a fundamental shift that unlocks a new creator economy. It provides the creators with direct access to the market, builds ongoing relationships with fans, and unites strangers in self-governed communities. In this article, we will discuss why every 3D designer/architect should embrace the Web 3.0 movement to adopt a new business logic and benefit from the creator economy in the metaverse?
The Creator Economy in the Web 3.0 / Metaverse
Related ArticleArchitecting the Metaverse
Before we dive into Web 3.0, let’s quickly go over how the web has evolved over the years:
Web 1.0: Users are the Consumers of Content
Web 1.0 refers to the first stage of the World Wide Web evolution. There were only a few content creators in Web 1.0 with a huge majority of users who are consumers of content. Service providers like AOL, Yahoo, and Google monetized advertising and became the ultimate profiteers during this period which later became known as Web 1.0 (1991 to 2004).
Web 2.0: Users are the Creators of Content but Do Users Own Their Content?
Web 2.0 refers to web services that highlight user-generated content. A Web 2.0 website allows users to contribute content and interact with each other through social media dialogues.
As Tim O’Reilly and John Batelle put it, Web 2.0 is based on the “customers… building your business for you,” Critics have argued that sites such as Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are exploiting the “free labor” of user-created content. Web 2.0 sites use Terms of Service agreements to claim perpetual licenses to user-generated content, and they use that content to create profiles of users to sell to marketers.
Web 3.0 is about Ownership
While Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 are predetermined, Web 3.0 is still being defined. According to Wikipedia, Web 3.0 is an idea for a new iteration of the Internet that incorporates decentralization based on blockchains, often contrasted with Web 2.0, wherein data and content are centralized in a small group of companies sometimes referred to as “Big Tech”.
How is Web 3.0 different? Ownership. Many believe that the creators will own that content, not the platform it’s hosted on. Blockchain technology, more specifically the creation of NFT (Non-Fungible Tokens), which introduces scarcity and uniqueness, is to turn your content into portable digital assets. NFTs can not be copied, only transferred, so there is a real notion of ownership, manifested in technology. I’d encourage you to read Chris Dixon’s article NFTs and A Thousand True Fans to understand why NFTs “can accelerate the trend of creators monetizing directly with their fans” and “offer fundamentally better economics for creators”.
Now that Web 3.0 solves the content ownership problem and makes digital assets portable, creators will be able to monetize their creativity and engage with fans in ways not possible before, and fans likewise will be able to access their favorite content easily and securely. This will encourage new emerging creators to develop quality content, not limited by traditional barriers and monetization models, and will lead to an explosion of new companies and technologies.
Demands for 3D Content are Surging in the Metaverse
Building Experiences on the Virtual Land in Metaverse
We’ve seen virtual lands sales making headlines with multi-million dollar price tags, but Metaverse will stay as a buzzword if users can not enjoy themselves inside of it. Celebrities and brands are scrambling to establish virtual domains inside Fortnite, Roblox, Decentralands, The Sandbox..etc, to host events, extend their businesses, and we need 3D designers/Architects to make that virtual world happen.
Some Architects have sensed the new opportunities and extended their design frontier into the virtual world. Zaha Hadid Architects have presented “NFTism”, a virtual art gallery at Art Basel Miami that explores architecture and social interaction in the metaverse.
Creating NFTs and Selling them
Almost overnight, NFTs have taken the art, sports, and entertainment worlds by storm. We’ve seen funky generative avatars, trendy virtual sneakers, even the first tweet in 2006. Since the metaverse is a shared virtual 3D world or worlds, demand for 3D content is bound to pick up momentum.
Kirk Finkel, better known as Untitled, XYZ, previously had a traditional career in traditional architecture, is a full-time metaverse architect now. Most of his work is in Somnium Space (a metaverse that emphasizes goggle-style virtual reality) and Decentraland (which so far has more of a web experience). He’s the architect in residence for the Museum of Crypto Art (MOCA). “There are a lot of real-world architects who I think would thrive in this space, and I hope we get there,” Finkel said.
There are many NFT marketplaces out there for you to monetize your designs. OpenSea is the largest marketplace for digital goods accounting for more than 97% of the market, and open to all creators. SuperRare describes itself as “Instagram meets Christie's.” Still in early access, the platform onboards only a small number of hand-picked artists. However, through the form on their website, you can submit your artist profile and get on their radar for their full launch next year. You can also check other marketplaces in this article.
Building Creator Tools and Providing Creator Training
Instead of creating content, if you’ve got both creative and technical skills, you can build improved tools to help people create content more efficiently. In the age of mobile internet, we’ve seen the rise of Sketch and Figma that UX designers use to create, collaborate, and prototype. When it comes to 3D design tools, they are usually complex, lack interoperability and are expensive. There is a market opportunity for making more user-friendly, extensible toolings targeting just for the metaverse context to boost productivity and interoperability. You can also create plug-ins, scripts, design systems for existing 3D design tools to extend their functionalities.
As more designers get involved in the metaverse territory, we need more training courses and communities to help them learn and collaborate. You can create quality content like articles and videos to help people learn how to get the most out of existing tools with just what they need to know. You can build communities, host events and conferences to discover new opportunities, establish and maintain relationships among creator and collector communities.
Unleash Your Creativity
Architects face many constraints in the real world, such as building codes, local climate conditions, available building technologies, construction cost…etc. These factors limit the range of potential design solutions that can be adopted. While in the metaverse, you can unleash your creativity without worrying about all the physical constraints, and really think outside of the box.
Although we can discard the constraints that we are used to dealing with, there will be new challenges and rules that 3D creators need to comply with. You might need to learn new tools and design for new media. Due to the disparity in supported format and attributes like file type, size, and mesh count, platforms have different technical requirements, so you might need to configure and optimize your 3D assets to ensure compatibility between different metaverse worlds.
Another skill set that architects might consider adding to their toolbox is the interaction design within the 3D assets and game environment. How to curate virtual experiences with different levels of interactions(gamification of 3D assets, motion design, animation design..etc) will be a new way of architectural story-telling.
You Don’t Need a Client ahead of Time, and You Can Build Your Own Fan Community
More Equal Opportunities, Especially for Emerging and/or Less Represented Designers
In the real world, designers/architects need clients to start up their practice. It seems logical that an architect would spend most of their time designing buildings, but in practice, the majority of a lead architect’s efforts are directed to find more clients/projects. In just about any firm, principals are primarily responsible for winning new work, through networking, being invited to propose, preparing proposals, and interviewing, while less experienced designers draw up and administer the construction of that work.
Young designers/architects usually don’t get the chance to build relationships with potential clients and struggle to find their first client. If you want to climb the corporate ladder in a large firm, it might take years for you to reach the principal position, and it’s costly to market your business and acquire clients. The creator economy in the Metaverse could grant equal and abundant opportunities for emerging and/or less represented designers regardless of your gender, race, age, sexual orientation, citizenship…You might still need to win commissions if you want to design virtual experiences for brands and landowners. You can also just turn your designs into NFTs and have direct access to the market. As Chris Dixon mentioned in his article, “ the most important way NFTs change creator economics is by making users owners, thereby reducing customer acquisition costs to near zero. Crypto has grown to over a trillion dollars in aggregate market capitalization with almost no marketing spend.”
Be Yourself and Build Your Fan Community, Globally
While architecture is relatively a local business, you can provide digital products/services across the globe. It might be difficult to find clients who value your design from your region, but it’s much easier to find users that appreciate your taste globe-wide.
The blockchain is decentralized, with an emphasis on openness and diversification. This spirit has actually attracted many fans of subcultures to join. Every niche cultural aesthetic can find its own cluster in the Crypto community, form its own industrial chain, and find target users that resonate. Therefore, there is no need to adjust your own aesthetic style to tailor to popular taste. Be yourself, do what you want to do or what you are good at, and your potential audience will follow.
Creators are not just to monetize their community, but with their community.
If you are aiming for long-term success, you need to keep engaging with your “angel investors” to achieve a win-win situation. The holders of an NFT series can become loose communities as well, with the NFT serving as a key to a members-only club. It illustrates the potential for a new kind of collaborative relationship between a creator and a fan community. Some communities are taking it even further by developing self-governing organizations such as DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) around collective ownership of NFTs.
The creator economy backed by Blockchain is still at a very early stage, and it will evolve. Someday every internet community might have its own micro-economy, including NFTs and fungible tokens that users can use, own, and collect.
Monetize Your Amazing Designs Sleeping in the Hard Drives, Continuously
Unbuilt Architectures Matter
For Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid, most of her designs were not built during the first 25 years of her career. Avant-garde architectural group Archigram formed in the early 60s was neo-futuristic and drew inspiration from technology in order to create a new reality that was solely expressed through hypothetical projects. They proposed buildings that moved, that shone in the dark, that could be changed at their users’ will. Their bold, futuristic plans, through drawings, collages, models, writings, although never got built, inspired generations of architects to envision the future, and their influence is set to grow even further.
For every design competition or commissioned project, we can only have one winning design. Every designer has amazing designs sleeping in their hard drives. Besides hosting an “unbuilt architecture” exhibition, you can revitalize them in the metaverse to share your creativity with the world.
You Can Earn Royalty AFTER the Sale
NFT royalties are an easy and hassle-free way to keep earning from your hard work. NFT royalties are an excellent opportunity for content creators to tap into profits from secondary sales, which was never available to them previously in such a manner.
NFT royalties give you a percentage of the sale price each time your NFT creation is sold on a marketplace. Imagine that you have created an NFT artwork on Rarible. A fan of your art buys the artwork for say 1 ETH. So you have made 1 ETH. You also have coded into the NFT the term that anytime a sale occurs you will get 10% of the proceeds.
Everyone can Design Metaverse Architecture, so Find Your Secret Sauce
Like other professionals, Architects need to obtain rigorous training, get work experience, pass examinations and become licensed before they can practice architecture. It is a regulated profession, which means people without the certification can’t participate. While in the metaverse, the door is open to everyone. You don’t need to go to architecture school to become a metaverse architect. Traditional architectural practitioners will face competition from game designers, developers, hobbyists, and literally anyone. In order to stand out, designers need to reflect on what values they can bring to the market, and find your secret sauce.
We are still at the dawn of metaverse, and the early adopter usually catches the competitive advantage. As 3D designers/architects, we are trained to think and design in 3D. If the metaverse is in 3D, are we perfectly positioned to be the next designers of the web? The creator economy is evolving and reshaping our industry. Get on board to embark on a fruitful new journey!
This article was originally published on Medium on January 1st, 2022.