VESTA: Virtual Economies using Stellar
“Empowering People and Financial Inclusion in Virtual Worlds”
Use the Stellar network, combined with a shared economy model approach to problem solving for virtual economies to: empower people; create microbusiness opportunities; and facilitate financial inclusion.
President John F. Kennedy was right when he said,
"A rising tide lifts all boats."
In this project, with an emerging open-source virtual world market for user-generated content, the potential to create jobs while storing and moving more Lumens along the open-source Stellar network can result in a worthy Social Return on Investment (SROI) - a goal common to this project and the Stellar Development Foundation.
Solving virtual world economy problems empowers people, creates entrepreneurial opportunities, and facilitates financial inclusion through flat fee and fast microtransactions at a time when the real world needs economic stimulus at every level.
Generating that "rising tide" is a goal that can be realized with technology. Read on to learn more about the project's SROI approach. Be sure to vote for the project!
Benefits for Stellar
- More Lumens stored and moved along the Stellar network.
- Mission-aligned Social Return on Investment.
Benefits for People
- Microbusiness and entrepreneur opportunities for the multiply disadvantaged.
- Ability to participate in a worldwide, stable, financial network.
Virtual World: A persistent computer-based simulation representing a real or fictional environment online as a region. Users living, working, learning, or socializing in virtual worlds are represented by human and non-human avatars.
Grid: Open-source real-time server applications that provide multi-user access to hosted virtual world regions.
Viewer: Open-source client application that provides users with the ability to access virtual worlds on many grids using avatars. Avatars use the viewer software to build, create, or shop for virtual world goods; provide or tip virtual world service facilitators and entertainers; buy or rent virtual land, homes, schools, and offices; and pay for premium account features.
Hypergrid: This is an adopted protocol allowing users to travel between grids when enabled by region owners. Collectively, Hypergrid-enabled grids can be called a Hyperverse. This exists as a subset of the Metaverse.
Grid Currency: Local token/credit name assigned by grid owner for virtual economy transactions. This project solution would process microtransactions external to the various grid currencies.
The scope of this project involving the Stellar network intends to resolve problems related to microtransaction-based virtual world economies with user-generated content. The end goal is to develop, implement, and maintain a platform-agnostic solution that empowers people and facilitates financial inclusion across the globe.
This in turn creates entrepreneurial and microbusiness opportunities for anyone locked out of the traditional job market – specifically those who need to work from home like caregivers, rural residents, and people with disabilities – most of whom are women. Over 62% of virtual world users are women who likely fit in these categories.
Jobs being lost in today's economy appear to be primarily those that employed women. A clear divide in economic opportunity exists. Unlike gaming that requires high-end hardware, this project's solution could help women help themselves without requiring prerequisite technical skills and while using a standard laptop or low-cost desktop.
From a Virtual World Survey, at least 23.3% of virtual world users identified as parents with children at home. No known data exists for other types of caregivers which are increasing as COVID-19 infections rise. Many are working from home while caregiving.
From that same Virtual World Survey, it is clear 31.3% of virtual world users do not live in urban or suburban areas. This is also increasing as people move out of urban areas due to COVID-19. Remote work models are becoming widely adopted as the search for the best virtual solutions for different use cases continues.
Also, from the Virtual World Survey, we see 20.1% of virtual world users have at least one disability. This is 5.4% higher than the general population. People with disabilities living in poverty, primarily women of color, are multiply disadvantaged per the United Nations and the World Health Organization. There is no doubt, these users need our help, to improve the quality of life and create income opportunities to overcome, or at least mitigate these disadvantages.
Finally, the Virtual World Survey indicated user age groups are somewhat evenly distributed. But this may change given projections amid struggling real-world economies today. More people are either out of work or working remotely with extraordinarily little job security. Virtual world users with annual income below $10,000 USD were twice the 2011 US Census data. This has likely grown in number for Generation Y as the US economy faltered in 2020.
These virtual worlds are unique in that simple user-generated content can be created using software provided in minutes. Advanced users can create entire scenes in a few hours or even upload complex 3D models, artwork, animations, sounds, and scripts.
This is entirely different than other virtual world platforms and gaming platforms that require high levels of skill and external applications to build and upload content. Games can exist in a virtual world, but virtual world platforms are categorized as social virtual reality - not gaming. In the above image, an avatar is learning about probability from an instructor. All the content in this scene was created using the viewer software, not an external application like gaming requires.
Avatars will socialize and network at live events, parties, conferences, and campuses. Existing features like friends, groups, messaging, profiles, and search capabilities allow avatars to build long-lasting communities. The ability to create and market goods and services within virtual world grids created the backbone of the virtual economy.
Virtual goods for sale in open-source virtual worlds can be found almost anywhere. Most grids do not "zone" commerce. In the above image, an avatar finds a collection of items, in a warehouse hangar, that can be used to create an interactive farm, is available to buy.
The process to buy this item is generally as simple as click the item then click buy. The package will then be delivered to your inventory in seconds. As you can see the package contains a lot of 3D content, most of which was made using the viewer.
The above transaction, using the SceneGate Viewer, on the Hypergrid-enabled IMA Metaverse Depot Grid, is conducted using grid currency. This is integrated with a fiat-backed system that is costly in comparison to cryptocurrency implementations in gaming for example. In addition, conversion funds are not immediately available, and the only option, as a merchant, is to convert to US Dollars when available.
This project aims to empower more people globally with a cryptocurrency gateway creating microbusiness opportunities while working remotely regardless of level of experience, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, personal appearance, body size, race, age, religion, or socioeconomic status.
None of these categories matter in virtual worlds. One can be whatever they aspire to be unencumbered by most real-world bias as seen above. People can create positive and productive environments of all types to live, work, play, or shop anytime in their virtual worlds.
Having learned about the Stellar Development Foundation's mission, it was clear this project shares a common vision. From the "Why What We Do Matters" section in About the Stellar Development Foundation,
"Stellar is a way out: it lets people participate in a worldwide, stable, financial network regardless of where they live."
Using the Stellar network, combined with a shared economy model approach to problem solving, facilitates financial inclusion globally.
Problems in Existing Virtual World Economies
- Security: Existing currency transactions on open-source virtual world grids are not secure.
- Accessibility: Viewer applications digitally marginalize users with disabilities participating in virtual economies.
- Portability: Grid currencies are unique to each virtual world grid requiring users to hold multiple currencies (requiring multiple accounts) to transact on multiple grids when using the Hypergrid.
- High Fees: A few existing grid economies backed by fiat currency have high transaction fees for goods and services ($0.30 per transaction plus 3.5% merchant fee) that are not aligned with virtual economy microtransactions.
- Limited Fluidity: Some merchants experience payment processing holds for 30 days or more by existing fiat backed marketplaces.
- Financial Exclusion: Where USD-backed grid currencies exist, some creators, artists, and merchants experience financial exclusion and income inequality globally.
- Microbusiness Disenfranchisement: Most grid currencies are non-convertible due to the high cost of compliance inhibiting userbase growth.
- Barriers to Economic Growth: Application development and maintenance is cost prohibitive for both existing and new grid owners in a Hypergrid economy.
- Solution for problems 1-2: Improve transaction security and accessibility in open-source server and viewer applications to support an inclusive virtual economy.
NOTE: This goal has been accomplished by work done in 2019 and 2020 with ongoing development continuing to improve accessibility and security (see links to source code, release notes, and wiki). The screenshot below illustrates the default simple mode for new users. This viewer software is currently supported on Windows and Linux with a Mac version in work.
Solution for problems 3-6: Develop a compliant micropayment processing solution compatible with the Hypergrid to empower people and facilitate financial inclusion globally. The complete solution may involve changes to existing source code as well as new source code development.
Solution for problem 7-8: Test and implement the solution with a sharing economy model to promote shared economic growth creating both entrepreneurial and microbusiness opportunities.
NOTE: A stable virtual world grid with improved server software was launched in 2019 to support software research & development projects as development gaps are identified in the platform technologies. Server software runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux. The IMA Metaverse Depot grid is a live test and deployment environment for VESTA.
The screenshot below is the splash screen for the grid shown in the viewer when the grid is selected on the login panel.
Beyond social aspects, virtual worlds support group collaboration and networking without video conferencing fatigue - especially when people must interact virtually and be physically distant. Some specific markets using virtual worlds include:
- Business - conferences and trade shows at digital campuses, in virtual auditoriums, with breakout sessions.
- Consumer - virtual venues for sports, entertainment, music, dancing, games.
- Education – critical thinking, team building, training.
- Industry - video conference alternative with opportunities for revenue generation plus lower costs related to travel and facilities.
- Immersive Content – 3D Models, Artwork, Scripted behaviors, Custom avatars, Interactive Simulations, Avatar and Object Animations, and Sounds.
As more companies and organizations adopt remote and hybrid models in 2021, more opportunities for content, moderation, facilitation, and administration using virtual worlds will emerge. This project creates the tools and infrastructure needed to support these growing markets in a way that puts the power in the hands of creators, builders, and artists – the people we want to empower.
Implementation of this solution has the potential to store and move more Lumens in the Stellar network across borders. This project design entails "safe" yet innovative approaches in software development. When complete, the time and money used will create a worthy SROI, empowering people and creating jobs.
Admiral Grace Hopper once said,
"A ship in port is safe, but that's not what ships are built for."
She was encouraging software innovation just like this project. Only the question of marketing remains after completion as a follow-on project to drive adoption.
There are currently over 1000 estimated persistent active public open-source virtual world grids and over 2500 that are not persistent, with 97% connected to each other from a user's perspective via the Hypergrid. There are around 1700 known private grids existing - meaning they are not connected to the Hypergrid or nor open to the public.
This may not sound like a lot but when we look at the virtual world regions within these grids, a whole new picture emerges. According to Hypergrid Business, these grids comprise over 76,238 regions with land area around 4996 square kilometers. That is almost 4 times more land than commercial grid Second Life and more virtual land area than the top five most populous cities in the United States. Within the open-source virtual world market, both userbase and virtual land growth increased over the course of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic including a four-month growth streak. As the graph shows, there is a firmly established virtual economy.
All these grids have users that visit virtual world marketplaces to buy content, but these are primarily fiat-backed marketplaces noted in problems above. Economic growth goals clearly establish a mandate for a competitive virtual goods and service marketplace backed by Stellar Lumens designed for microtransactions anywhere on the Hypergrid. A marketplace application is part of the VESTA solution.
We intend to offer this solution to any grid even if not connected to the Hypergrid. An incentive will be offered in the form of a grid fund backed by a share of transaction fees. But first, with the support of Stellar Community Fund, we need to complete the building of this infrastructure for virtual economies. Funds will be used to develop, implement, and maintain a compliant micropayment processing solution for virtual worlds, thereby lowering risks for grid owners.
The vision behind this project is to deliver a Stellar solution with the potential to empower people growing the Hyperverse, creating new jobs, realizing new markets, and generating entrepreneurial opportunities. Thank you for taking the time to review this project.
I ask for your vote - to help me, help others, help themselves. You can learn more about what I have been doing leading up to this project in the links below. The fantastic development team and volunteers have been remarkably busy helping me realize our shared visions!
Limited Image Credits
Copyright (c) 2021 Lisa Laxton, All Rights Reserved, unless otherwise credited.