The history of metaverse shifting from play to earn

Metaverse is a 3D online virtual space where multiple users can enjoy. They utilize technologies such as VR, AR, MR. The term became popular by the novel Snow Crash (1992).

As Facebook changed its corporate name to Meta in October 2021, corporate interest to metaverse is growing. Metaverse is expected to become the next generation of social networking. This article lists the typical metaverse and organizes the discussion points.

Here is a diagram of metaverse organized by category.



*Crypto axes represent whether the metaverse use blockchain or not.

Let’s go through the overview of each metaverse.

(1) Game×non-Crypto

Type (1) is the pioneer of the current metaverse. In particular, Second Life has had a very similar view to the current metaverse since 2003, but at the time it was too early to draw much attention. The upgrade of this type is Fortnite, which has become a representative of the metaverse.

Ultima online(1997)

Ultima online, released in 1997 as an MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) RPG, is an online game that can be called as the originator of the metaverse and is still in operation in the United States for 25 years.

If the essence of metaverse is a virtual space with social characteristics, Ultima online was already a metaverse in 1997, and it had a profound influence on subsequent games.

At the time, only a few enthusiasts played the game, and this is probably because CX (customer experience) of the metaverse was limited by technological constraints.

Second Life(2003)

Second Life is one of the oldest online games as a metaverse composed of 3DCG, operated by Linden Lab of the United States since 2003.

Second Life users can freely create, sell, and transfer all objects (land, buildings, landscapes, etc.) and live a social life in the virtual world.

20 years since its release, Second Life has recently revived its popularity, with approximately 1 million monthly active users. 


Fortnite is an online game developed and distributed by Epic Games, released in 2017. It has an overwhelming number of fans with over 350 million registered players worldwide.

It is a third person shooting (TPS) game with crafting elements and offers different game modes such as Player Versus Environment (PvE), Battle Royale, and Sandbox.

Japanese musician Kenshi Yonezu has performed live concert on Fortnite, and the game features a metaverse that includes social elements rather than a combat game.

(2) Social×non-Crypto

Type (2) is more like social network services than type (1). The sandbox-like characteristic is inherited from (1), but there is not much relevance with crypto now.


Minecraft is one of the oldest sandbox video games that allows players to customize their world and has sold more than 238 million units in total.

One of the characteristics of sandbox games is that there are no specific goals. Users can create their own environment and play freely.

In Minecraft, unlike VR Chat and Cluster, players exist in a traditional 2D space, not VR space.

VR chat(2014)

VR Chat is a social VR platform operated by VRChat Inc. Players play in their own avatars and enjoy communicating with others in a variety of places.

The key feature of VR chat is the high degree of freely customizing avatars and field. Players can change the costumes of their avatars for their own fun and develop games that can be played in their field. Some people describe this aspect of VR Chat as "chaotic".

Another feature of VR Chat is that companies are actively exhibiting their products inside the game. KDDI, Disney, TV Tokyo, Matsuzakaya Department Store, and others have exhibited at VR Chat. Over 1,100 individuals and 70 corporations exhibited at the Virtual Market hosted by HIKKY Inc.


Cluster is a Japanese metaverse platform developed and operated by Cluster Inc. It became famous by "Virtual Shibuya" and "Virtual Harajuku."

Cluster can be understood as a Japanese version of VR Chat. Each player enjoys communicating in different fields with their favorite avatar. If you feel the language barrier in VR Chat, you may want to visit Cluster.

Cluster is characterized by its strength in hosting events such as live music concerts and conferences. We are sure that Japanese companies will be holding events at Cluster in various forms in the future.

(3) Social×Crypto

Metaverse is transforming from a place to play to a place to earn money. This is starting with type (3), where NFTs are sold in native tokens in each metaverse, led by The Sandbox.

The sandbox(2012)

The Sandbox is a user-driven gaming platform based on Ethereum blockchain technology.

Users can create their own original games, items, characters and services by purchasing or renting virtual LAND (land). SAND, a native token, can be used in the game.

The game was developed as a sandbox game in 2012. In 2018, they planned to use blockchain technology to create a mechanism that allows players to monetize inside the game.


Decentraland is a VR space built on the Ethereum blockchain.

The system is like that of The Sandbox, where users can enjoy games and buy and sell items by purchasing or renting virtual land. All LAND is managed on the Ethereum blockchain.

The native token, MANA, can be used as a game currency.


Cryptovoxels is an Ethereum-based 3D virtual world being developed primarily by Ben Nolan, owner of Nolan Consulting Limited in NZ.

Cryptovoxels allows users to purchase and own NFT representing land, buildings, and items, and customize the space as they wish.

The basic idea is like Decentraland, but there is a image that Cryptovoxels is used to describe a more niche world.

(4) Game×Crypto

Type (4) is well represented by AXIE INFINITY, which is widely popular as a console game while inheriting the "earning" characteristics of type (3). This type (4) is expected to expand its share in the future.

My Crypto Heroes(2018)

My Crypto Heroes is a blockchain game from Japan built on the Ethereum chain. According to DappRadar, it was the #1 blockchain game in the world in terms of users and transactions in August 2019.

In My Crypto Heroes, historical figures from around the world appear as "hero assets". Players compete with other players and conquer quests. All heroes, items, and land in the game are NFT and can be bought and sold on markets such as Opensea.

In My Crypto Heroes ecosystem, there are warrior, farmer, mechanic, merchant roles. Players mine NFTs, create items, earn GUM (in-game currency), and compete in tournaments according to these roles. As a project from Japan, it is popular around the world and has high expectations for future development.

Axie Infinity(2019)

AXIE INFINITY is a blockchain game in which players collect, raise and breed, and battle with fictional creatures called Axies.

Axies on AXIE INFINITY are NFTs and can be bought and sold on the market. In order to sell your AXIE at a high price, you need to raise and breed your AXIE. Users can also earn tokens called Smooth Love Portions (SLP) for winning game matches, which are traded in cryptoasset exchanges.

AXIE INFINITY's most distinctive feature is its "Play to Earn" model. In fact, there are players who make a living by playing AXIE INFINITY.

Summary: Metaverse is shifting from play to earn

Tracing the transition from type (1) to type (4) in this article, we can see that metaverse is shifting its axis from playing to earning. In medium to long term, companies are likely to enter metaverse from (3) and (4), as monetization is easier.

As of May 2022, the most active metaverse running is in area (1) and (2). However, we can expect this balance to change following the spread of cryptoassets.