Building the Open Metaverse

Digital Economies in the Metaverse

Dirk Lueth, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Upland, one of the largest blockchain-based metaverses, joins Patrick Cozzi (Cesium) and Marc Petit (Epic Games) to discuss digital economics in the Metaverse.


Dirk Lueth
Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Uplandme, Inc.
Dirk Lueth
Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Uplandme, Inc.






Today on Building the Open Metaverse.

Dirk Lueth:

The metaverse is like a new country. And when you think about the four factors of production, they are land, capital, labor, and entrepreneurship, which are very important to create something.

Like in the real world, we need those four factors.


Welcome to Building the Open Metaverse, where technology experts discuss how the community is building the open metaverse together, hosted by Patrick Cozzi from Cesium and Marc Petit from Epic Games.

Marc Petit:

Hello, my name is Marc Petit. I'm from Epic Games, and my co-host is Patrick Cozzi from Cesium.

Hey Patrick, how are you?

Patrick Cozzi:

Hey, Marc. I'm doing well.

I know the economy is in a lot of people's minds, so I'm looking forward to talking about the digital economy today with a recognized expert.

Marc Petit:

Today we would like to welcome Dirk Lueth, the co-founder, and co-CEO of Upland, to the podcast. 

Upland is one of the largest blockchain-based metaverses with millions of users. And Dirk, it's fantastic to have you on to show.

You're also the chairman of the Open Metaverse Alliance 3, OMA3, which is a very important organization. We're so happy to have you with us.

Dirk Lueth:

Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here, of course.

Marc Petit:

Dirk, we always start the show by asking how our guests got started with the metaverse. So, tell us a little bit about your background and your journey to the metaverse.

Dirk Lueth:

My journey starts actually when I was still at school, at the university. Actually, I wrote a PhD, or my dissertation, was about private and state-controlled currencies. Then 2011, I found out about Bitcoin and was super excited from day one.

In the beginning, there were not a lot of use cases around it. Basically, it was a currency, and that was all of it. I was then dabbling around a little bit over time. And 2018, actually, I put together myself with Mani Honigstein and Idan Zuckerman, my two co-founders of Upland.

They were coming from the gaming space, and I told them about this currency, and we said, "What can we do, right? This is such an exciting new technology." And we came up with the idea of taking the inspiration of Monopoly, taking the real world, and taking actually blockchain, putting that all together, and creating Upland. And that was basically already in 2018.

When you look at our URL, it's called for metaverse. At that time, no one was actually talking about the metaverse. I mean, the word was around, obviously, for a while, but it was not hyped or anything, was not in mainstream media, and so on.

At the beginning, we said, "You know what? Let's try to avoid that word “metaverse” because no one really knows what it is."

When you look at our first marketing material when we came out, we always were talking about a parallel world, a virtual world, and we're still trying to find it.

Of course, everything has changed in 2021, basically, when it became a mainstream word. That's a little bit of my journey. But in general, I was always excited about this parallel world. I love those movies, Matrix and Ready Player One; they contributed to the inspiration of Upland.

Marc Petit:

And you're also a born entrepreneur if I'm not mistaken.

Dirk Lueth:

That was always my life. I started two companies in Germany; one was the Financial Times of Germany newspaper and moved on to the FinTech space. As I said, my background, I'm an economist and was also very attached to the whole entrepreneurial scene.

Also, here where I live right now in Silicon Valley. I moved from Germany in 2009 to Silicon Valley; I was a mentor to over 30 startups. I helped raise them capital and enter the US market. It's always fun to come up with new ideas to go in directions no one has gone before. That always fascinated me.

When we started out back then in very early in 2018, we first had to understand what it means to create a parallel world.

First of all, we talked to investors then we talked to potential partners. We found ourselves always talking the same thing that people have so little knowledge. They always wanted to know about it, but they're always ever asking the same questions over and over again. And we said, "Why don't we do just a simple ebook, three, four chapters where we explain things and when we meet someone, or we're going to meet someone, 'Hey, do you want to read that? It's some basic information.'"

However, Wiley, our publisher, then got the word of it and that we were doing this. Then, they approached us and said, "Hey, why don't you write a book about the metaverse?" That's when we put our content together back in '21. Late '21, we started writing it, actually over the holidays. My wife was very happy because I was always busy with the book.

Then, we published it, right? We're quite proud to say on the top list of Amazon for a while, bestseller on Amazon, because it was quite early, and it has helped, actually, for a lot of people to understand, "Okay. What are the basic assumptions? What are the basic definitions of the metaverse?"

Marc Petit:

Yeah, fascinating. It is called Navigating the Metaverse.

Patrick Cozzi:

I love you sharing the background and the analogy to Monopoly for Upland.

I was wondering, for our folks in our audience who might not know about Upland, could you talk a bit more about it and how users use it?

Dirk Lueth:

Using the energy of Monopoly is always very quite adventurous. To date, I have not found not one person who didn't know what Monopoly is. It's always easy to explain that, right? When we say we are mapped to the real world, so we're currently live, actually, in 20 cities across the US, so you don't have to be in those cities to play. It's a very simplistic game mechanic. When you think about Monopoly, we have to purchase streets and then collect them, and then you can build something on it. That's also how Upland pretty much started as well.

We actually took the real-world parcels, right? It's not just some squares, random squares you can draw; it’s real-world parcels. We use that data where you can purchase the property instead of buying a full city, you buy a property, and then you start earning a small income on it or yield.

Right now, it's actually 14% in order to incentivize more activity in the whole ecosystem. But you can increase that very much like in Monopoly; you increase that yield by completing collections, the same properties on the same streets or museums or so. That gives you a small increase in your income here. 

That's how we started out with Upland back in 2019 in the closed beta. Then, in early 2020. Of course, Upland is much more than this today. Today you can build a house or different structures on your property. We have introduced cars in Upland; you can buy a car; you can do car racing. You can actually race through virtual San Francisco, which is exciting. Our users, our community, create their own racetracks, which we have. We have so-called treasure hunts. We can hunt across the cities and be the fastest and find some treasures.

We have interesting partnerships in the US. We have a partnership with the NFL Play associations, for instance. Then, we did the FIFA World Cup, where you were able to buy, actually, also the videos not directly; we gamified it. When you want to get to the goal of Messi of the final, you actually have to go to Upland to get it.

Because we always believe that the metaverse is important that when you go there, and it's just an empty room, that's probably not so exciting. You always have to do something to do around it. That's why we always gamify things. We're coming from the gaming space/blockchain space, and that's how we build Upland.

Patrick Cozzi:

Start with the land, then you build on it, and then you create experiences for engagement.

Dirk Lueth:

Right now, we position Upland as a metaverse super app. What that means is that we actually launched this very quietly to a third-party developer platform. Now, third-party developers can build their own apps on top of Upland. They don't need to have blockchain knowledge, as we're obfuscating the whole blockchain layer for our users. Maybe I've not mentioned that before, in Upland, we have iOS and we have an Android app; we have strong mobile-first thinking. You can use a credit card and PayPal, so you don't need to deal with private keys and wallets and all the complicated stuff of blockchain, which makes us really mass consumer friendly.

The same is also for the developers now. You can actually use your existing skills; you don't need to understand the protocols and all that's behind it. Now, you can launch your own apps on top of Upland.

What that means is, actually, let's say you take a property somewhere in Upland where you launch your experience, and the users can then go and can take assets and their identity with them.

We just recently, for instance, launched identity-wise avatars also with Ready Player Me, where you can actually take your avatar into this other experience, and you can also take your assets. We have an in-app currency, which is called UPX, which is not tradable on exchanges for regulatory reasons in the US. However, you can take that asset for this other experience or game and use it there or your NFTs and use it there, and you can take it back out again.

That is what we enabled for the developers. It's one part of the so-called super app.

The other big component is that we're adding now a very strong social layer around Upland; we just introduced chat. Going forward, we're going to have cafes and so on. Upland's going to be more and more evolved into a social network where people hang out together and just have fun and do lots of interesting stuff.

Patrick Cozzi:

We could just jump in a little bit to give the audience a sense of the scale, how many owners, how many users, how many developers are using the platform today?

Dirk Lueth:

Today, when you take land owners, by far the largest metaverse blockchain-based metaverse. We have over 300,000 land-owners now. In terms of daily active users, still small when you compare it to normal games. But for blockchain, we're quite big; it goes between 30 and 80,000 daily active users. Always depends on when we launch something special; depends on the activities people can do because we have live operations in Upland. That means there's obviously something happening, and that is a reason to come back.

Also, we're very proud of, for instance, when you talk about game metrics or D7 retention. People coming back after seven days is over 60% right now. I think it's really 65-ish %, which is also very strong for mobile games as such.

Marc Petit:

We had Yat Siu on the podcast. So, I think... How do you say? Are you part of the Animoca group, or you were part of that environment, right?

Dirk Lueth:

Well, Animoca is an investor in us, but they don't have, not by far, not any majority shares or so. The company's still completely controlled by the founders. I mean, just let our last investment round, we raised 18 million on 300 million valuation public also in late '21. Yat Siu, who also wrote the foreword in the book, he's also on the board, and he's the chairman of Animoca. But that's our connection.

Animoca and us all carry the same vision of the open metaverse. Together with Robby Yung, I'm on the board of the Open Metaverse Alliance. Robby Yung is the CEO of Animoca. We're doing lots of things together, but in Upland, they're just in quotation marks an investor.

Marc Petit:

That was why I was getting at. You seem to be able to leverage that proximity with the other Animoca portfolio companies. We had Seb Borge from The Sandbox here on the podcast.

In terms of land ownership and creating a real ecosystem through cross-activation, cross-compatibility, is that part of the plan?

Dirk Lueth:

We have a Slack together with Animoca where we exchange, and we come up with ideas. The problem's always with partnerships, it's because it's still... Probably going to touch a little bit on that a little bit later on the podcast, but it's still even the blockchain space, nothing is really standardized, which makes it hard to be really interoperable and to use things in multiple places.

Marc Petit:

Good point. There are many metaverse-type experiences today, and you're adding on top of traditional game mechanics, you're adding elements of digital ownership, and full economies as part of the core of the experience.

Tell us about this, and do you see commonality emerge? I mean, do you see a trend toward a standardized way of doing that?

Dirk Lueth:

Of course, I'm biased, but I think in the future, blockchain games, blockchain meta-based metaverses, they actually will have a much stronger value proposition for the users because of the property aspect.

I always compare that to real life. Let's say you're driving your car in Germany, and then you say, "Hey, I'm going to cross now the border to France. Well, I have to leave my car at the border. I cannot use it. I have to buy a new car and do everything new." That's complicated.

First of all, it's not good for the users, and it's also not good for engagement as such. I believe that in the future, goods and assets will be transferable, and this will increase activities in those virtual worlds. Why is property rights so important? That is one example, but I always use another example.

Let's say in real life when you own a house. You really take care; you beautify it. You repair it and whatever. When you're renting a house, not so much because you say, "Maybe one day I'm out anyways." And so on.

We've seen that when people own stuff, they really care. That makes such a big difference because now you can when you know you own it, you can build stuff on top of it; maybe you can mix it with other things. You can maybe also rent it out to someone. Earn money with it because you own it.

There're a lot of things that favor ownership in the metaverse. But that is only one part when you think about the metaverse, and here's the economist who's coming for a ride. The metaverse is really like a new nation-state where you have four factors of production.

I had an email exchange actually with Mark Cuban one day because he said, "Why do you need land in the metaverse? Why do you need to sell it here?" He said… I’m not going to use the word here. He said it's dumb, it's whatever. But I think that perspective is not correct. The reason why I'm saying that is when I say the metaverse is like a new nation-state, it's like a new country.

When you think about the four factors of production, they are land, capital, labor, and entrepreneurship, which are very important to create something. When we say follow that assumption that that is what the metaverse is, then it's exactly the same way. Like in the real world, you need those four factors. I mean, that is a classical view of microeconomics. There are other views, just to simplify it right now.

You need land and resources in order to build something on it. When someone owns it, it's very much like life; they need to have it physically in the physical space but also in the digital space. So, you want to build a house, something on it, or maybe you want to build a racetrack, or I don't know, whatever. That's the first thing.

The second thing is the capital. You need machines to build something, right? You need the money to build it, right? It's also here. Then, the third thing is labor. You need the people who are doing it, who are getting paid for it. And the last but not least, you need the entrepreneurs. That's the four factors. And that's exactly the same thing in the metaverse.

That's why we always say, "Upland is the entrepreneurial metaverse because people can run and operate shops in Upland, can make businesses, not just by speculating, but by creating goods and selling those to others because others like what has been created there. That is what is important.

Entrepreneurship drives everything forward. It’s the same thing in the metaverse, what you have in real life and in digital life. I don't see any difference here.

Patrick Cozzi:

Dirk, maybe this is a good segue where we could back up and just talk about the digital economics, just maybe some of the general metrics that you look at in Upland. UPX, pools, the earnings rate?

Dirk Lueth:

The foundation of the Upland economy. First of all, we have a token which is called UPX, U-P-X. Which has a fixed exchange rate to the US dollar. $1 equals 1000 UPX, and we're not changing that rate. Also, to give users the understanding when a price of good changes, of a property, or of a virtual car changes in Upland, it's not because of some external microeconomic things, which have happened, right? It's just because of the internal economy in Upland. That's one thing to make it easier for users to use.

Also, money has three functions always. There's a unit of account, unit of store of value, and utility. That's also where UPX comes in. But it's primarily of account and of utility. You need UPX in Upland in order to purchase something. As I mentioned, you can buy it easily with fiat currency, with your dollars, credit card, or net purchases in iOS and Android; that's the first token we have.

Then, we have a second token which is called Spark. Spark is a token you need to have, which you need to stake when you want to build something in Upland.

Let's say you want to build a house; you need to stake Spark in order to build it. In Upland, because we're always replicating the real world in purpose, we built in a little gamification element friction. It's not that you build a house, and immediately it's there. It takes actually days or weeks in order to build the house. The more you stake Spark, the faster you build the house. Now, you can ask other players, "Hey can you stake for me?" Then, the house gets built faster.

We will also have a third token which is not yet introduced. The working title is STEM; STEM supports life in Upland, so when you have a plant and so on. But that's a little bit of our thinking.

But back to UPX. We have two pools in Upland. One is called the Upland Pool, and one is called the Community Pool. The Upland Pool actually funds us as the operator, as Upland. We need to make money in order to pay our people in the organization. When someone buys UPX with US dollars, this goes out of the Upland Pool. We collect, of course, the dollars; users get the UPX and can purchase something in Upland. That's the pure Upland Pool.

Then we have what we call the Community Pool. The Community Pool supports what we call the velocity in the system because what we want is actually more and more transactions happening between the players. It gets a self-sustaining economy.

So, how does this work? When you want to buy now, on the secondary market, the property from another player, the buyer and the seller both have to pay a 5% fee. But Upland, we're not getting this. This goes into the Community Pool. Out of the Community Pool, then we pay the yield, what people earn for the properties.

We have a lot of inflows and outflows out of that pool. You can also get outflows in terms of treasure, I mentioned the treasure hunts, right? You were paying that out of that. That's another way money gets into the pools, but then also other fees people have to pay. Basically, that is the Community Pool owned by the, quotation marks, by the “community" which drives our economy.

Patrick Cozzi:

You gave some examples on elements or lessons from real-world economics and how you've built them into Upland. Were there any others, like inflation, that you've looked at?

Dirk Lueth:

Upland currently does not have inflation because we have a defined number of UPX, which we had put into the pool. However, we can always reset it. Also, in the white paper we can add additional UPX into it as such. But we have to be very careful. We are, in quotation marks, "Handing out those UPX" when people earn the yield, because this has been programmed into the Community Pool, but we have to pay attention that we're not giving out too much UPX free or, let's say, as yield.

This risks the economy, right? Because if there's too much, then that goes too much up as such. Technically, that is not inflation. I've always discussed it with other people, but technically it's not. It's just that we give people the opportunity to buy out of their yield additional things.

When we started out with Upland, the yield was 17%. Why did we do that? Because we wanted to incentivize people to buy more properties, to trade properties, and so on. To create the activity. But however, we lowered that a few months back to 14% because we always said that we were going to lower it; maybe we're also going to increase it. That's a little bit of our monetary policy. Because in order to avoid too much UPX out there, which will have an impact on the economy, which we do not want to have. That is then our role also as such, right?

There are certain ways that... I thought I would never use it, actually, in my research work, when I was back at the university. We are acting somehow like a central bank here. We're controlling the yield, and we do actually control other monetary measures in order to protect the stability of the economy. Because our most important objective is to create a stable economy.

Of course, people sometimes complain, "Prices are falling. I lost money." Because it's a market economy. Especially in crypto, people were used to, "It always goes up. I always get more." Now, everyone woke up with a downturn and went, "Now, I lost money." At the end of the day, Upland is like this as well. However, the secret sauce is that you actually try to minimize the speculation part of it, and you increase the economic activity which comes out of value creation of velocity between the users. That's why our users actually were quite shielded from the downturn because we had the fixed exchange rate.

Everything which happened in the economy of Upland was indirectly connected to crypto, but not directly. Of course, because the overall market's a little bit down, and then, of course, prices go lower. But we have also seen phases where prices also go up again. Especially even in the last half year when the downturn was there, we had a higher demand in certain areas where people were starting to build so-called “nodes” where the community got together. We're seeing prices going up. So, it's a true market economy we are building here.

Patrick Cozzi:

Dirk, I think that analogy to the central bank is a good one. I was actually going to say custodians, perhaps, of a healthy economy. I was wondering, on that note, if there's any other KPIs that you may look at to measure the health of the economy.

Dirk Lueth:

We're looking at all different things. How much are people building? How much are they using? How much are they staking Spark? What are the secondary market transactions per day, per week, and such? 

We have tons of those kinds of KPIs we are looking at. And we are seeing, "Okay. Are there any alarms? Is it going in the wrong direction?" Then, we have to adjust; either we create new activities to create more demand for UPX, or we find UPX sinks where people actually can spend money in order to create demand for new UPX.

Marc Petit:

The complexity is impressive.

We had Philip Rosedale on the show, and I was on the other side of the spectrum. Second Life is a very simple model with the property tax and the VAT, and now we're seeing way more sophisticated systems, but they're centrally managed. I mean, that's also what's interesting.

I mean, you're acting like the government of that, and you need an economic policy, and you need a fiscal policy. It's interesting.

Dirk Lueth:

Of course. When you think about blockchain, everyone says, "Everything has to be super decentralized." The truth is when you think about an economic system, there's a cost of centralization and a cost of decentralization. Where those two curves meet, that's the optimum for society, for an economic system. That's exactly how we think.

In the beginning, Upland was much more centralized than maybe other blockchain games, but we said we want to be in control. You think about, when the economy is very small, let's say you have 10 players, and there's one player who looks for loopholes and tries to exploit the economy, then this has a big impact. We need to be able to counter that. When you have 1000 people in the economy, a million, 10 million, that one person, of course, then a little bit more, maybe, right? Don't have that much of an impact anymore.

We always said, as Upland, as the operator, over time, we want to pull back, and we want to give more and more authority back to the community. How we're exactly going to manage that, some things you can do on-chain, so-called, some things need to be managed through a DAO or through a foundation where people can vote and so on.

We're constantly thinking of these kinds of governance models, but it's constantly evolving. It's clear to us that we want to actually step further out of the ring in the future and let the community decide over that. Let a few governments run for it.

It's a big vision, let's see how far we can get, but that's always day one thought.

One thing I also want to add, because I always get asked, "Well, how do you deal with all those people who are exploiting the system?"

For instance, in Upland, you're not allowed to have multiple accounts because, obviously, otherwise, you can funnel assets and so on, which then destroys the game mechanics. We have a fraud team observing that. But the funny thing is, in blockchain, you cannot take assets away from people. When someone bought something, it's impossible. You cannot do that. What we said was, "Okay. When someone's doing fraud, we're sending them..." Actually, here in San Francisco, there's an island, maybe most of your listeners might know it, it's called Alcatraz. They get sent to Alcatraz.

In Alcatraz, they cannot actually do certain transactions anymore; they're very expensive.

They can justify themselves. Maybe sometimes there was the same IP, and maybe the partner played also. Usually, we observe that, and we see how assets are moving in Upland. Of course, you can get out of jail again. But then, you have to explain yourself.

It's difficult sometimes. All of a sudden, you become a judge, and it's sometimes very complex. It's not that easy.

Marc Petit:

Digital democracy, digital justice, you're building your own.

Switching gears to another topic as you're designing this amazing virtual world. Something that's very important is diversity, inclusion, and equality, something we may be lacking in the real world.

We had Karen Baker here on the podcast, who specializes in DEI and designing for justice, a few episodes back. Is it something that you think about designing for justice and accessibility and making sure that even people with different economic means can actually engage with the platform?

Dirk Lueth:

Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, first of all, we have a problem in the metaverse space and the blockchain. You have to have high education and all that stuff. We have to watch out that it is not a digital divide. That's also why I'm a little bit skeptical because, especially in the blockchain space, you always read the headlines. This property has been sold for 2 million and this for 3 million. Who can afford that in real life? Who can really do this? It's just maybe the very rich people, crypto-rich people.

In Upland, it’s different. We are very inclusive. In Upland, you can actually get started... First of all, you can grind your way up. If you play, then you can get there. Or you can buy a property for two or three dollars. Of course, there are more expensive properties also out there, but that's where we believe, "Okay, it's much more inclusive." It's more accessible to more people.

The second thing is also that we want to raise a lot of awareness for different groups. As I said, we are live in Brazil. For instance, we have a partnership with UNICEF in Brazil where we actually sponsor training and computers for kids who don't have access to computers and to explain to them, "Okay. What is Web3? How does it work?" With Upland, they can actually learn it, how to use it.

That's a little bit of how we are supporting them doing this kind of approach to the metaverse and to be more inclusive.

But I completely agree with you. The metaverse is still, let's say, a very open space where we have to be careful where we have to avoid harassment and all these bad things which are happening.

Unfortunately, the internet can be actually worse in the metaverse. We have to, unfortunately, set certain rules. And the question is always, how far should those rules go? Should they self-govern? It's not a very easy thing to solve, but I think if the builders of the metaverse are cognizant of it, I hope that we find good solutions in the future.

Marc Petit:

You mentioned scaling into social capabilities; now you're going to enter the moderation game as well.

How do you make sure that bad actors have a limited impact or no impact on the platform?

Dirk Lueth:

First of all, we're going to be launching that in a very careful manner, and learn and experiment with certain things.

Of course, since it's blockchain, the moderators themselves... When you own a cafe or whatever in Upland, you are responsible for what is happening there. We have to set certain frameworks and certain principles for the moderators, for the owners to create those spaces. But we have to also be aware of... And unfortunately, I'm always still when I read on Twitter, people are hating and so on.

Hopefully, we can create something which is a better system there, which is self-governed and where people cannot necessarily hide behind anonymity.

Patrick Cozzi:

Dirk, on the geographic diversity front. Do you see more adoption in developing markets?

Dirk Lueth:

We started out in the US, our first city was San Francisco, and we launched now in South America. Currently, Upland is only in English. That is already a barrier. We have a little Portuguese now in there because we launched in Brazil, and we are rolling out languages.

I think once you have other languages, other areas will join. However, today we only have roughly 35-ish percent of users from the US. The rest is really from... We have 10% now in Brazil because we launched there. We're doing more and more things in Portuguese. We have probably 20-ish % from Europe. But where we're completely underrepresented so far is Asia. That's a clear strategy for us also to launch there very soon.

Marc Petit:

Do you see Upland becoming a place where people can have economic activity like we saw in Axie Infinity and those kinds of games where it could become more than a pastime or an entertainment moment?

Dirk Lueth:

Upland is already there. We already know that others are engaging others. We know that people have quit their daytime job just to be in Upland and to make money. Eventually, this is more for the developing countries because, obviously, not everyone's going to earn immediately 100, $200,000, which you need to survive in the US.

But if you can earn 30 or $40,000, which might be a lot of money in Vietnam, the Philippines, and Africa. I clearly see that. And that's also the vision, as I mentioned earlier. We want to create that by having this entrepreneurial opportunity where people don't just speculate; they should create businesses in Upland and sell those.

I'm now in Africa, and now I'm creating some awesome-looking outdoor decor items like a virtual garden bench or something. That’s just an example, and you can sell that to other people all around the world. It could be super interesting, or you create your own car in the future.

There will be a lot of things that will help to be more inclusive all around the world. I think, also, that's why we're probably going to have fewer borders.

Metaverse is borderless. People are coming together. We see that in San Francisco or other cities in Chicago, the virtual Chicago of Upland, we have people gathering together in so-called nodes because they have like-minded interests. They're coming together, even though they're living in completely different parts of the world.

It's really interesting to see. We call that virtual locality. They have the feeling, they’re setting their home address there, then they're creating these neighborhoods in a completely new way. It's really fascinating to see. The social aspect is very relevant. Then, the economic aspect is that we're creating those economies around certain things.

To give you one example, cars.

I mentioned earlier we introduced cars in Upland. When you want to produce cars, you need to have a plant, like a factory. We have our own car brand, which is called MV Motors. We're also going to work maybe with outside brands or real-world brands who are going to produce cars in Upland. Then, you need people who are going to run and operate maybe transportation services to transport the cars to showrooms.

There will be Uplanders who operate their transportation services. Other Uplanders are going to operate the showrooms and car dealerships. Then, there will be maybe also in car racing will be damaged, so cars need to be repaired. Now, you have a repair shop. And now you have a racetrack designer, you can train the drivers, and it's a whole economy around cars, just to give this one example we're going to create. There are completely new opportunities for people.

Marc Petit:

Who doesn't like cars? It's a universal thing.

Patrick Cozzi:

Marc, are you already driving in Upland?

Marc Petit:

Me? No. I own a place in Upland, and I'm grinding a bit, but I haven't played with the cars just yet.

Dirk Lueth:

Yeah. They're in very high demand. Actually, we have another car sale tomorrow. When we are selling new cars, we have a waitlist of five, 6,000 people coming in. Unfortunately, because they need to be produced, as I said, they take time to be produced.

Marc Petit:

There is a French games team in part of the Animoca group that does racing games. The guy's from Eden Games. They're very good.

Blockchain cars are being developed in the ecosystem as well.

Well, Dirk, thanks for driving us through Upland. That's amazing. The complexity and the potential are fascinating.

Switch gears a little bit and talk about OMA3. You're the co-founder and the chairman of the Open Metaverse Alliance 3. As you know, we're a big proponent on this podcast of the open metaverse, and Patrick and I are actively involved in the Metaverse Standards Forum. We're working together. But tell us the goal of that organization and what you guys want to be doing and focusing on.

Dirk Lueth:

Back in late '21, I saw a lot of blockchains, metaverses, or platforms for the metaverse that have been created. Maybe you can transfer some of the assets because of blockchain, but everything was not optimized. That's not how it should be.

We really want to build here something new, which is different from the existing so-called games, or they call themselves also metaverses, even though I'm a little bit reluctant to call them metaverses if they're closed. I said, "Okay. Why don't we get together in one room?"

Sebastian from Sandbox was there, Animoca Brands, Decentraland. All the big representatives came in; it was actually during NFT NYC, which is a big conference in New York and was in June last year. We said, "Hey, we want to create that? Do you guys think we should work together?"

Everyone agreed, and then we said, "Okay, let's do it." We started, actually, a so-called association, which is similar to Foundation in Switzerland, which has been formed now. We have over 1000 companies registered for it, and people can now sign up and become a member.

There are different tiers of memberships. There's a URL called, if someone wants to sign up there. We want to drive forward the idea of interoperability or omni-portability. We want to drive forward decentralization. These are the principles. And most importantly, user-owned and user-controlled.

The ultimate vision… I think, especially with blockchain, we are on this heavy paradigm shift. We're moving away from being platform-centric to a user-centric model. What that means is that I, as the user, will be able to go from one world to the other, take my assets with me, and take my identity with me. And maybe ultimate virtual money or what I have, basically part of the assets.

Ideally, I have a locker. I can decide for myself, "Okay. What will I take with me, and what will I not take with me?" That is the ultimate goal. Here we have to come and approach that in several ways.

In OMA3, we have now created the first four working groups. One is the Legal Working Group, and one is the Ecosystem Working Group. Here, we're also working together with the MSF, the Metaverse Standards Forum, I believe you are all part of it. We're also in process of creating an alliance and agreement with them because, obviously, everything with Web3 is more us, but lots of things we want to do are also relevant to the MSF.

Then, if we come up with file standards and so on, this is not something we should do on our own. I think we should do that together. Everything's just concerning Web3. Ownership's probably more us. The rest, we're together; we want to achieve together with the MSF.

We have two other working groups. One is called Asset Transfer Group, and the other one is called Portaling. That means can go through a portal from one world to the other. Those are the first groups, but we're adding more over time and adding more standard groups, defining that. It's all new, and we're in very close contact.

I really like the partnership with the MSF because, at the end of the day, we're driving everything. It's an open metaverse, even though the definition is a little bit different. However, there's also a lot of overlap.

Marc Petit:

We've been talking to a few people from OMA3. I mean, Patrick and I are more involved in the plumbing and making sure that the mechanics of interoperability work.

We've been doing computer graphics for 30 years, and we are about to agree on a few business things like materials and animation curves and a few other things. We feel the value of the machine trying to make things work. But then, it will enable so many interesting conversations because there are so many opportunities, and we're all going to converse on the same internet called the metaverse.

We'll have to talk together, but we're super happy to be working with you guys.

Patrick Cozzi:

Yeah, Dirk. Thank you for all the time you're putting into this industry service. We know how much work it is to be involved in these groups, and we expect the payoff is going to be really big.

Dirk Lueth:

We have a little bit of a challenge forward. I think MSF has one advantage; it's big companies in there who can actually afford to give certain people that.

OMA3 is still doing operational stuff together with Robby. I mentioned Robby Yung, with executive director Alfred Tom. But it's a median; none will be on the board.

For us, it's challenging. We're running a company and OMA3. We are in the process of thinking, "Oh, God. How are we going to fund it a little bit further so we can actually hire people who can actually do some of the work?" That's the biggest challenge we have at the moment. But it's always like that with standard committees, and you have to do it on the side, right?

Patrick Cozzi:

Dirk, I was hoping we could switch gears, a fun topic, and spend a minute on the Species Foundation, where you're mapping all the live species in digital form to create a unified, standardized, repository to be used by any virtual world, game, or platform.

Dirk Lueth:

This is now an initiative coming out of Upland. You can go to the website,, where the first information about it is. However, Upland is not going to launch it. We're just driving it to a certain level. Someone needs to kick it off. There's going to be a foundation also in Switzerland, the Species Foundation process of incorporating that to launch it.

What's the idea of Species? Right now, when you think about species, which are basically animals or plants, which are out there right now. I mean, I researched a little bit, understanding that there are 8 million species out there in the world, even though only one or 2 million are documented. Others say there's even 100 million species out there. It's a little bit hard to say how many are out there, but we know the most important ones, which are daily around those cats, dogs, and so on.

We said, "Okay. It just doesn't make sense that every world is creating its own species over and over again." When we think about, again, interoperability or omni-portability, how can this look alike? We came up with the idea. Why don't we create the standards? Let's say certain forms of life are getting defined. The way it's going to work is that someone can define, let's say, a gorilla and can say, "Okay. I want to set the standard for gorillas in the metaverse, and I'm going to say how does it reproduce, how long does it live?" All the metadata. Also, how does it look? We know there are currently maybe roughly eight to 10 different designs, voxel graphics in Unity, Unreal, etc., out there where you could actually define how it looks. It can always be extended if something is missing.

Once you have defined it, then you have to run it through a DAO, which is the Swiss Foundation, and say, "Hey, this is how I define it." Then, once the DAO accepts it, then actually, the gorilla standards can be adopted by the metaverses.

We have, again, that's our blockchain background that’s important. There are always incentives for the metaverses to adopt it. Why would they do it?

First of all, they don't need to create all those species. We save a lot of CPU cycles to make it like that, which is good for the environment. But also, it's just work that is redundant. You don't have to do it over and over again. You save quite well on some costs, right? If you want to do that.

For the one who created the standard or participated in creating that standard, maybe some designers, will continuously earn some royalties out of that species. When someone now opens up a, quotation marks, "A gorilla shop" in Upland and starts selling gorillas to other players, then some of that money can go back then to the original owners or creators of that standard. That's the high-level idea.

We're currently starting to work on the white paper, and as soon as this is outright, of course, we will hear much more about it.

Marc Petit:

It's a brilliant idea, actually.

Dirk Lueth:

That's the first of interoperable standards, right? Where it makes it... It's different. Instead of companies coming together to define what's already there, now it's really bottom up. Let's see how it works.

Marc Petit:

Our last question on the podcast is asking you whether there is a person, institution, or organization that you would like to give a shout-out to today.

Dirk Lueth:

Everyone who helps us to bring forward the standardization, the open metaverse.

Hopefully, we can all work together and create what is different than what we have here today.

Marc Petit:

We do believe that we're witnessing an unprecedented level of collaboration across multiple industries and people who are not used to talking to each other. It's a great moment. Thank you for being part of it.

Dirk, that was truly amazing. I don't know if you have time to sleep at night between the OMA3 and building Upland as a full, and governing Upland into a vibrant economy. That was amazing. Thank you very much for your time and for driving us through all of those experiences in detail.

Thank you so much.

Dirk Lueth:

Thank you very much for having me. I enjoyed it.

Marc Petit:

To our audience, thank you very much. We have a website now, Making progress. We actually have an email address if you want to reach us, let us know your feedback, let us know who you want, what you want to talk about, and who we should be inviting to the podcast.

Thank you very much to everybody. We'll be back with another episode.