Bulletins

Facebook isn't hawking NFTs. What Meta's doing is still a bad deal for creators.

Meta's going to charge nearly 50% on digital goods.

An image from Facebook Horizon, a virtual reality social app available on Oculus.

Meta is fighting with the crypto community for the future of the metaverse.

Image: Facebook

Meta plans to charge a total 47.5% fee on metaverse items, and NFT creators on Twitter are upset. “The future of work is giving Meta 47.5% of your salary, apparently,” one user tweeted. “We don’t need a greedy, out of touch billionaire middlemanning our assets,” said another.


Here's how the fee breaks down, according to Meta: The Meta Quest Store takes its 30% standard cut on purchases, and then Meta takes another 25% on what's left as a "Horizon Platform fee." Despite complaining about other app stores' 30% cut, Meta's Facebook has long charged developers 30% for in-app purchases in social games.

The news broke as Meta revealed details about its metaverse monetization plans and people started reading the fine print. Mark Zuckerberg said in a Monday video that the company was testing out ways to monetize the metaverse, but omitted the crucial details.

Compared with the relatively small fees NFT creators pay on other virtual-goods marketplaces, like the 2.5% fee on NFT market OpenSea, a nearly 50% cut feels like highway robbery. The reasons they are upset, on the surface, are clear.

What’s less clear is whether these tweeters realize that items bought and sold in Zuckerberg’s forthcoming metaverse are not, in fact, NFTs. Horizon Worlds is centralized, owned and designed by a single, for-profit company. The in-game items are not much different than purchasing skins in Fortnite, and Meta could take them away whenever they choose.

With the large fee, Meta is instead signaling to the world that it expects market dominance: Company leadership is betting that most people will want to — or be pressured to to — buy and sell their digital goods through their platform, alone. Just like Apple and Android can charge a 30% fee of purchases made on their app stores, Meta thinks it can do the same with digital goods. (This will not help Meta when it tries to take further shots at Apple over its developer fees, which run from 15% to 30%).

Blockchain evangelists are believers in a decentralized future metaverse, where items will exist as portable non-fungible tokens and every token holder will often have an ownership stake in the underlying systems on which games or virtual worlds operate. In Decentraland and Sandbox, for example, two in-development decentralized virtual worlds, users own their items and are able to sell them for little more than gas fees. This creates a kind of de facto cooperative ownership model, which crypto optimists say is a fairer structure for gamers.

It’s also easier to see how portability would work in a truly decentralized model. If users really “own” the digital puppy they just bought, or the skin they dressed their avatar with, then it would make sense for them to be able to carry these digital goods with them from game to game.

Zuckerberg told the Verge last year that a “good vision for the metaverse” would have portability and interoperability. How, or whether, he would implement this in Horizon Worlds is unclear. It’s also unclear how this would happen, practically, in any virtual world: Everyone likes to talk about how metaverse users should be able to bring goods from one environment to another, but currently there are little more than proof-of-concept tests.

Like many of the things crypto fanatics care about, the future of digital goods in virtual reality is mostly just speculation at this point. The scuffle over Meta’s large fees, however, shows that the speculation matters. Even though Meta is only testing out this monetization structure, it may have lost goodwill among potential future users already. The harshest skeptics on Twitter think the company is digging its own virtual grave by seeking such a big cut.

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Bulletins