MP chatted with Chris Ebeling, Creative Director and Co-Founder of Virtually Human Studio. Passionate about immersive emerging entertainment, Ebeling has over a decade of experience in visual effects and computer graphics in the entertainment industry, with a focus on gaming, mixed reality experiences, feature film, and TV.
Ebeling’s notable projects include Hollywood films such as “The Lego Movie” franchise, “The Great Gatsby,” “Gods of Egypt,” and “Happy Feet 2.” Chris has also worked alongside Marvel, DC Comics, and Coca-Cola brands.
In 2016, Ebeling helped create the award-winning UTS Animal Logic Academy, a world-class digital production and education center that uses cutting-edge technology to provide disruptive training for future innovators and digital artists. (1)
What is ZED RUN?
ZED RUN is a digital horse racing ecosystem in which owners of digital racehorse NFTs engage in skill-based gameplay.
We’ve taken inspiration from the real world of horse racing and fused it with Web3 technologies, giving users the utility to race, breed, and build their championship stables, ultimately bringing the “sport of kings” into the Metaverse.
By democratizing racehorse ownership, ZED RUN and its community have attracted horse racing fans, sports fans, gamers, and Web3 adopters, as well as big brands, recently engaging in a partnership with the iconic beer brand Budweiser.
With over 150k races per month, ZED RUN stable owners have competed in over two million races and earned over $40M in prizes.
ZED Run is Virtually Humans Studios' first contribution to the Metaverse.
How is ZED RUN unique from other Metaverse-based horse racing games?
Why be the same when you can be something different?
ZED RUN is unlike any other blockchain gaming platform. It’s a true Web3 entertainment experience with unrivaled, stunning 3D visuals rendered via a player’s web browser.
ZED RUN not only represents a tangible use case for blockchain technology for consumers worldwide but a revolutionary gaming experience that is changing how gamers are entertained.
Interested in learning more about the Metaverse? MP covers many areas of the Metaverse, including business, ethics, legal, and more.
It allows stable owners to breed existing racehorses and create new NFT offspring, each with a unique one of one ‘Digital DNA’ profile. Each of these ‘breathing NFTs’ is named and discovered by its stable owners, creating a special bond that transcends the digital collectibles space.
Stable owners may focus on breeding racehorses, testing them on the digital race tracks against the competition, or both. A rewarding racing experience often includes unlocking the knowledge of bloodlines and optimal breeding strategies.
ZED RUN is surrounded by a vibrant community of ‘ZED Headz’ who are unmatched in the Web3 gaming space. ZED RUN’s Discord and Twitch channels offer a place where players can follow race results and trade tips, and share third-party tools, often built by the community, to analyze data.
ZED RUN is still in its infancy, as we are poised and focused on building a fully creative economy, supplying the tools for our users to help co-create and control the ecosystem.
How will the Metaverse enable game developers to reach and monetize their existing customers?
Some say that the Metaverse is the internet made by game developers – and I agree.
It’s important to understand what the Metaverse is and isn’t. Right now, the Metaverse is a lighthouse goal, the nirvana for the future of the current internet. The Metaverse is emerging. It’s not here… yet.
Companies like Virtually Human Studio are exploring, innovating, and building to help create the foundations of the Metaverse. The Metaverse is a massive undertaking, and we are still early. It’s an interoperable spatial world that gives users agency and the tools to be creators.
The Metaverse is not hardware. It’s the internet, with layers of new technology built upon it. It requires everyone, big or small, to work together.
Metaverse gaming provides a new level of experience and emotional connection for gamers. For example, Blockchain technology has provided a way for them to prove indisputable ownership of their digital collectibles, making interactions with in-game and in-experience assets much more meaningful.
The Metaverse isn’t just about ownership. Though, it’s the beginning of a creative revolution of immersive technology and customizability.
Games such as ZED RUN can now provide a much more holistic experience than traditional platforms that utilize generic characters on loan from the game. Players get to own a piece of the game that is unique to them.
What's new and exciting? ZED RUN is proud to be at the forefront of this evolution.
As we’ve seen already, this industry is ripe for disruption. There is certainly an appetite for games that push the boundaries and create new immersive experiences and opportunities for its users.
Play and Earn games such as ZED RUN offer a gaming space where the focus first is being entertained, with a secondary opportunity to EARN. This provides users who wish to dive deeper into games like ZED Run with the added utility to reap tangible rewards and earn while being entertained.
How will the Metaverse serve as a platform to enable game developers to reach new audiences, and how can such reach transform the gaming industry?
The immersiveness and agency that the Metaverse will offer its users is more akin to that of the real world. Web3 gaming is blending the digital world with the physical. An idea reserved only for Hollywood in the past.
Developers and artists like myself have a much wider scope to be innovative, creative, engaging, and interact with their audiences.
The building blocks for the Metaverse are already here, and Web3 technology is the logical next step for its development. All things must evolve and get better, or they’ll be left behind. A first-generation iPhone was once the height of cellular technology. Today it’s thought of as a device that led to bigger and better things, but not exactly an experience any of us would like to go back to.
The Metaverse gives developers and brands a huge opportunity to dare to be different from the competition by evolving the way they interact with their customers. In just the last 18 months, ZED RUN has welcomed Budweiser, NASCAR, Atari, Stella Artois, and more.
They see what’s happening and have decided to get out in front of the Web3 movement and innovate alongside us.
Creating fascinating projects that push the limits drives developers to innovate the most. The Metaverse levels this up a notch because we are still building out blockchain technology. We are still early.
I’ll also say that what we’re doing today will help decide the foundation and direction the industry will go in the future. Every developer should consider how they can cast a wide net that considers inclusion and diversity. The Metaverse and Web3 are about agency, collaboration, co-creation, self-expression, and participation. That’s important to remember as we move forward.
What drives the daily activity and popularity – estimated at over 100 million users a day – of the Web2 games (Fortnite, Minecraft, Roblox, etc.) is that they give their users the tools to build and be creative, ultimately forming true creator ecosystems.
Adding new technologies, including blockchain technology's utility, developers can push the boundaries and enhance these ecosystems with true digital economies (Cryptocurrency). Layering in NFTs and the concept of true ownership and we can now offer more utility and return to our users.
However, to truly build the full potential of the Metaverse, we must have true interoperability. For this, there needs to be a standardization for file types and protocols. We saw this early on with the internet, where we needed TCIP to fully give access to anyone to plug in and contribute, breaking down what we call “Walled Gardens.”
This is a huge challenge for all companies and builders and will take a lot of work. Having done it with the internet, I believe we can do it again. The technology is there. The humans behind the tech need to come to the table and agree.
Since three dimensions are the visual facade of Web3, we must also try to enable and democratize 3D creation. Much like Html, Java, and later the WordPress and Wixs of the internet helped democratize the expansion of the internet. We need to make tools to help the users become builders and co-creators. Tools like Epic’s Metahumans (advanced real-time avatar creator) and access to quixel (high fidelity 3D assets) that users can freely place around and construct worlds in this new 3-dimensional web. I foresee artificial intelligence being used to help give layman users the utility to construct 3D spaces and experiences without much prior knowledge. We already see an amazing AI generation with visual art. It's only a matter of time before this approach will cater to building full three-dimensional worlds that users can step into and share, much like creating a new website and publishing on the web.
How will the Metaverse enable game developers to continue evolving their franchises through experiences, and could this be a double-edged sword?
Metaverse games can be tricky because the developer shares more control with the users. For example, the developer has complete control over the script and experience regarding traditional gaming- like RPGs.
The Metaverse is about creating a great platform and empowering users to build on it. Using mixed reality, artificial intelligence, and real-time engines, developers can create stronger engaging experiences that captivate users and enhance their emotional connection.
Nothing is static in the Metaverse. Everything is ever-changing, which enhances the entertainment aspect fifty-fold compared to what gamers are used to and developers once were capable of creating.
Make no mistake, though – the Metaverse isn't just virtual reality, as often depicted in sci-fi novels and movies. It is agnostic and needs to be accessed via multiple devices. Be it phone, tablet, laptop, console, or headset, the Metaverse is about accessibility.
By adding blockchain, NFTs, and in-game tokens to these products, game developers can empower strong creator communities and economies that can yield substantial funding upfront to build their properties and tangible rewards to their users. Developers must think about how they can use NFTs to empower the game and how to help its community garner deeper personal and passionate relationships with one another.
The Metaverse is about decentralization, giving utility and tools to its users, empowering them to be the creators, and giving them tangible ownership and rewards in return. It's not just a marketplace; it's a social marketplace. It’s a place where users can participate, congregate and socialize. It’s a place where they can be expressive, having agency and utility via heuristic human experiences and human interactions. Humans love to congregate. We love to belong. The agency and utility of Web3 allow us to experience this in digital realms. A danger for any developer is to ignore this. Building Web3 and Metaverse experiences are about building communities.
Developers must also help make their experiences interoperable and have the foresight to lay the foundations for this goal later in their project's life cycle. It's a challenge that will need everyone's contribution. As mentioned above, siloed experiences, aka “walled gardens,” aren't what the final form of the Metaverse is about. To truly be decentralized and interoperable, we need connected experiences and build them together.
A major mistake would be competing with each other. Considering the Metaverse is infinite, there are plenty of slices of this digital cake for everyone to have a piece of and contribute.
The power of real-time and Web3 gives you the opportunity and utility to do something completely new and different. You can now take your users on a journey, not just a quick transaction. Developers and artists can build up experiences with agency and tell interactive stories, where the user has a “real” presence and can affect the story's outcomes with his or her creations.
The Metaverse allows developers to create anything while remaining familiar; Digital infinity.
What brand experimentation opportunities does the Metaverse present game developers, and how can they completely transform experiences as we know them?
We are seeing a trend in developers merging the Metaverse with events and experiences in the physical world. We saw this with Travis Scott hosting a concert in Fortnite, as well as real-time holograms and augmented reality being used on stage at Coachella. (2)
In recent years, esports has taken off as popular events and occasions, partnering up with major brands such as Redbull, T-Mobile, and Audi, to name a few. With an immersive Metaverse game, you can blur those lines even more and create hybrid events to showcase new projects and engage and interact with your audiences on a whole new level.
As mentioned above, brands have the opportunity to re-invent themselves with these new platforms and technologies. There is a huge appetite for brands to come into the Metaverse because they’re aware of the daily number of users in the web2 space. Compared to traditional mainstream gaming experiences, the amount of digital foot traffic and opportunity for brand recognition is limitless in web3.
Games such as ZED RUN and Human Park offer the opportunity to deepen emotional connections with your players, communities, and brands. Now developers can blur the lines between the real and digital worlds by giving users real agency, utility, and the tools they need to be the creators themselves.
How can a poorly executed Metaverse strategy adversely affect a gaming franchise, and how can such a disaster be avoided?
This one is tough to answer. As mentioned above, the Metaverse offers a whole new slate of engagement opportunities, but the danger within that scope for a brand or company building in this space would be to play it too safe. Limiting creativity is a slippery slope when attempting to disrupt a space as big as the gaming industry.
There is an opportunity to reinvent and innovate with new experiences powered by new technologies, but it must be executed thoughtfully and responsibly. Companies and their employees have to become lifelong learners that are passionate, familiar, and curious about new emerging technologies, with a keen eye remaining diligent in doing things the right way.
Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), real-time engines, machine learning, and blockchain technology are all tools that will build the Metaverse. These tools require experts to help navigate and consult to build these new experiences responsibly, laying the foundation for the next generation of artists.
At the end of the day – being too innovative, too fast, and straying away from familiarity can be dangerous and too uncommon to many. Building games and projects in the Web3 space requires constant communication and education with your users and players.
Having users who helped build games - through NFT ownership and in-game participation – means they are closer to your project than ever before. That fact requires more attention to maintain a longstanding and positive customer experience.
Finally, interoperability goes hand in hand with decentralization and is key to a successful Metaverse experience. How can you make entertaining platforms that work together with others? The Metaverse faces a big challenge because many companies are still building in silos. Gated experiences that are not interoperable with one another. With 3D assets needing to be transferred between an abundance of experiences, we need to lock down on what protocol and file types will be universally used, much like the early days of the Internet protocol.
How much money does it take to create a brand-aligned gaming experience in the Metaverse, and what are the ongoing costs?
There are many ways for brands to enter the Metaverse and many new types of experiences. As with any branding exercise, value is determined by the customer experience. Whether democratizing access to their goods and services or taking advantage of the opportunity presented by fully networked gaming ecosystems, there are no one size fits all.
How will the Metaverse expose gamers to new types of gaming addictions, and what steps can be taken to prevent such behaviors?
The two biggest buckets to fill here are moderate in the use of a game and encouraging players to practice self-care. Just as social media has changed our lives for the better and worse, so will gaming experiences that closely mimic real-life experiences.
With ZED RUN, we’ve made an effort to include real-life rewards – such as tickets to a NASCAR event. We’ve also encouraged our community to meet in person as often as possible.
Whether eating chocolate or Metaverse gaming, too much of a good thing will always end poorly. Suppose companies want to have long-lasting relationships with their community and its players. In that case, it’s in the best interests of everyone involved to ensure we’re taking care of ourselves and looking after one another in real life, so we can meet back up in the digital world for some incredible entertainment.
It’s important to remember that we’re all in this together.
How can excessive gaming in the Metaverse adversely affect our mental health, and what can we do to protect ourselves?
Mental health is health. There is a long-standing stigma around asking for help regarding anxiety or depression. We’d never want something meant to be entertaining to add to issues rapidly worsening in the real world.
While it can be tough to differentiate between the dopamine our brains release following a positive experience online or in real life, we can’t ignore the fact that gaming experiences that so closely mimic real-life experiences could lead to excessive gaming for those who do not practice moderation.
Education and awareness about how important it is to log off and, as they say, ‘Touch grass’ is an incredibly important responsibility we all have moving forward.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
While the Metaverse is coming and will provide a wealth of opportunity to us all, it will be 5-10 years until we realize what it can truly become. We are in its infancy, and while we have an idea of what it could be, there is no saying what it will become. While many are building and contributing to what they believe the Metaverse will become, innovators, creators, and companies have yet to be formed that will determine what the Metaverse will be. We saw this in the early days of the internet, where late-blooming companies like Google and Facebook changed how we use and view the web. History tends to repeat itself.
With the infinity that the Metaverse is, if you can dream it, you can create it. I believe we must be mindful and balanced in how we experience it. There is no stopping the evolution of the web and the addictiveness of social media platforms and gaming, but we have a choice in how much we want to partake in it.
Life is about balance. Let's be aware, raise awareness, educate, and lead with good intentions, ethics, and morals. A diverse range of people and knowledge will need to help guide us when we contribute to and build these new digital worlds, applications, and rules. We will need a shared understanding and “law” to help us navigate these digital realms. Let's not forget that the technology that is web3.0 and the Metaverse is an extension of human behavior. Behind each avatar, webpage, application, and 3D world are humans designing it.
We must build responsibly and teach responsible and safe use of digital applications at an earlier age. Let's listen to the data, follow the science, and build responsibly alongside our users.
At the end of the day, we are all humans and we’re all in this together.
Responses provided by Chris Ebeling, Creative Director & Co-Founder at Virtually Human Studio.