In a recent article in VN Express (see link here) the author discusses a recent trend in Vietnam for websites and apps to hop on the move 2 earn bandwagon in an effort to scam money from users before they are caught and shut down.

First off, move 2 earn is essentially a metaverse game in which users spend hundreds of dollars to buy an NFT pair of shoes, or a bike, or some other item that can link to sensors in the users phones. Then, when users run with their phones, they earn cryptocurrency for every kilometer that they move, thus move 2 earn.

In the predominant move 2 earn model, much like play 2 earn, there are two types of cryptocurrency involved with the application. The first is a utlity currency which is what must be purchased in order to buy the shoes and which only high level runners who have been using the app for some time can access in their earnings. The second currency is a game currency which is what the game gives to users in exchange for movement.

Economics aside, the idea is that both cryptocurrencies are listed on crypto exchanges and thus can be exchanged for other cryptocurrencies or for actual fiat currency, thus earning the runners/ movers money for their movements.

In Vietnam, and apparently elsewhere, several small time players have initiated apps that mimic these move 2 earn models. Sites such as SexN or SleepN which purport to pay users in exchange for having sex or for simply sleeping.

Who wouldn’t want to play those games?

But just as quickly as a user is lured by the concept, they are ripped off. These sites have reportedly sold their NFT play things for hundreds of dollars, but don’t have the same infrastructure as legitimate move 2 earn games. Instead, they are glorified Ponzi schemes wherein the first participants are paid from the joining fees of subsequent participants.

The metaverse, apparently, isn’t free of con artists.

This is especially dangerous in Vietnam for two reasons. First, Vietnam is keen to adopt any new technology that might make money fast. It seems to be a national pasttime, from lottery to cryptocurrency, if there’s the hope of a big windfall, Viets tend to be on board for the long haul. Second, the government seems to be aware of this characteristic and, as it did with cryptocurrency, will act to protect its people against abuses.

These two combine to suggest that, if too many of these move 2 earn copycats develop in the Vietnamese metaverse, the government will move to not only shut them down, but to shut down all NFT apps, and could even extend such bans to blockchain applications as well.

As of this moment, the Vietnamese government is still keen on blockchain usage. They see it as a potentially useful and productive database technology that can assist in a number of different sectors. But the largest use to date of blockchain is cryptocurrency, a technology that is currently not allowed to be used in Vietnam. The increasingly predominant technology after cryptocurrency is becoming NFTs which rely on the smart contracts built into Ethereum and other blockchains that allow for the unique signing of digital assets.

But that initial enthusiasm, which has yet to actually be codified in any regulations, could easily wane if the government sees blockchain abuses that harm its citizens. That would mean not only a loss of possibilities for Vietnam, but could potentially handicap Vietnam’s digitalization efforts.

If the metaverse is going to come into existence globally and we’ll all start living in a science fiction movie where we live through digital avatars and stay cocooned in our hideyholes to avoid interaction with the real world, and this seems to increasingly seem likely, then Vietnam is going to want to be at the forefront of adoption.

Right now Southeast Asia is largely divided in its treatment of cryptocurrency and blockchain. Singapore and Malaysia allow it, Thailand, Vietnam, and others prohibit it. Vietnam has an opportunity to step into a position of leadership in digitalization and technological advancement by properly recognizing the potentialities of blockchain, move 2 earn, NFTs, and cryptocurrency.

But as I’ve said elsewhere, this requires a much more nimble regulatory process. Right now a law goes through approximately a year of drafting before it is read at the national assembly in two consecutive assemblies before it is finally passed and promulgated. This multi-year process prevents the government from reacting to new technologies in a timely manner, leaving them to respond to years old technology that has moved beyond the drafted laws by the time it actually becomes law.

There have been some attempts at this with pilot schemes (see ride hailing and mobile money), but the regulatory sandbox that has been promised for nearly two years now remains mired in some kind of legislative muck. The prime minister has given an in principle approval but there has yet to be a pronouncement of any kind initiating the sandbox. This needs to change if Vietnam hopes to be able to take advantage of the technologies presenting themselves and to be able to deal with the efforts of both legitimate and criminal actors who seek to utilize them.

For we have seen with cryptocurrency the effectiveness of simply prohibiting its use. Vietnam ranks consistently as the global leader of cryptocurrency adoption despite the fact that the government has prhobited its use for legal tender. Vietnamese will flock to these new technologies as they do to any potentially profitable venture. It is better to be part of the movement with a reactive and advanced legislative procedure rather than waiting until problems emerge, prohibiting the technology, and seeing it adopted despite the ban.