What Is Metaverse, And Why You Should Care About It.
If you are a person who uses the internet a lot — chances are you probably have heard about Metaverse in the recent month, either in a good or bad light.
You might have heard that the Metaverse will replace the internet.
Or perhaps we should all live there. Or maybe the tech giants such as Meta (previously called Facebook) or Epic, Roblox, or dozens of smaller companies are trying to take over the world. Or maybe it is somehow associated with blockchains or NFTs.
There are many speculations, doubts, theories, and opinions about the Metaverse all over the internet.
Well, the only thing you need to know about Metaverse right now is — that it does not exist (as of now). This is merely a dream of the future of the internet and an extremely neat way to reflect current trends in online infrastructure — including the rise of the real-time 3D world.
But for now, let’s hop onto the bandwagon and understand what exactly is the Metaverse, its history, and everything else you need to know about it.
The History Of Metaverse
The term “metaverse” was originally coined in Neil Stevenson’s groundbreaking 1992 cyberpunk novel — Snow Crash.
In the book, the Metaverse, which is always capitalized in Stevenson’s novels) is a shared “imaginary place” that is opened to the public via fiber-optic networks worldwide and is projected onto virtual reality glasses.
And in this world, the developers can build things that do not exist in reality, such as vast hovering overhead light shows, or special societies or localities where the rules of three-dimensional spacetime do not exist. It could even be free-combat zones where people can go hunting and kill each other — more like a virtual battle royale game such as PUBG, where you would be in the game, fighting and killing people.
Why Is It Trending Now?
It all started when Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, and his colleagues used the word ‘Metaverse’ in their keynote speech — more than 80 times in less than 90 minutes in their Facebook Connect event in October.
While Stevenson made it very clear to the public that there isn’t any business partnership between him and Meta — that means that Meta’s interpretation of “metaverse” can be very different from what Stevenson originally described.
Although the Meta rebranding is driving much of the metaverse story these days, which is nearly 30 years after Snow Crash, many online networks have implemented some or most of what Stevenson’s book describes.
This “metaverse” effort included many online games and places that did not even use terminology but reflected the most important metaverse concepts with astonishing details.
So, what Is Metaverse?
In the simplest form of words — think of Metaverse as a mixture of reality and the internet, where the internet is brought to life with the help of tools such as Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality.
Zuckerberg himself described Meta as a “virtual environment” you can step into instead of just looking at the screens of your devices like you do in the case of augmented reality.
Thus, Metaverse can be defined as a world of endless interconnected devices with the help of the internet where you can connect, interact and do every other thing that you can do in real life — with the help of virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, smartphone apps or other devices.
And that is not it.
According to Victoria Petrock, an analyst who follows emerging technologies, Metaverse could also incorporate all the other aspects of your digital life, such as shopping, talking, and social media.
“It’s the next evolution of connectivity where all of those things start to come together in a seamless, doppelganger universe, so you’re living your virtual life the same way you’re living your physical life,” she said.
And Why Should You Care About The Metaverse?
- Blockchain Could Be The Starting Light For The Metaverse
Early this year, when the cryptocurrency boom was in full swing, the price of a currency called MANA began to rise on the chart of the popular digital currency exchange Coinbase.
MANA is the currency of the virtual world called Decentraland, with digital land worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in March. After juggling around 10 cents over two years — MANA briefly crossed $1.60 in April, bringing the combined value of all tokens to over $2.4 billion.
Decentraland is close to a commune in size — with hundreds of people. Then thousands logged in at once from the peak of March, which consisted of user-created NFTs. The creators described platforms as infrastructure for building places rather than places. (Decentraland currency and land contracts run on the Ethereum blockchain.)
Decentraland residents are continuously creating scenes & experiences for other users, such as concerts and art exhibitions. In addition, there are legit casinos where you can play MANA, and croupiers paid by MANA come to work.
The feeling that Decentraland is a work in progress spreads across a sparsely populated grid of semi-construction plots and themed areas. However, between events, users mostly wander and wonder — so what next?
The speculators look less confused. After all, Decentraland is primarily an experiment that lacks digital property. Nevertheless, in October last month, Republic Realm, which calls itself a “digital real estate company,” acquired NFT virtual real estate at 259 sites in Decentraland for a whopping 1.2 million MANA, which is over $900,000 at current exchange rates.
Sotheby’s, which acquired a small estate in the Decentraland Arts District and built a replica of a London gallery, recently closed its first exhibition on Decentraland.
Michael Bouhanna oversaw the sale, estimated that 90% of the 3,200 gallery visitors had little or no understanding of Sotheby’s or what it does, but the exercise helped existing customers understand the NFTs the auction house was already selling.
Thus, what sets Decentraland apart from its predecessors, such as Second Life, a virtual world owned and functionalized by a privately owned group named Linden Labs, is that it is fairly decentralized. According to the founders of Decentraland, the plan has always been for users to own the world, build and do what they want.
In contrast, Dave Carr, a spokesperson for the Decentraland Foundation, said, “Fortnite is a centralized experience as it feels like you’re playing a role here.”
- Discreet Identity — Your Avatars Will Do The Talking
This basic building block of the metaverse concept is what Zuckerberg is talking about when calling for a more “implemented” Internet.
You may be identified by your username or thumbnail image on websites or social networks, but in the Metaverse, you are represented as a customizable avatar that can move, speak, and perform animated actions.
These avatars have been common in various online games and SNS since the 1990s and are being used to date in games like Fortnite and PUBG. However, the loyalty and abilities of avatars can vary greatly from service to service.
Recent advances in virtual reality allow users to see with virtual eyes and use hand-tracking controllers to interact with gestures and virtual objects to truly create fantastic avatars. A space like VRChat shows just how complex VR avatars can be as of today!
- A Neverending World For You To Live In
In some cases, it means a virtual world that mimics the limited space and land scarcity of the real world, as seen in the individual plots of Second Life.
And then in other cases, it simply means that the user is sharing a space created specifically for a particular game or a special event that is time-sensitive, such as a recent multimedia concert at Fortnite.
So in an ideal metaverse — each user has a single virtual world where elements and attributes are preserved for everyone between online sessions. However, for technical reasons, many modern metaverse spaces split users into shards of servers that a small group of users can interact with.
- Virtual Properties, Just Like Your Real Properties
This could mean anything from the Neopets JPGs associated with your account to the powerful collection of gear in World of Warcraft. In any case, your virtual assets remain connected to you and do not disappear between sessions.
Recently, people have tried to use non-fungible tokens as a decentralized way to track and establish ownership of virtual goods independent of regulators or corporate servers.
In theory, these NFTs would allow virtual goods to move freely between Metaverses and be controlled by different companies. But, unfortunately, the standards-setting and level of cross-company collaboration required for this kind of portability is still a futile dream.
- The Ability To Create Your Properties
Allowing users to create their metaverse properties can benefit both users who can create their virtual worlds and metaverse creators who don’t have to spend a lot of time and effort creating each virtual object from scratch.
Games like Minecraft and Roblox show how meta-universes that offer relatively simple building blocks leverage network effects and player creativity to create a very diverse range of creations around the world.
But populating the Metaverse with virtual objects is not as easy as saying “let the user do it“.
Control, arbitration, and copyright infringement issues can make a big difference here, especially if the Metaverse is controlled by a company that wants to profit from all this user-generated work (users want to share the profits).
- Sell And Buy Properties, Just Like The Real World
This can range from exchanging currencies outside supermarkets to producing gold in World of Warcraft to highly regulated universe-wide economies like EVE Online.
Somewhere in between, there are games like Second Life, where a dispute over player “ownership” of a virtual land created by publisher Linden Labs has been discussed in US courts.
- A Common IP-Based Universe, From All Major Companies
This element of the idea of the Metaverse was heavily popularized in the 2011 novel and 2018 film — Ready Player One.
The virtual world combines elements from numerous nostalgic media attributes, from Joust and Dungeons and Dragons to WarGames to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Media Consolidation helps with this concept by allowing a virtual world where Gandalf can fight the Bugs Bunny through the unexpected generosity of shared corporate parent company Warner Bros.
But transitions beyond the walled gardens of a single company are also becoming increasingly common. For example, Super Smash Bros. Nintendo, Microsoft characters in Ultimate interact with Sega, Square Enix, Capcom, Namco, Konami, and more.
Meanwhile, Fortnite has seen official crossovers from Disney/Marvel/Star Wars, John Wick, DC Comics, Ghostbusters, God of War, Halo, and the NFL.
- A Complete 3D Telepresence Using AR/VR Glasses
This is considered by many to be the last step towards reaching the “full” Metaverse. Finally, virtual reality and augmented reality allow us to walk past the “magic window” of a flat-screen into a world of true “presence” with other 3D avatars in the same place.
“It’s going to look like you’re in a room, looking at each other’s eyes, and not just seeing the plaid faces on the screen, it’s like you have a general sense of space,” Meta said in a speech.
Early developments like VRChat, the exclusive Horizon Worlds and Horizon Workplaces Metas already provide strong conceptual examples of how this could work.
But as Carmack pointed out last week, sharing a room with 16 other avatars in Horizon is “far from the metaverse of our vision”. Instead, Carmack suggests several technical challenges to overcome to create a virtual reality metaverse that “has thousands of people to roam” in and out of virtual rooms at will.
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And Who Is Going To Own The Metaverse?
In addition to these generalized components, it is also important to distinguish between “a metaverse” and “the metaverse”. It sounds the same, but changing the article before the word “metaverse” can profoundly affect its meaning.
The difference has to do with control.
Generally speaking, any legal entity or group of programmers can create a “metaverse” that meets some or all of the above criteria, just like anyone can create a social network.
In this case, one entity controls the server, controls user behavior, and sets rules for the virtual world.
There is a fully open architecture at the other end of the spectrum in which various entities and communication servers connect to a single shared metaverse through a common set of widely agreed-upon standards.
Advances like the World Wide Web and email show how this is possible in the wider online world, but similar attempts to set metaverse standards have in most cases been unsuccessful.
The book, Stevenson’s Snow Crash, describes something like a hybrid approach between the two.
Stevenson’s individual user view of Metaverse is “a graphical representation (user interface) of various software products developed by large corporations,” he wrote.
However, the virtual world inhabited by these pieces of software is controlled by the Global Multimedia Protocol Group, which requires developers to work together “to get zone approvals, permits, bribery inspectors and all that.”
Many companies are building some “metaverse”, but the ultimate goal for most seems to be to control the “metaverse”, the only place where everyone shares their online life.
Now, however, it seems unlikely that a single, corporate-controlled metaverse will become so popular. Without a viable decentralized standard, we would see dozens of balkanized metaverses competing for heart and market share without allowing much interaction.
Real-World Implications Of Metaverse
Training is one of the most common use cases. Post said that entertainment has been always considered as one of the first industries to offer virtual reality capabilities to customers, while manufacturing and healthcare were among the first to introduce mixed and augmented reality for employees.
Here are some examples of how businesses today are using the building blocks of Metaverse to provide distance learning and create new products and services.
- Sports & Entertainment
At game company Unity, Peter Moore leads Sports & Entertainment and recently launched the Unity Metacast. The platform displays professional sports in 3D in real-time.
The camera captures the athletes on the pitch, and the data creates a digital twin. The first 3D broadcast was a match between two MMA fighters filmed in a small arena with 106 cameras.
Moore told the Financial Times that he expects to expand the technology to fewer cameras and more playgrounds. Capturing life’s behavior and instantly digitizing it can simplify the creation of NFTs from memorable moments in your game.
The NBA’s approach to Top Shots cards (NFTs) can also be extended to other sports.
Doctors were one of the first groups to work together using AR. And Microsoft’s mixed reality headsets enable medical professionals around the world to virtually collaborate on 21st-century surgery.
Surgeons can control Microsoft HoloLens with hand gestures and voice commands to load 3D images from scanned images, access patient data, and communicate with other specialists. This hands-free control is a valuable asset for doctors and other healthcare professionals.
NASA uses AR and VR to remotely control robots or use AR to perform maintenance work on space stations. In one specific project, astronaut Scott Kelly used a Microsoft HoloLens headset to train on the ISS and prepare for future missions.
During this test, a member of the mission control station on Earth broadcast Kelly’s field of view through a headset and drew a 3D rendered image on the display of the HoloLens astronaut.
Frequently Asked Questions About The Metaverse (FAQs)
A. The metaverse is powered by cutting-edge technologies such as blockchain, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), 3D reconstruction, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of things (IoT).
A. Second Life, a virtual world platform launched in 2003, is often referred to as the first metaverse because it combined many aspects of social media into a persistent three-dimensional world with the user represented as an avatar.
A. Neal Stephenson, a science fiction writer, coined the term “metaverse” in 1992 to describe a 3D virtual space.