The Metaverse Explained
The concept of a metaverse has been around for some time, but during the past few years, it has become a new buzzword as some major companies have shown great interest in building simulated worlds that closely model our reality.
Over the past year, the term “metaverse” has been ringing in our ears, and in one way or another, everyone has heard about it.
The Metaverse was brought to the mainstream by no other than Mark Zuckerberg, who in July 2021 said that Facebook’s future belongs to the Metaverse.
To prove his words have weight, he named the company Meta and promised to spend billions of dollars on rebuilding the Metaverse platform.
Naturally, this has caught a lot of interest. Now, many major corporations like Microsoft and Disney and some innovative startups are working towards entering the metaverse market, which is predicted to reach over $780 billion by 2024.
But what exactly is Metaverse, and why should regular people care about it? Let's take a look at what the concept consist of and what effect it will have on the way we live and work.
What is Metaverse?
The term Metaverse was actually first introduced in 1992 when Neil Stephenson explored the concept in his novel Snow Crash. In his story, the characters use digital avatars to explore the digital world and interact with each other while escaping their dystopian reality.
And the concept of the Metaverse remains the same - it is usually used to describe an online space for people to socialise, work and play with avatars that are a visual representation of their identities.
However, despite gaining popularity, the metaverse is still a fuzzy term for people outside the industry.
To put it simply, Metaverse can be seen as a story we are telling of what a future of technology can look like, keeping in mind virtual reality, augmented reality, high-speed internet connections, and some kind of motion-abled spaces where to connect with other people.
The roles of VR, AR and MR in the Metaverse
One way to think about the metaverse is that it has already existed for a long time, and most of us have been part of it even without knowing it as there are multiple options to participate in a virtual world that parallels our lives in the real world.
So, whether you have been engaged in gaming, either in multiplayer or immersive games, or you have been engaging in some sort of online community, you have most likely already had some kind of a metaverse experience already.
For instance, Roblox and Minecraft have been building virtual worlds for years. Games like Second Life, Fortnite, Minecraft, and other similar games have all incorporated aspects of virtual (VR), augmented (AR), or mixed reality (MR) to create immersive experiences for users.
While no one is sure how the metaverse will function in the future, it’s certain that technologies like VR, AR, and MR will play an essential part in forming the metaverse. Therefore, it’s necessary to understand how these technologies work.
Virtual reality refers to entirely digital spaces that are accessed with hardware like Oculus headsets. These headsets use special lens technology, cameras, and motion tracking controllers that fully immerse you in their digital world and make objects seem real even if they aren’t.
VR can be used in any space, but as it doesn’t account for the user’s actual surroundings, it’s recommended to use VR technology in a spacious setting to avoid accidents like bumping into things in the real environment.
VR real-life examples
- Some popular fashion brands like Tommy Hilfiger have taken advantage of VR to boost customers' retail experience with an immersive 360-degree experience of fashion shows by giving them access to in-store virtual reality headsets.
- For creatives among us, there are apps like Tilt Brush that let users paint in 3D space without the 2D canvas limiting creativity.
- Of course, there are also virtual worlds like VRChat where people can come together to interact, create avatars, build worlds and just play around and have fun.
Augmented reality is similar to VR, but it’s a different technology. AR brings digital objects into the real world often with no headset required, although there are some AR headsets on the market.
As AR exists on top of our real world and enables users to see the actual environment together with augmented elements, including sounds, graphics, videos, etc., over our phone screens, some experts see augmented reality as a gateway to broader acceptance of the metaverse.
So unlike VR, AR technology doesn’t require interaction with the user’s space, and it can be on top of any surface of our real world and acts as a static background for it.
Remember Pokemon Go which took the world by storm in 2016? This is an excellent example of how augmented reality can be included in our everyday lives.
Other examples of AR are the notorious Snapchat and TikTok filters and virtual makeup and furniture fittings.
Mixed reality or a hybrid reality is merging the virtual and physical worlds in order to create a new environment where interactions between virtual and physical objects are enabled in real-time.
MR devices gather new information about their surroundings all the time and, therefore, can be seen as an enhanced version of AR.
Mixed reality real-life examples
- Microsoft has introduced Windows 11 mixed reality-ready PC devices to improve learning experiences through which students can learn with actual experiences instead of traditional visual or audio learning methods.
- Magic Leap has a collection of MR games, including some high-profile franchises like Angry Birds. With MR technology, the classic Angry Birds elements can be put right in the middle of your living room, where you can walk around them to find weaknesses in the pigs’ tower's defense and much more.
NFTs and the metaverse
Besides the above-mentioned technologies, nonfungible tokens (NFTs) are believed to play a huge role in the usefulness and popularity of the metaverse.
Before we continue, let’s quickly go over what NFT is.
NFTs are unique cryptographic blockchain-held tokens that represent a unique asset – whether physical or digital. They also provide its owners a proof of authenticity and ownership. This is why it is believed to make waves in the metaverse as people can easily buy, sell and trade their assets.
Some ways companies have already found uses for NFTs in the metaverse
With apps like VRChat that have already established themselves as spaces for communication in VR, it can be assumed that such spaces can also be successful places for NFT trading. Such platforms provide sellers the opportunity to easily share links and previews to the assets or even mint assets directly in the VR landscape.
Brands in various industries have already shown interest in VR and NFT marketplaces working together. For instance, Nike has made its move to the metaverse by teaming up with Roblox and creating its own virtual Nikeland, where users can dress up their avatars in Nike-branded sneakers and apparel.
Moreover, they have also acquired a studio (RTFKT) that is known for making NFTs of products, so it’s safe to assume that it’s only a matter of time before these two concepts meet in the Nikeworld.
VR has already proven to be a great way to view art as it’s possible to see art up close and observe every detail from every angle. The way this solution differs from a marketplace is that the prices are already set for the artworks and the assets are all of the same type (artworks).
Already, many museums, exhibitions and individuals are placing NFT artwork in metaverses such as Cryptovoxels that runs on Ethereum blockchain.
Cryptovoxels hosts both pop-up and also permanent galleries that are accessible via desktop browser, phone, or headset. The navigation provides multiple perspectives to observe the artworks such as a bird’s eye view and third person view.
All the objects are clickable for a detail view that usually redirects to an NFT marketplace and/or to a relevant social media channels.
This platform already represents a functional version of the metaverse that combines interactivity, interaction with others and access to data and art. However, the quality of the experience is determined by the hardware used and the speed on the internet connection.
What will the future bring to the Metaverse?
Enthusiasts believe that the metaverse will drastically change their daily lives and create a huge shift towards an online world.
Entertainment companies like the Stageverse, which digitally reproduces concerts and festivals, have been operating in a metaverse-like environment for years. But with more companies adapting to the hybrid work model, the metaverse could also come to the world of work.
PWC report from 2020 predicts that nearly 23.5 million jobs worldwide will use AR and VR by 2030. The technology will be used for tasks like employee training, meetings, and customer service.
So it’s clear why the platform is envisioned to be the place to attend meetings, conferences, concerts, and let people explore the world together with friends.
However, many experts feel that the technologies need drastic changes before all of this can happen. Some things requiring attention in the creation of the metaverse before a global adoption can happen are
- improving the headsets, which are not yet ready for prolonged use as they cause motion sickness
- the consumption of energy - the amount of computing power that is needed to enable billions of people to use a parallel universe is enormous and is not the most sustainable approach in a world that is trying to become more carbon efficient
- the increased risk of bullying an harrassment - repeating problems already evident in social media like biased bullying, misinformation, and harassment can be significally magnified in a space where our brain has been tricked to believe that we are really there.
Therefore, while Meta and other companies look at Metaverse as the evolution of the internet, there are still numerous things to solve before metaverse could be truly accessible and work effectively for a lot of people.
Metaverse And Multiple Platforms
As various Metaverse companies will have different virtual worlds, the question of how users can move seamlessly between them and if the metaverse will ever be able to come together as a single platform is still under question.
Zuckerberg who is definitely one of the leaders of the creation of the metaverse believes that companies need to work together so people could use the metaverse freely between platforms and experiences.
For instance, if you have an avatar in Meta’s metaverse ideally you should be able to use the same avatar when moving to another platform. That, however, is easier said than done.
Try to imagine Roblox-style lego experiences and take your avatar from there to an environment like Fortnite. It just wouldn’t work as it’s supposed to and you would need to have two completely different versions of your avatar.
That’s where the fundamental challenges of merging of metaverses come as no two metaverses are really able to deliver the same experiences.
Therefore, only the future can show how exactly the metaverse will really come to life and if it will allow global adoption.
Without a doubt, the metaverse is slowly becoming a reality. It has already made its way to different aspects of our daily lives in forms of games and real-world applications.
Even now that metaverse it’s still in the early stages of development, it’s clear that companies and individuals alike see a lot of potential in the concept.
While it’s still unclear if the metaverse will be able to live up to its promises or fail to live up to the hype, it’s certain that we are going to hear more and more about the metaverse in the years to come.