The metaverse is a vision for the future internet, where multiple persistent virtual worlds can co-exist and are connected. The metaverse transforms the internet today into an immersive place where you can live in an embodied manner using immersive technologies like Virtual- and mixed-Reality.
A metaverse is another vague idea that prominent tech personalities have adopted. Its meaning is still unclear, but in all its iterations, the idea behind the metaverse is to unite the internet into a shared virtual place where we can at least live part of our lives.
Where did the term “Metaverse” originate?
The term “metaverse“, like many other technical terms, was first used by Neal Stephenson, a well-known science fiction author. It was first introduced in his novel Snow Crash. Users see the metaverse of Snow Crash as a city environment. It is a 100-meter-wide road, which spans the circumference of a featureless virtual world. This is more than 40,000 miles worth of virtual roads!
You can purchase property in the metaverse, and then build your virtual buildings. Users can be avatars of any type, with the exception of size restrictions. Users can connect to the metaverse via VR terminals at their homes. Some users don’t leave the metaverse but carry their VR gear with them.
The Steven Spielberg film Ready Player One is one of the most vivid on-screen representations of a metaverse. Based on Ernest Cline’s novel, the characters spend most of their time in OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensive Immersive Simulation).
OASIS is a rich, complex virtual world that connects all things. Users can freely move from one place or another, as though they were all part of the same reality. OASIS is a virtual shared world that can also be played multiplayer, and has overarching scores or goals.
Cyberpunk fiction is dominated by metaverse-like virtual realms. Cyberpunk 2077 is a video game that simulates a tabletop RPG. “Netrunners” can experience the internet as a physical space.
The metaverse is even present in the Matrix, the 1999 film starring Keanu Reynolds as Neo. It’s just that the simulation’s participants don’t know it.
The metaverse concept predates the term, and many of the leaders of today’s tech companies grew up with it as an integral part of science fiction.
The Metaverse We Already Have
We have all experienced the metaverse over time, depending on how important certain metaverse concepts are to you. One metaverse precursor could be the text-based Multi-user Dungeons, (MUDs), that began with Colossal Cave Adventure in 1975.
MUDs are a precursor to modern MMORPGs like Everquest or World of Warcraft. These online worlds can be used to live another life. The spirit of a metaverse exists, even though MMORPGs are central to one provider.
Apps and games today offer a glimpse into at least a portion of the metaverse experience.
Online games such as World of Warcraft are an example of a metaverse-like experience. But some games are more explicit about it. Fortnite Battle Royale is a hugely popular game that has begun to grow. Epic Games attempted to create a GaaS (Games as a Service), title. It’s been a huge success.
Fortnite is much more than an online video game. It’. It’s a cultural phenomenon, a place people just hang out. Epic began to work with other brands and franchises within Fortnite in a manner that was very similar to Reader Player One.
The game was created to host large events and even a few virtual concerts featuring big-name artists.
Fortnite has officially added ” Partie Worlds.” This is “designed to allow players to hang out and play mini-games and make new friends.”
However, this doesn’t mean that other popular games won’t be trying to join the fun. Roblox may have a more solid reputation as a metaverse experience since it allows users to create their own worlds and experiences.
VR Social Platforms
Second-Life is the best example of a real-life metaverse. You can purchase property and virtual items in Second Life to use inside your virtual business or home. People can walk around in Second Life as their avatars, play, explore, flirt, etc., doing the same things that they would do in real life.
Second Life was founded in 2003. Although it isn’t as popular as it was then, it has a loyal following. There were plans to make Second Life a VR-friendly platform with a spinoff. However, that plan was abandoned. We didn’t have powerful, affordable virtual reality headsets like the Quest 2 at the time. VR penetration was low. It’s now easier to justify investing in these headsets as more people buy them.
Philip Rosedale, one of the founders and creators of Second Life, believes that the “iPhone moment” for VR headsets is still far away. Rosedale, however, is working to develop Second Life for the future.
We have VR-focused social networks like VRChat which allows you to bypass the VR requirement. The platform can be accessed in desktop mode using a regular monitor. This is similar to a Snow Crash user who used lower-end terminals. They could still participate, but only in a limited manner.
Facebook’s Vision of the Metaverse
Oculus was the VR company that Facebook purchased. Oculus already knew why they wanted to invest. The market is becoming more competitive, despite social media being a huge success. Facebook is also seeing a decline in user base, and a decrease in teenage users.
The company decided to rebrand itself and call it “Meta”, another hint at its metaverse plans. Mark Zuckerberg stated that the company plans to create a metaverse linking various products and systems for a cohesive digital universe. Oculus Quest’s success suggests that the company may have a strong user base to lure into the metaverse. However, they have backtracked from the Facebook requirement only for Quest users.
Although Facebook’s metaverse plans remain in their early stages, the Horizon Worlds app is available for Oculus Rift S and Quest2 users. This is a metaverse platform, formerly known as Facebook Horizons. It has a stronger game focus. Facebook had tried apps such as Oculus Rooms and Oculus Venues. Some of these could be accessed via the now-discontinued Oculus Go. Horizons is a motion-captured interactive world that’s built around user-generated content.
Horizon Worlds allows you to interact with others and have fun, but Horizon Workrooms offers virtual meeting rooms as well as integration with video calling technology. Apps like Workrooms will be competing directly with Zoom and Skype, given the rise in work-from-home due to the pandemic.
Microsoft’s Vision of the Metaverse
Microsoft is another important player in the metaverse, and should not be overlooked. They already have technology like the Microsoft Hololens headsets and Windows Mixed Reality. Their vast Azure data center resources, knowledge, and expertise are just a few of the many benefits. Microsoft has a wealth of experience in game development thanks to its PC history as well as its Xbox consoles. Despite the fact that both Sony’s previous PlayStations had VR options, VR is strangely absent from Xbox.
Microsoft has revealed metaverse plans for major video games like Minecraft or Halo. The company has been very open about its views on the metaverse. They published a YouTube video entitled What’s Microsoft’s Metaverse?
The video clearly explains everything. Microsoft simply states that they view a metaverse to be a digital space where people can meet, play and work. It’s an internet that you can interact with. Microsoft stresses that its goal is to develop avatar systems that allow you to bring your full-embodied humanity into this metaverse. One example of this is projecting Microsoft Teams participants into virtual auditoriums.
Microsoft believes that technology such as real-time translators are necessary to allow people in the metaverse to work, socialize, play, and communicate together. It is obvious that language barriers will also be in play as our physical distance becomes irrelevant in this metaverse.
Mixed Reality is the key to the Metaverse
The technology and software that are necessary to make the metaverse possible are still being developed. VR technology has seen a huge leap in 2016, with the OculusRift’s commercial release. However, VR systems aren’t the best way to integrate metaverse information into our daily lives.
Mixed reality is truly metaverse technology. You can choose to move from full VR to mixed reality where the physical and virtual worlds are seamlessly blended. Wearable hardware must be small enough to be worn for hours per day, or even permanently. Imagine a device that is as small as Google Glass but with more features than Hololens 2 and Quest 2.
Virtual Reality is the most common way to view metaverse concepts. Mixed Reality is offering the flexibility to seamlessly move between the physical and metaverse worlds or create a hybrid between them. Future headsets will be lighter and more comfortable to wear all day. In the long-term, technology that connects you to virtual spaces may be implantable.
Metaverse Network Infrastructure
To make a metaverse, as it is conceived, you must shift large amounts of data across local and global networks. These networks must be reliable and low-latency. Being in the metaverse is all about interacting in real-time with others in a virtual environment. It’s bad enough to have a moment or two of latency on a Skype call, but imagine if the people in your immersive virtual universe were just a fraction of a second behind you!
The network infrastructure is not yet available to create a true global metaverse. The closest thing is probably the 5G millimeter-wave mesh technology. However, it is not yet common and will only be available in select areas.
5G mesh networks can be used to support both bandwidth-hungry and low-latency applications. Imagine a fleet of drone delivery vehicles flying around a city. All of these drones can now be controlled remotely via a 5G mesh. 5G networks are ideal for the internet of things. Millions of devices can be connected to the internet and share data.
Networks will be able to transmit audio and video data in embodied metaverses. They also have to support the motion and spatial mapping.
Web3 and Metaverse
Another buzzword, “Web3”, has added to the excitement surrounding the metaverse. This is not the Web 3.0 you may have heard about, but rather a new architecture for internet that uses decentralized systems. Instead of large data centers centrally located, the internet is spread across the web. To provide all of the online services, you can combine the processing power as well as the storage capabilities of all your computers.
NFTs are non-fungible tokens. Cryptocurrency, Blockchain, smart contracts, and dApps are all examples of Web3 technology. Mark Zuckerberg may see the metaverse as the unification of all tech giants’ online resources. However, Web3 distributed simulations might be the true metaverse. Crypto could be the working currency in the virtual world of the metaverse, at the most.
The Metaverse could be either a Utopia or Dystopia.
Many people are concerned about the implications of a true metaverse for society and individuals. This is not surprising considering other technologies, such as robotic automation and social media, can also cause concerns. It is a good idea to be cautious about new technologies and there are real merits to many of these issues.
What if, for example, people begin to prefer relationships with AI and virtual agents in metaverse? Are there new forms of cyberbullying and scams possible? Is it possible for people to become more sedentary due to technology?
The utopian side of this fence could see the metaverse as a place where people can live in a friendlier version of reality, while the physical body remains in the real world. Many metaverse implementations, just like current VR, will require you to move your body. Perhaps the problem of being sedentary could perhaps be addressed.
It’s difficult to predict the impact technology will have on social change. Our societies have already adapted to the new world of smart devices and social media, for better or worse. The experimental Neuralink brain implant technology may increase some types of psychological or physical risk over the long term however, this is something that will only be determined with time.
Explore the Metaverse Deeper
Whatever vision of the metaverse is closest to what we get, you can expect more information about it as key technologies mature. There will be many metaverse rivals for your attention when a company like Apple launches its rumored AR headset and the Oculus Quest becomes affordable enough that everyone can afford one.
We recommend the nine-part Metaverse Primer by Matthew Ball if you are interested in deepening your understanding of the metaverse’s social, technical, and business aspects. This is a fantastic resource that will help to grasp key concepts and the vast scope of the metaverse without requiring an advanced degree.