While many people have started to get used to concepts such as blockchain, cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), the metaverse is something that’s still relatively new. In fact, until Mark Zuckerberg took the step to change the name of Facebook to Meta, many had probably not even heard of the term ‘metaverse’.
With Zuckerberg sparking a whole new interest in the metaverse phenomenon, many are trying to get to grips with just what it’s all about. So let’s dive in and see what we know so far.
What is the metaverse?
If you want to know where the term ‘metaverse’ came from in the first place, you’d need to look back to a book published in 1992: Neal Stephenson’s science fiction novel, Snow Crash, in which the idea was first introduced. Snow Crash described a futuristic, almost virtual world that isn’t a million miles away from the heavily digitalised world we live in today.
Fast forward, and today’s idea of the metaverse combines a whole host of existing and developing technologies. These include the likes of:
- Virtual reality (VR);
- Augmented reality (AR); and
- Eye tracking
All used to create a virtual experience that’s on a whole new level.
One way to look at the metaverse is as a cyberspace that offers a completely digital immersive experience. As Zuckerberg himself has famously put it: "the internet that you're inside of, rather than just looking at.”
Think of the internet as something you browse and interact with from outside, and the metaverse as something that builds on that to create an even more immersive experience. Using AR and then VR technology, the metaverse would be something that mimics the physical world, something that you could 'live' in.
Though the term 'the metaverse' is used to describe the virtual world, there are actually multiple metaverses in existence today. Each one has its own conception of what metaverse means, including:
- social networking based virtual reality (e.g.Meta)
- game-focused virtual worlds (e.g. Roblox); and
- blockchain-based environments (e.g. The Sandbox).
The meaning of the term metaverse is still evolving and yet to be determined. Just as today we have a range of operating systems and internet browsers to choose from, it's possible many metaverses will exist in the future. The question is which ones will become most popular and dominate the virtual space over time.
Open source vs. proprietary metaverse concepts
One of the conversations in the metaverse debate is whether ‘the metaverse’ will be open source or proprietary. Will a virtual replica world (or worlds) form an open ecosystem, freely accessible, interoperable and governable by its community? Or will such systems be gated, IP-protected and fiercely moated by their tech owners?
Advocates of cryptocurrency and public blockchain technology believe it can be used to advance free, open, user-empowered visions of the digital world; while big tech continues to work in developing the sophisticated technology and hardware required to bring such visions to life in the first place.
It seems likely the future leaves a place for both, and for deliberate user choice in the sorts of products they wish to consume.
Crypto and the metaverse
Right now, there are a whole host of video games each with their own forms of 3D immersive worlds. Within these worlds, players are able to purchase items for their characters such as new skins, weapons and other digital goods. It makes sense that, were we to embrace fully digital environments as the metaverse trend suggests, we would also use digital-only money to make a purchase. Cryptocurrencies already have significant traction in this regard so have a high chance of being used – at least in the ‘open’ metaverse.
There is a move in some games to these digital goods becoming NFTs and when that’s the case purchases will be brought even closer to the blockchain.
Blockchain technology is the biggest link between crypto and the metaverse. Developed to allow the use of crypto, it’s also a potentially vital element of the metaverse architecture.
It’s very early days when it comes to the metaverse but there is a real buzz surrounding this technology and what it could lead to. Augmented and Virtual Reality in gaming is trending and in 2021, there was a 60.8% increase in the sales of AR and VR headsets in the APAC (Asia-Pacific) region.
The digital marketplace is also gaining traction, with large brands such as Nike launching digital wearables.
Digital art galleries are also increasing in popularity – with a market worth $2.4bn. In these digital galleries, artists and digital creators can display their NFT exhibitions.
Digital real estate is another trend that is set to take off even more in 2022. Digital land owners are even able to monetise by renting or allowing access to these properties just like in the real world, not to mention the new world of digital brand and advertising opportunities.
The future of the metaverse
While today’s uses seem to lean heavily towards gaming such as Second Life, Minecraft and Fortnite, there are a whole host of other applications to look forward to.
It could well be the case that we’ll be able to attend concerts from the world’s biggest bands, all within a virtual environment. It could be that we’re able to witness the most popular sporting events or even attend work meetings ‘in person’ as a digital avatar of ourselves without leaving our homes.
As well as making it easier to communicate with people who are far away, the metaverse could also play a part in virtual doctors appointments, education, shopping and even travel – where you can visit different places around the world. While many people may dislike the idea of replacing the physical world with a digital one, the metaverse could be revolutionary for people with disabilities.
The reality is that the potential applications of technology are endless. It is up to us how we apply it.