hat is the Metaverse?
The latest buzzword to capture the tech industry’s imagination, the “Metaverse” is the next big thing — so much so that Facebook is rebranding to signal its support for the futuristic idea.
The announcement by CEO Mark Zuckerberg last month that Facebook will be renamed Meta Platforms Inc., or Meta for short, could be the most significant development in the metaverse since 1992, when Neal Stephenson coined the term in his SF novel “Snow Crash.”
But what exactly is the metaverse?
The term “metaverse” is a broad one. It usually refers to shared virtual world environments that people can access online.
The phrase can apply to digital settings that have been enhanced with virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR).
Some people also use the term metaverse to refer to virtual worlds where players can roam around and interact with other players.
There’s also a sort of metaverse that makes use of blockchain technology. Users can use cryptocurrency to purchase virtual land and other digital goods.
Many science fiction books and movies are set in full-fledged metaverses, which are alternate digital worlds indistinguishable from the real one. However, this is still a work of fiction. The vast majority of virtual spaces currently look like the interior of a video game rather than real life.
Who will build the metaverse?
There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about how to develop the metaverse and who will build it first.
To appreciate the enthusiasm with which firms rush to fill this new frontier, one just needs to look at Facebook and Google’s internet success now, considering how both companies dominate the digital industry.
Observing that quest, there’s a good chance that Fortnite, the video game that has converted celebrities into players and players into celebrities, has been laying the groundwork for the internet’s future right in front of our eyes.
In light of the current shelter-in-place reality in reaction to the coronavirus outbreak, discussion of a more physical, actualized Internet seems all the more pertinent.
In recent years, office culture has converged around video chat services like Zoom, while personal cultural landmarks such as marriages and graduations have been handled in Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Not only does the metaverse appear plausible, but it also appears to be quite useful right now.
The most widely agreed-upon essential characteristics of a metaverse are that it’s always active and persistent — with both planned and unplanned events occurring at all times — while also providing an experience that spans and works across platforms and the actual world. A metaverse must also have its own fully operating economy and no actual audience cap.
Why is the concept taking off?
The metaverse is seen as the next step in the evolution of the internet by its proponents.
People currently communicate with one another online via visiting websites such as social media platforms or messaging apps. The metaverse’s concept is that it will establish new online places where people may interact in more multi-dimensional ways, allowing users to immerse themselves in digital information rather than just watching it.
The COVID-19 epidemic may be to blame for the increased interest in the metaverse. As more individuals work and go to school online, there has been a rise in the desire for techniques to make online contact more lifelike.
Why is Facebook involved in the metaverse?
Facebook has made the creation of the metaverse one of its top priorities.
It has put a lot of money into virtual reality with its Oculus headsets, making them less expensive than competitors — possibly even at a loss, according to some experts.
The company is also working on developing virtual reality apps for both office and social gatherings, including ones that interact with the actual world.
Facebook maintains that the metaverse “will not be developed overnight by a single corporation” and has pledged to collaborate despite a history of acquiring competitors.
It recently funded $50 million in non-profit organizations to help “responsibly build the metaverse.”
However, Facebook believes that the actual metaverse concept will take another 10 to 15 years to develop.
Who else is getting involved?
Tim Sweeney, the CEO of Epic Games (the company behind Fortnite), has long expressed his desire to create a metaverse.
Shared interactive worlds have been in online multiplayer games for decades. They are not the metaverse, but they share certain concepts.
Fortnite has been expanding its product in recent years, holding concerts, brand events, and more within its own digital environment. Many people were blown away by what was possible, and Tim Sweeney’s concept of the metaverse was catapulted into the forefront.
Consumer brands are also attempting to capitalize on the trend. Gucci, an Italian fashion business, teamed up with Robloxin June to sell a line of digital-only accessories. Clinique and Coca Cola both sold digital tokens that were marketed as a way into the metaverse.
What will you be able to do in the metaverse?
The possibilities are truly endless, with some quick examples including things like attending a virtual concert, taking a virtual vacation, and trying on digital apparel before purchasing.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the metaverse could be a game-changer for the work-from-home shift. Employees could see their co-workers virtually instead of on a video call grid.
Within these platforms, musicians can perform virtual concerts. According to Epic Games, millions of people watched Ariana Grande perform virtually in Fortnite in September 2021.
Does the technology for the metaverse exist yet?
High-end headsets that can fool the human eye into seeing in 3D as the user walks around a virtual world have come a long way in recent years. It’s also gotten more common; in 2020, the Oculus Quest 2 VR gaming device was a popular Christmas present.
The surge in interest in NFTs, which may give a reliable means to trace the ownership of digital products, may indicate how a virtual economy would operate.
In addition, more advanced digital worlds will require stronger, more consistent, and more mobile connectivity, which 5G may be able to provide.
But, for the time being, everything is in its infancy. The evolution of the metaverse — if it happens at all — will be fought for the next decade, if not longer, among tech giants.
What makes Zuckerberg’s metaverse vision unique?
Mark Zuckerberg appears to be hoping that people will use a virtual reality headset to access his virtual world, similar to how Hiro did in Snow Crash.
It’s a crucial distinction. Most multiplayer online games, such as Fortnite and Second Life, are played on a PC monitor or TV connected to a gaming console such as an Xbox or PlayStation.
The rest of Zuckerberg’s metaverse concept appears to be in the works. However, he has posted photos of Horizon, a virtual reality office setting that would take advantage of the pandemic’s shift to virtual work.
Zuckerberg laid the basis for this in 2014 when he paid $2 billion for Palmer Luckey’s VR headset company, Oculus. Facebook has already purchased more than a half-dozen other VR-focused firms, including Within, a Los Angeles-based boutique game developer, for more than $1 billion, committing more than $1 billion to the ongoing shopping frenzy.
Will the metaverse replace the internet?
That’s not necessarily going to happen, but it’s certainly how it’s being discussed. Mark Zuckerberg defined the metaverse as “an embodied internet” in an interview with The Verge, describing it as “an improved version of the internet” where individuals can have “different experiences that you couldn’t necessarily do on a 2D app or webpage.”
In The Washington Post, Tim Sweeney imagines the metaverse as a sort of a playground where users may play a game like Fortnite with their friends one minute, and then watch a movie from Netflix the next. If you imagine a place where you can view films, play games with your friends, and shop for items, it will resemble the internet.
It’s not easy to tell whether the metaverse will ever leave the realm of science fiction. If it does, it will likely change the way people interact with each other and with the internet.
The metaverse represents Facebook’s opportunity to dominate the next frontier of computing, possibly even developing the metaverse equivalent of an app store before competitors. The outcomes could be extremely profitable, or they could be like Second Life, where the reality falls short of the hype.
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