A 3D Internet
What is the metaverse?
The metaverse is an endless series of connected virtual worlds where people can work, play, shop, learn, create and interact with others across the globe.
How does it work?
- Strap on a VR headset or AR goggles
- Grab a smart device/console
- Create a customized avatar
- Interact with others —
a. Teleport to a Teams meeting, sit around a virtual conference table and engage with colleagues via avatars that project their voice, and relay real-time facial expressions and gestures
b. Step out of the meeting and invite friends from around the world to a virtual pickup basketball game
c. Float to a virtual shopping mall, have your avatar try on new clothes, and make in-world purchases that travel with your avatar across metaverses
d. Flit to an underwater universe to learn about sea life
e. Flick to your parent’s digital living room and catch up with family at the end of the day
Why is it called the “metaverse?”
The term was coined in 1992 by author Neal Stephenson in his scifi novel Snow Crash. In the book, the “metaverse” is a shared “imaginary place” that is “made available to the public” via the web. People strap on VR goggles to escape life and engage with others via avatars that live in realistic or fictional environments.
Who can create a metaverse?
Any group of programmers can create a metaverse, similar to the way anyone can create a social media app.
What are the components of a metaverse?
- Universe — metaverse makers create and manage the environment by setting the rules and policing user conduct
- Avatar — a 3D representation of players that can take any physical form and move seamlessly move between environments.
- Digital assets — users can create or purchase digital assets including homes, clothing, and cars that carry over from one environment to the next.
Who is developing a metaverse?
- Meta (fka Facebook)— In Sept. 2021, Meta announced a plan to invest $50 million in research and partnerships to develop metaverse technology. The company already invested in the metaverse through Oculus VR headsets, and launched an enterprise meeting software called Horizon Workrooms to use in tandem with the headsets. Currently, Meta is working on developing AR glasses and wristband technologies. Zuckerberg believes the metaverse can replace the internet, as he writes in the 2021 Founders Letter, “The next platform…will be an even more immersive…internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it…we call this the metaverse.”
- Microsoft — Xbox Live already connects millions of gamers across the globe. Microsoft-owned Minecraft, the digital equivalent of Legos that allows players to create their own characters and build virtual constructions, has 140M+ monthly active users. Microsoft and the U.S. Army are collaborating on an AR Hololens headset for military training purposes, and Microsoft Teams demonstrated plans to introduce holograms and virtual avatars in 2022.
- Epic Games, creator of Fortnite — The company raised $1 billion from investors to build a metaverse. Fornite already hosted concerts by Ariana Grande and Travis Scott, premiered movie trailers and music debuts and did a re-imagining of MLK Jr.’s 1963 speech “I Have A Dream.” Their MetaHuman Creator allows users to create customized avatars. And the company partnered with Balenciaga to create outfits for avatars.
- Roblox — The gaming platform founded in 2004 envisions the metaverse as a place where people can come together through “3D experiences to learn, work, play, create and socialize.” Founder and CEO David Baszucki tweeted “thank you” to the players who helped bring the platform “one step closer to fulfilling our vision of the #Metaverse” through user-generated content. Roblox partnered with skateboarding shoe company Vans to create Vans World, a virtual skateboarding park, and Italian fashion house Gucci to open a Gucci Garden, where users can buy clothing and accessories for their avatars.
What are some metaverse concerns?
- Data privacy — Meta aims to continue harvesting personal data to sell targeted ads in the metaverse. In a recent earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg says “Ads are going to continue being an important part of the strategy across the social media parts of what we do, and it will probably be a meaningful part of the metaverse, too.”
- Replacing/escaping reality — John Hanke, founder and CEO of Niantic, creator of Pokémon Go, believes technology should be used to augment reality, not replace it — “We believe we can use technology to lean into the ‘reality’ of augmented reality — encouraging everyone, ourselves included, to stand up, walk outside, and connect with people and the world around us….Technology should be used to make these core human experiences better — not to replace them.”
- Health issues— Internet, social media and video game addiction can cause mental and physical problems over time including anxiety, depression, and obesity.
- Cultural inequality — Those with smaller budgets for headsets and computing power may experience shaky connectivity (if any) which can create cultural inequality if the metaverse becomes a channel for education, training or dating opportunities.
What accelerated interest in the metaverse?
According to an article published by Reuters in October 2021, the transition to remote life from covid “increased demand to make online interaction more lifelike.”
When will the metaverse become mainstream?
Zuckerberg estimates it can be as soon as five to 10 years, since aspects of the metaverse already exist including ultra-fast broadband speeds, VR headsets and persistent online worlds on platforms like Roblox, Fortnite and Minecraft.
- New jobs— In Oct. 2021, Facebook announced plans to hire 10k people in Europe to help build their metaverse.
- New investment opportunities — Zuckerberg believes AR glasses will become as widespread as smartphones, so the materials used to manufacture the equipment may be a forward thinking investment.