This Metaverse is going to be far more pervasive and powerful than anything else. If one central company gains control of this, they will become more powerful than any government and be a god on Earth. Timothy Dean Sweeney (Epic Games)
Before I begin, I would like to inform those of you who are well-versed in the Metaverse concept that this article may not be for you, that the vast majority of people I have spoken to have no idea what the Metaverse is, and it is to them that I write.
There are currently many definitions and speculations on what the Metaverse is and how it should be defined, for this article I will be sticking with a definition from the Metaverse Primer by venture capitalist and writer Matthew Ball (who was previously head of strategy at Amazon Studios):
The Metaverse is a massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds which can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users, and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments.
To put it simply, the Metaverse is a virtual universe made up of connected experiences built to be cross-platform. That is, it isn't just accessible by VR headsets alone, but a whole range of devices including but not limited to computer systems, gaming consoles, mobile phones, XR hardware not leaving out physical presence.
The term Metaverse comes from Neal Stephenson’s 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash, where it was used to describe a VR successor to the internet. The Novel inspired the popular Ready Player One movie, which portrays a possibility of what the Metaverse could shape up to look like. It is important to note however that the Novel proposes VR as the Metaverse of the future, but current trajectories and experts say otherwise. The Metaverse is perceived by many experts as the successor of mobile internet and 2D communications. Rather than just having access to the internet when virtually communicating with friends, the metaverse would empower us to exist within the internet in what will lead to increased Social Presence.
Social presence is important because it goes beyond just communicating in real-time, which your phone and various meeting apps can do, to communicating and interacting as if you are physically together, with gestures, reactions, impressions, and interactions playing a very big role, my article about the impact of Social presence and Co-presence dives deeper into this.
The concept of "presence" distinguishes the Internet from the metaverse; Matthew Ball, who has written extensively on the subject, defined the Metaverse in 2020 as possessing the seven qualities, the Metaverse must:
Be persistent – which is to say, it never “resets” or “pauses” or “ends”, it just continues indefinitely.
Be synchronous and live – even though pre-scheduled and self-contained events will happen, just as they do in “real life”, the Metaverse will be a living experience that exists consistently for everyone and in real-time
Be without any cap to concurrent users, while also providing each user with an individual sense of “presence” – everyone can be a part of the Metaverse and participate in a specific event/place/activity together, at the same time and with individual agency.
Be a fully functioning economy – individuals and businesses will be able to create, own, invest, sell, and be rewarded for an incredibly wide range of “work” that produces “value” that is recognized by others.
Be an experience that spans both the digital and physical worlds, private and public networks/experiences, and open and closed platforms.
Offer unprecedented interoperability of data, digital items/assets, content, and so on across each of these experiences – your “Counter-Strike” gun skin, for example, could also be used to decorate a gun in Fortnite, or be gifted to a friend on/through Facebook. Similarly, a car designed for Rocket League (or even for Porsche’s website) could be brought over to work in Roblox. Today, the digital world basically acts as though it were a mall where every store used its own currency, required proprietary ID cards, had proprietary units of measurement for things like shoes or calories, and different dress codes, etc.
Be populated by “content” and “experiences” created and operated by an incredibly wide range of contributors, some of whom are independent individuals, while others might be informally organized groups or commercially-focused enterprises.
The Metaverse will introduce a new degree of freedom in social communication. Not one person or brand can tell you how it would shape up to look like, although many companies are already shaping various aspects of its possible future.
A few weeks before Facebook's name change to Meta, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella endorsed the Metaverse as a strategic goal for Microsoft, where he talked about the use of both Azure digital Twin and Azure IoT to implement Metaverse like solutions, he was also quoted saying:
"as the virtual and physical worlds converge the metaverse made up of digital twins, simulated environments, and mixed reality, is emerging as a first-class platform."
Microsoft later used the word “enterprise metaverse" in a subsequent event, making it clear that it isn’t only Facebook that has its eyes on the ball nor understands the opportunities this new and emerging landscape will provide.
The truth is we may not fully know what the Metaverse of the future will look like, the first reason being that it is at a very early stage and it is obvious that Facebook's name change and works in the hardware, software and gaming ecosystem has stirred things up, Facebook's ambition is bold, not just the name change, the Oculus Quest 2 released by Facebook has surpassed expectations with over 1.8 million units sold as of 2020, making the company one of the top deliverers of immersive experiences.
With over 3 billion users of Facebook products worldwide, a dedication to research and development, a maturing immersive ecosystem and more, their goal of creating a shared reality for more than half of the world seems like a feasible aim. However, that reality will most certainly coexist with multiple realities, it is very important to note that there are thousands of brands pushing forward the establishment of the Metaverse, an example is Vault Hill a decentralised virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) world where users can interact with computer-generated imagery (CGI) and other users and Decentraland a decentralised 3D virtual reality platform which uses the Ethereum blockchain which was opened to the public in February 2020. There are also many more brands building connected experiences and technologies that would be instrumental in shaping what the Metaverse would look like and how we will interact with it. Facebook may have changed its name to Meta, but we all hold the brush and if you are reading this, you must have noticed that the painting on the canvas has begun.
Metaverse is a relatively new term in terms of it going mainstream. Because of the kind of relationship and similarities shared between it and many experiential technologies it is quite understandable that confusion may arise in trying to understand or define what it is or isn’t, this is why I will be going through a few major misconceptions and try my best to clarify to the best of my knowledge.
- The Metaverse is not a game The Metaverse is not a game, because it goes far beyond gaming, though the gaming ecosystem is one of the major drivers of the concept and is probably one of the closest in implementing a working prototype. You may not have made the connection if you are not a gamer, but the gaming ecosystem has for a long time started exhibiting symptoms of shifting towards a Metaverse like state, and Epic Games have been very vocal about this, their popular multiplayer game Fortnite demonstrates very strong attributes of a Metaverse, admittedly it still has a long way to go it has served as a testbed for the metaverse concept.
Taking a close look at where it is now; Players designing their own avatars from a variety of skins that span a wide range of IPs, the ability to purchase products that only exist in virtual spaces, in game-exclusive currency, the interaction between players, events such as concerts, movies, and others… etc. Fortnite may possess and are integrating attributes similar to a Metaverse, but they still have much to do in implementing the seven main qualities that define a Metaverse as stated above.
Sidenote: I think bridging these sorts of highly interactive and immersive gaming platforms, for example making it easy for players to be able to move their characters, values and more across platforms may further advance the shift towards the Metaverse. There are some things working for and against the establishment of a true Metaverse and we will discuss them down the line.
The Metaverse is not Virtual Reality
It may be a little tricky to differentiate between the Metaverse and a virtual reality platform, especially when the name originates from a fictional VR metaverse concept, but just as mobile phones, computer hardware and more are devices used to access the metaverse so are VR headsets, they provide a way to experience and interact with virtual worlds, but they are by no means the only way to access the Metaverse.
The Metaverse is not a virtual world/space
Virtual worlds have been in existence for a while now, a game such as GTA possesses AI-driven characters in a virtual world which even accepts human inputs, there are also virtual worlds that are populated by humans that still do not qualify as Metaverses. Things like gaming, shopping, attending classes and meetings, interacting with friends... etc. which many virtual spaces currently provide will only be parts of the features of a fully functional Metaverse.
- It will be bigger in terms of population and economy than many nations on earth.
- It will not replace physical reality and activities because even the physical is also seen by many experts as a component of the Metaverse. I predict, however, that having a Metaverse will have a positive impact on the environment, individuals and brands that utilize it properly.
- I believe some companies may try to claim significant parts of the Metaverse to have strategic control, making accessibility harder further damaging the goal of making it decentralized, cross-platform and open. (I hope not but predict so).
- Technological Limitations: Without ultrafast, low-latency internet, the metaverse would never attain its full potential — millions of people accessing with various devices and living in the virtual world from anywhere, at any time in real-time isn't an easy thing to achieve. Today's third and fourth-generation (4G) connections can manage streaming multiplayer games like Call of Duty and Fortnite, but they can't handle hundreds of simultaneous transmissions of time-sensitive data to the degree needed for a fully functional Metaverse just yet. This is why the development of 5G networks and 6G networks will go a long way in achieving the goal.
- Governmental regulations: There are increasingly growing number of people buying virtual lands and spending their money on virtual properties and services, things such as entitlements, properties, payment platforms amongst many would exist within the Metaverse and we need to start having serious thoughts on how these things will be regulated, will they be regulated by private institutions or would the Government want to have a hand in it? If they do, what would this mean in terms of accessibility and adoption? Would the Metaverse truly be decentralized?
- Technological Advancements: Advancement in technology like Blockchain, cryptocurrencies, NFTs, Extended Reality hardware (eg. VR headsets)..etc. has been a strong driving force in making the Metaverse concepts catch on, many of the new platforms are based on or utilize some of these technology in some way, allowing a new kind of decentralised digital asset to be built, owned and monetised.
We should expect more, probably much more than we currently do on the impact the Metaverse would have on our lives and businesses, it is also an extremely advantageous thing that large brands with experience designing, developing and pushing out products are putting their money and workforce into this. My next writup on this will be addressing how everyday people and medium sized businesses should prepare themselves and their businesses for a future in which Metaverses exist, either fully or in a higher capacity than they currently do, I will also focus on the possible impact this may have on the African continent and how youths can strategically position themselves in preparation for the future. Until then, Keep learning.