The Metaverse Is Having Its Moment, but What Exactly Is It?
Not so long ago, everyone was going crazy about Bitcoins and NFTs, but now the metaverse seems to have stolen the spotlight.
While some people dismiss it as yet another tech buzzword created by gamers, there are others, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who see it as a glimpse into our not-so-distant future.
But what exactly is the metaverse? And how does it fit in with the accelerated adoption of AR and VR technologies that marked the last few years? For those of you who are currently grappling with these very questions, know you’re not alone.
To help you out, we’ve prepared a comprehensive guide that’s going to shed some light on how the metaverse is expected to change the world as we know it and what benefits brands can enjoy from becoming early adopters.
What is the metaverse?
The term ‘metaverse’ was coined by American writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science-fiction novel Snow Crash and later reimagined as the dystopian virtual world OASIS in Ernest Cline’s best-selling work Ready Player One.
As far as big tech companies are concerned, the metaverse is the long-awaited successor to the mobile internet, offering people the opportunity to explore and interact with synchronous, always-on, shared virtual spaces through their own digital avatars.
Although envisioned as a 3D immersive world with endless user experiences and virtual environments, the metaverse won’t be reserved only for gaming and entertainment, but it will encompass a whole range of diverse social interactions, from concerts and game nights with friends to online courses, work meetings, and conferences.
How does the metaverse work?
Imagine that instead of reaching for your phone in the morning, you’ll be able to log into the metaverse and interact with content in a 3D version of the internet made of interconnected experiences, platforms, and technologies, all with the help of a head-mounted display and haptic equipment.
What’s important to understand is that the metaverse is not the same thing as virtual reality. That’s like saying that the internet is Google. Rather, virtual and augmented reality, together with other forms of extended reality, representing different ways to experience the metaverse.
At the beginning of last year, venture capitalist Matthew Ball wrote an essay highlighting the key features of the metaverse, providing enthusiasts and businesses with a better understanding of how it works.
Apart from spanning both virtual and physical worlds and providing millions of users with an individual sense of presence, the metaverse is expected to have a full-blown virtual economy involving game-specific digital currencies, cryptocurrencies, and other blockchain technologies and offer unparalleled interoperability to help people effortlessly bring their avatars and digital goods with them when teleporting from one world to another.
Another crucial point in Ball’s vision is that in order to successfully build an interoperable ecosystem, the metaverse needs decentralized governance, with multiple players collaborating on setting industry-wide standards and creating interconnected experiences.
Are we in the metaverse yet?
While we hate to burst your bubble, the answer is no — for now.
The metaverse in its fully-fledged form requires tremendous technological advancements and extensive regulatory standards, which only pushes the ‘launch date’ back at least one decade (hang in there, Ready Player One fans).
However, that doesn’t dissuade tech companies from laying the foundations of the most robust, captivating virtual experience ever created. And neither does it stop brands from joining the metaverse playground in an attempt to capture the attention of already engaged audiences.
Facebook: from social media giant to metaverse company
In a recent interview on The Verge, Mark Zuckerberg announced his plans of turning Facebook, currently the biggest social media app in the world, into a metaverse company. To pursue these ambitions, Facebook aims to continue investing in virtual reality hardware and software that enable people to experience a stronger sense of shared presence within their digital interactions.
Horizon Workrooms, which was launched this year in August, is part of Facebook’s metaverse agenda and comes to make remote collaboration more engaging and fun while bringing Zuckerberg’s idea of ‘infinite office’ to life with the help of Oculus Quest headsets.
Simply put, Workrooms is a virtual meeting space that allows users to create their own avatar, bring their computer and keyboard into VR, sketch ideas with their colleagues on a virtual whiteboard, and enjoy more expressive and natural conversations thanks to the new hand tracking feature and high-quality spatial audio.
Workrooms is also part of a larger project called Horizon, Facebook’s own metaverse platform where users can play with their friends and create new worlds in VR. Despite announcing that Horizon will launch in 2020, the experience still remains an invite-only beta.
Roblox: immersive gaming experiences attract younger generations into the metaverse
Often compared to other user-generated virtual worlds like Minecraft, Roblox has become a massive hit among Generation Z and Alpha players, providing independent young developers with free tools and hosting and a wide audience of engaged users to start making and monetizing their own games.
The platform currently hosts over 20 million gaming experiences and comes with its own in-game currency, the Robux, which is used not only by players to buy game passes and cosmetics for their avatars but also by Roblox to compensate creators for their work.
Even though Roblox has some of the key characteristics of a metaverse — an immersive three-dimensional world with a virtual economy and a variety of content and experiences created either by individuals, groups, or brands — it lacks interoperability, thus locking both players and their digital assets within that virtual world.
Roblox takes pride in collaborating with brands such as Gucci and Vans and creating customized, engaging experiences that familiarised younger consumers with their products and generated impressive sales of digital items.
Second Life: the metaverse pioneer plans to support virtual economies across platforms
Second Life is an 18-year-old virtual world created by Linden Labs, which offers thousands of virtual experiences and hangout places and a vast marketplace where users can discover millions of fashion items and home accessories, among others, and even monetize their own creations.
The community-oriented platform allows users to create realistic digital avatars but lacks game-like goals, focusing instead on shared, synchronous socializing experiences, virtual meetups, and conferences. As a collaborative 3D space, Second Life offers real-time audio and text chat and does a great job at simulating a sense of shared presence for remote work environments.
Unlike other gaming and virtual world platforms, Second Life has its own cross-platform payment system, Tilia Pay, which promotes secure transactions among users and seamless conversions of virtual currencies into U.S. dollars.
Fortnite: cross-platform game moves on from its battle royale mode in the race to build the metaverse
The Epic Games free-to-play battle royale game, Fortnite, has expanded into the metaverse territory ever since they launched Creative mode back in 2018. Fortnite Creative allows users to design up to four private islands and share them with their friends, supporting multiplayer game modes of up to 16 players.
Fortnite’s increasing popularity is due, in part, to it being the first game in which players could easily collect and use in-game assets across multiple platforms (PC, Mac, PlayStation, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Android) at no additional cost.
Breathtaking virtual experiences, including live events with famous artists like Travis Scott and Ariana Grande, had helped the game amass over 350 million registered users in 2020.
This year, even prestigious fashion brands like Balenciaga have joined the metaverse alongside Fortnite, dressing four beloved characters in items from their previous collections.
There’s yet much to be seen in terms of how Fortnite will evolve away from its purely game-related objectives, especially now that Epic has completed a $1 billion funding round towards building the metaverse.
Ready Player One: the expansion of virtual reality into a game-like metaverse
If you haven’t read the book or watched the latest film adaptation from Steven Spielberg (a must-see for all VR enthusiasts), let us quickly fill you in on what’s happening in Ready Player One.
It’s 2045, and the world is facing a major economic and environmental crisis, which drives most people to don their VR headsets and spend their days in OASIS, a virtual reality simulation full of exciting possibilities and 80’s trivia. The hunt for the ultimate Easter egg begins when Wade Watts, an orphaned teenager, must uncover the clues to a contest that promises the ownership of OASIS to the worthiest player.
With the coronavirus pandemic turning work and learning into online experiences and driving individuals searching for fun socializing opportunities to virtual gaming worlds like Roblox, Fortnite, or Second Life, the Ready Player One world is no longer just a sci-fi dream.
Nevertheless, we don’t yet have the computing capabilities necessary to host millions of users in real-time within the same synchronous, shared virtual universe — a major metaverse challenge tech companies have undertaken to solve in the next decade.
Why does the metaverse matter?
A new milestone in the evolution of human interactions is looming on the digital horizon. Although we cannot predict exactly when the metaverse will emerge or what it will look like, we are confident that it will revolutionize every industry and job out there and shift consumer spending to virtual goods, services, and experiences.
Moreover, VR and AR technologies will hold an essential role in building immersive metaverse platforms, forever changing the relationship between brands and customers. That’s why it’s important to be proactive in your approach and focus on aligning your business strategies with the metaverse future.
The team at Flint Tech is passionate about helping brands build interactive, personalized virtual and augmented reality experiences that enable them to achieve their training, sales, and marketing goals. If you have an idea for a new project, don’t hesitate to contact us. Our VR and AR experts will be happy to guide you on your journey into the metaverse