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What exactly is the metaverse?

Is it me or has the term ‘metaverse’ suddenly come around and it is everywhere?! If you, like me, were left scratching your head on exactly what the metaverse is, then I’m going to try and make it a bit clearer. However, I must warn you, everyone you ask will have a slightly different version of what they think it is, so I’m going to not go too too much into it.

OK..so what is it?

The actual term ‘metaverse’ can be traced back to the dystopian cyberpunk novel ‘Snow Crash’ by Neal Stephenson in 1992. The metaverse in ‘Snow Crash’ was a 3D virtual reality space which could be accessed via personal terminals and virtual reality goggles. These VR goggles were similar to the Oculus Quest (aka Meta Quest) of today. The 3D space looked like an urban area along one 100m wide road, called the ‘Street’. 

So, to a degree, when we talk about what the metaverse is, it’s kind of like when people had discussions about what the internet meant in the 1970s. Back then, noone really knew what it would look like but the basic building blocks were in the process of being built. In the same way, we know that the metaverse is coming but not every idea of what it would look like will be true. The term doesn’t really refer to one specific type of technology but more to the way that we use that specific tech. So, for all intents and purposes we can think of the metaverse as a blend of augmented reality, virtual reality and 3D digital worlds. 

Another popular film that showcases elements that are close to what the metaverse could look like is Steven Spielberg’s ‘Ready Player One’. The main setting here is the ‘Oasis’, a VR space where players can go anywhere and be free from most of life’s restrictions.

The tech that makes up the metaverse all includes virtual reality, in which the virtual worlds will still exist even when you’re not playing. Then there is also augmented reality which combines the aspects of physical and digital worlds. These worlds however don’t need to be exclusively accessed by AR or VR. So for example, in the video game Fortnite, the virtual world can be accessed through game consoles, phones and even PCs. 

The forms of tech that would drive the metaverse will be cloud infrastructure, software tools, platforms, applications, user-generated content and hardware. 

The metaverse also includes a digital economy where users can make, buy and sell goods. You, ideally, can also take the virtual items (cars, clothes etc) from one platform to another. So just like in real life, you can buy a dress in the shopping mall and wear it to the cinema or to a bar. 

When we think of the metaverse we think of the future and what new things we’ll use. We already have virtual worlds in the form of digital concerts, video calls with friends/family/colleagues, e-commerce etc. So to create this new vision for the metaverse there are all sorts of interesting things that people are trying to do, from holograms to pretty much anything we see in the Iron Man films! Remember that key word I used though, ‘trying’. Only time will tell what lengths we can go to. 

Facebook’s involvement

Facebook has taken the lead in bringing the metaverse to reality and Zuckerberg has said that they are aiming to create “a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you”. The goal will be for people to work, learn, play, shop and hang out with friends..and more. 

Facebook has now, as of October 2021, changed its name to ‘Meta’ and says that it is no longer a social media company, but a metaverse company. Zuckerberg had been planning this for a while though, after he released the Oculus back in 2014. 

Obviously, as they did in the social media world, Facebook will try to establish a monopoly in the metaverse. However, we don’t know whether they will be able to as the metaverse doesn’t fully exist yet. 

Who else is using tech to dabble into the metaverse?

Tech giants Google and Apple are said to be working on headsets to compete with the Oculus/Meta Quest. Other big players, Microsoft and Sony are expanding the AR/VR lines that they already have. 

I mentioned Fortnite earlier, but there are also the games Roblox and Animal Crossing that allow players to build their own worlds and have metaverse tendencies. 

Another exciting venture is with Manchester CIty FC and Sony, who have signed a 3 year partnership deal. Man City are the first football club in the world to begin building the world’s first football stadium inside the metaverse with the help of the VR experts at Sony. Fans from all over the world would be able to watch games live in a virtual stadium from the comfort of their own homes.

Not only would this create a whole new experience for fans, but it would also change how broadcasting rights work. Clubs would be able to sell the rights themselves through their own metaverses. Nuria Tarrê, chief marketing officer at Man City has said, “at best one percent of our fans will even travel to Manchester to experience a game”. She also emphasised that it would not be about replacing the real thing, “We still want people to meet each other!…this is the beauty of live games and fans in stadiums. We saw when fans were not in stadiums due to Covid the experience is not the same, you need to fake the sound almost to make it exciting. It’s a balance of both things that makes it exciting”. And that is exactly it, the balance between the metaverse and the ‘real’ world is an important thing to keep. 

Craig Donato, chief business officer of Roblox, said that he spent so much time meeting in the company’s virtual office during the pandemic that he had to remind himself that he couldn’t do the same things as his virtual character. “I was like, gosh, I have to make sure I don’t jump out of the window,” he said. Roblox is where independent developers can create games, which are popular with children and teens. It is probably the closest and most expansive vision of the metaverse we have today. In the first quarter of 2021 people spent almost 10 billion hours playing Roblox and over 42 million users logged in each day! Players spent almost $652 million on the site’s virtual currency, Robux, which can be used to buy digital items for their characters. As of 2021, Roblux’s company valuation was close to $50 billion.

After what we as a world have experienced during the pandemic, the metaverse really does excite me in the opportunities it can bring. Meeting loved ones, watching sports games or visiting concerts will hopefully become more accessible for us all over the world!

References;

“What is the metaverse, exactly?” Ravenscraft, E. Nov 2021

“Man city begin building world’s first football stadium inside the metaverse” Cunnigham, S. Feb 2022

“Can Facebook monopolize the metaverse?” Ghaffary, S, Morrison, S. Feb 2022

“Meta’s metaverse plans show us the bad ending of Ready Player One”. Hector, H. Oct 2021

“What is the metaverse: where we are and where we’re headed” Canavesi, B. Jan 2022

“What is the metaverse and why is it so controversial?” Wankhede, C. Feb 2022

“Are we in the metaverse yet?” Herrman, J, Browning, K. Oct 2021

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  • Written by Mikita Maru, February 24 2022