You’ve probably heard a lot about the Metaverse lately.
Earlier this week, Microsoft recently announced that it would buy ActivisionBlizzard for $69 billion, explaining that the deal was part of an expansion into the metaverse. Last year, Facebook rebranded itself as Meta, a nod to the social network’s ambition to beto the next step on the Internet. and world-building games, like Roblox and Minecraft, are all involved in discussions about what the is.
The metaverse is not a new idea. The term hasfor decades. Virtual reality, augmented reality and 3D computing – the technological concepts behind it – are even older. The current boom in interest is just the most recent spike in a years-long campaign to make these advances useful to everyone.
What has changed is a change in understanding, a belief that the Internet needs to be reinvented. No one can guess how far these changes go. After all, the metaverse’s roadmap is half-paved. It is not clear that it will be finished as promised.
What is certain is that if there is money to be made, big companies will be involved. Besides Microsoft and Meta,, Nvidia, Valve, Epic, HTC and Apple are all dreaming up new ways to connect online. It is unclear whether these projects will be stand-alone or interconnected. What is clear: you will hear more about the metaverse in the years to come.
What is the Metaverse?
Unsatisfactorily, the Metaverse is a squishy concept. An evolution of the Internet, it is often described as online spaces where people can socialize, work, and play as avatars. These spaces are shared and always available; they don’t disappear when you’re done using them, like a Zoom call. The description is so broad that many people say the fortnite, which allow players to gather in 2D environments. Second Life, a nearly two-decade-old social and gaming platform, is the OG metaverse. (It is being redesigned.)in the digital worlds of Roblox, Minecraft and
Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and other supporters see a deeper, more immersive experience that marries a host of existing technologies, such as VR headsets, mobile devices, personal computers and cloud-connected servers. These futurists envision the development of a 3D virtual world, which you could enter wearing a headset or. There’s no agreement that you’ll need VR or AR to access the Metaverse, but they pretty much go hand in hand. This suggests that these headsets will be compatible with whatever is on offer. of VR and mixed reality headsets are expected this year from Meta, Sony, Apple and possibly others.
A common theme: the metaverse will be a virtual world parallel to our IRL lives. Digital neighborhoods, parks and clubs will emerge, possibly in a single virtual world or spread across several. Some people see a metaverse that overlaps the physical world and includes AR overlays. Investors are already splashing out on virtual land. Barbados has indicated they want an embassy in the metaverse, noting the cachet the concept has generated.
Opponents are skeptical that the Metaverse will be anything Zuck and others suggest. Many point to the bulky headsets that will be needed to access the Metaverse’s most exciting bits. They argue that Big Tech has yet to figure out how to tackle hate speech, misinformation, and bullying on the web. It will be daunting to master these issues in an even freer environment, they say.
Will there be a metaverse? Or several metaverses?
That remains to be seen. There is no standard for the metaverse and many companies are clamoring to lay the groundwork for others to follow. Facebook, Microsoft, Sony, Epic Games, and a bunch of smaller companies are all working on projects in hopes of grabbing first-mover advantage. It’s unclear whether one company’s VR headset will be compatible with another company’s vast multiplayer world or cloud-based graphics. Most companies promise a metaverse that allows other companies to enter. But it forces them to agree on how they work together.
Meta, which plans to spend $10 billion on its metaverse projects this year, says interoperability is crucial. If you have an avatar on Facebook, you should be able to use it on a Microsoft platform. This suggests a single metaverse. Try moving a skin you purchased in Fortnite to another platform and you’ll quickly find that those add-ons are stuck in the Battle Royale game.
The vision of a single metaverse supporting the services of many different companies is reminiscent of the utopian ideals of the early Internet. When the early pioneers realized how much money could be made online, all bets were off. It will probably be the same with the metaverse. If Zuck and others are right, too much money will be at stake for companies to allow customers to pick up and move.
Our best guess – and it’s just a guess – is that the metaverse will start out as a list of competing platforms, each claiming to be the metaverse. Think of an environment that resembles the early days of instant messaging, when services were fragmented. Over time, however, standards will emerge and eventually the big players will use compatible technology, evolving into something akin to messaging protocols. The internet largely works that way now with battles between agreed-upon protocols and proprietary standards, content from a host of competing companies and software ecosystems.
What will it look like in the metaverse?
The idea behind the deluxe Metaverse – the one that requires a headset – is an immersive 360-degree digital world. You will have your own avatar, which you can design, and you will own digital assets, the securities of which will probably be registered on a blockchain. Some think you’ll buy digital land and build houses online, in which you can entertain your friends (or at least their avatars).
It may sound fantastic or absurd, but betting on the value of digital territory has already begun. Tokens.com, a Canadian company, has spent almost $2.5 million in virtual property in Decentraland, a global 3D platform that is a spiritual descendant of Geocities or Second Life. (Purchases in Decentraland are made with an Ethereum blockchain token.)
Others see a smoother experience. Simpler versions of a metaverse experience, such as Roblox or Fortnite, are already available. These games aren’t quite as immersive as the metaverse Zuck is talking about, but they do offer a reasonable idea of what’s in store.
All the things we already do on the internet point to how the metaverse can grow. It will be a bit of gaming, Zoom telepresence, splashes of virtual reality and augmented reality, and lots of social media. Expect lots of attempts to put it all together so it’s fun or useful.
What kind of equipment do I need to enter the metaverse?
It depends on where you want to go. Facebook wants you to buy one of its Oculus Quest 2 VR headsets. It’ll set you back $300, though the hardware is standalone and doesn’t require a PC or game console to use. There are also a number of other: Valve, HTC, HP and Sony, whose gear works with PCs or a PlayStation 4/5. helmets, some of which could start , by the end of the year.
A handful of other companies — Microsoft and Magic Leap, to name a few — make AR headsets, which overlay digital information on top of the real world and tend to be much more expensive. Qualcomm and other companies are developing methods for AR glasses to, although most apps have so far remained experimental or enterprise-focused. Snap’s , or glasses like the , show how much more work is needed to make this a purchase you would even consider.
You can also enter existing metaverses, such as Roblox and Minecraft, from your computer, tablet, or phone. It’s not a 360-degree experience, but the popularity of these platforms speaks to their appeal.
Where does the metaverse come from?
Neal Stephenson coined the term in Snow Crash, a 1992 novel in which the main character, a pizza delivery boy, hangs out in a virtual online fantasy world. The idea was updated in 2011’s Ready Player One, a novel in which people gather in the Oasis metaverse, which inspired the launch of Facebook’s Oculus Rift.
Outside of fiction, Linden Lab created Second Life, a virtual world that launched in 2003 and attracted automakers, record labels and computer makers to open digital outposts. (CNET also had a presence in Second Life.) After a flurry of hype, Second Life’s popularity slowly waned, though it’s still active.
Games like Minecraft, Roblox, and Fortnite have also been described as metaverses. Fortnite hosted concerts, including performances by rapper Travis Scott and pop star Ariana Grande, which brought attention to the already popular shooter. Fortnite’s Soundwave series is international and includes musicians from Egypt, Mali, and Japan. All three games allow players to create worlds, a cornerstone of the metaverse concept.
Two years of pandemic have prompted us to redefine the “virtual”. No one has yet imagined what the future will look like. But an overhaul of what it means to gather virtually and at scale is underway. And many people want to define it.